Neither of these are really hobbies, in my view. One is something almost everyone does on a regular basis and the other is used routinely by professional growers and others to make plants happen out of season. But both really help get me through the few months when outdoor gardening is out of the question (as seen above).
I keep discovering more authors who make plants and gardening central elements of their fictional narratives. There are only a few gardening writers I’ve ever read for pleasure; my nonfiction garden reading waned when I learned what I needed. As a fulltime editor who has to read reams of practical stuff, my personal reading needs to be for pure pleasure. There are many writers in that category who can be depended upon for garden-related content.
Molly Keane (aka M.J. Farrell) wrote from 1926–88, but my favorites are her earlier novels. In some of them flowers can act as characters, providing solace or disappointment. The daytime blue of a delphinium is “as absurd as a picture of the desert and as silly as it was lovely in the night.” Keane is rigid about artificial garden schemes. In Full House, Two sisters have created a water garden that’s the subject of great derision among their neighbors, though they are always happy to visit it and note new adornments:
“Everything that should not be here was here. Balustradings in profusion entwined with pink rambler roses impatiently waiting to burst into flower. Terracotta pots full of geraniums and lobelia flanking bronze Buddhas and stone bridges. No country was omitted in this rich horticultural mixture. Japan, Thibet, China, Venice, Greece, not a country or town that had not yielded its dash of inspiration to some mood of Aunt Louisa’s vigorous mind.” (Full House, 1935)
In Keane’s Mad Puppetstown, a gardening obsessed aunt lets a mansion decay around her (these are always mansions or castles) as she forces bulbs and with great difficulty nurses daphnes into survival. Another of my favorite novelists, Dorothy Whipple, also loves spring bulbs as symbols of rural beauty and for solace when characters are down and out. She, like Keane, is generally disgusted by any bedding scheme that includes geraniums or lobelia.
Finally, I’ve been discovering the many other novels Stella Gibbons wrote after Cold Comfort Farm, in which wildflowers often figure, and, to a lesser extent, gardening.
In January, it’s time for all the potted bulbs to come up from the root cellar and the hyacinths in glass down from the attic stairs; this means tulips and hyacinths throughout February and into March. That’s my winter gardening; it’s easier and requires less equipment that seeds. The books I’ve mentioned must be part of the reason I got into forcing, as I know few who do it around here. It’s also a European gardening tradition that can be easily emulated here, regardless of harsh climates.
Between the bulbs and the books, I can easily get through to April. We’ve talked about gardening-centric novels here before, but not for a while. Any favorites?