Everybody's a Critic

Have a Henry Mitchell Moment

Earthman

Mitchell made these observations at least 25 years ago.  Too bad they’ve proven to be timeless.

It’s important, isn’t it, to think of the garden as a wonderful place to be, full of wonders, (not necessarily rarities) and enchantments at all seasons.  Some mischief has been done, probably, by calling the garden an "outdoor living room," as if any living room in the world had such wonderful things in it as a garden has.  And as for "plant material," that is one of the supremely vulgar phrases of this language, and I hope if anybody has been using it, he will stop immediately.  It is a barbarism.  Plants are not "material."  The phrase is commonly used by people of careless habits, indifferent brains, and, I suspect, no morals whatever.  We do not want, therefore, any "plant materials" in any "outdoor living room," but we do want bushes, herbs, flowers, water-plants, and so on, and while we all have sense enough not to expect the impossible, we have a right to expect the magical. [From "Reflections on Gardening" in The Essential Earthman.] 

Such was the public’s affection for Mitchell – even among nongardeners – that a person I actually know argues with her mother-in-law over who loved him the most.  And my guess is the mother-in-law wins the argument, since she practically stalked him in her futile attempts to get invited to his garden.  (I’ve suggested that they put their devotion to good use by writing a Wikipedia piece about him, after recovering from the shocking discovery that one doesn’t exist.) Until his sudden death in 1993, Mitchell wrote the column "Earthman" in the Washington Post for 20 years and luckily for today’s gardeners, they’ve been compiled into books and are still in print.  May they stay that way.

Just one more quote before I sign off.  From the same chapter and book:  "A fellow reproaches me for mentioning too many plants he’s never heard of and not enough of the ones he has.  Marigold, marigold, marigold.  So much for that."  Lordy, wouldn’t he have been fun to rant with?

Get yourself some Henry Mitchell here.  Fans may want to check out the Unofficial Henry Mitchell site.

Or visit the aforementioned person I actually know for the recounting of a backyard make-over I initiated with my brutal honesty.  It’s just below Pushkin the cat.

Posted by on August 13, 2006 at 3:27 am, in the category Everybody's a Critic.
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7 responses to “Have a Henry Mitchell Moment”

  1. Trey says:

    I was lead to believe that ”outside rooms” was a new age, trendy term used to describe gardens these days. You can’t open a magazine or watch a garden show on TV. without hearing that term. Now I find out the phrase was coined over 20 odd years ago. That’s the state of affairs in the garden media. Can’t come up with an original idea, let’s just recycle old ones. The worst part is they are recycling stuff that shouldn’t be recycled

  2. Carol says:

    Yes, Henry Mitchell would have been quite fun to rant with. And, in a way he is ranting with us, through quotes like you have included here. My goal is to make my garden “a wonderful place to be” and not a bunch of rooms. Thanks for a nice Sunday morning post.

  3. Trey–I don’t know if he coined the term, but American-born English gardener Lawrence Johnston popularized the concept of garden rooms when he created a series of intimate separate but connected gardens at Hidcote Manor in the Cotswolds.
    http://www.zanthan.com/gardens/gardenlog/archives/002112.html

    However Johnston was primarily a plantsman–an avid collector who would not consider plants as simply decorating material.

  4. Craig says:

    In the modern world of commercial and wholesale growers of plants, the preferred term for plants is “product”. It is not a nice term for the living flora that provides them with an income and lifestyle. But to play the devil, when you grow the identical item in the hundreds or thousands or greater, it is hard to note that each plant is a living entity and should be given your respect.

  5. Oh, how I love Henry Mitchell! His are the only garden books I ever recommend. His death was such a shock to me, but I am so glad his writing is still available. Thanks for the link to the Mitchell unofficial site!
    -TCG

  6. Robert says:

    Been a fan of Henry’s for year (had all 3 paperbacks). Recently received all his books in hardcover with one of them inscribed by him.

    The richness of his writing and his zen-like approach to the vagaries, heartbreak, and joys of gardening have been my winter reading companion for long time. It always seems as thought he sneaks smethng new in every year! Or maybe I need to be more aware or improve my memory, no matter. If you don’t, then get to know Henry Mitchell.

    Unfortunatly, the link to the unofficial Henry Mitchell site (above) appears to be out of date.

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