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?
Great rant. I will see if I can unearth these authors through my county library system. Will be eager to read other suggestions.
The only person I have found who could write about gardens and gardening and sound right is Penelope Lively. Try The Photograph” – great book.
My list grows. Have you read ‘Life in the Garden’ ?
Heard of it! It’s more. memoir though.
Tried her, never really got into her stuff. Sadly, all the authors I mentioned are of an earlier generation, and are no longer with us.
Nero Wolfe mysteries by Rex Stout are about an orchid loving detective. They were made into a television show that is so smart and fun, set in the 40’s and 50’s and can be found on you tube.
Great post! I have looked for garden themed novelists but not successfully. Thank you.
Great suggestions! Penelope Lively’s “Life in the garden” is a most enjoyable read for any gardener.
I know that this is off topic, but would recommend the British series Rosemary and Thyme. Those are the names of the femalemof a pair of femal detectives’
This is great-I can suggest some books for my book club to read, with the added benefit of floral descriptive wizardry for me! Elizabeth, over the past ten years, I’ve been restoring an old family home, so I was floored by that beautiful fireplace surround in the background of the first picture. I wonder if you can tell me more about it?
Thanks! Our house is from 1870 and has 5 of these (3 white, 1 gray, this one). Fireplaces are really common in Buffalo, which has a lot of Victorians. 3 have gas inserts in them (not that one), which I heartily recommend. Safe and they save on the heating bill.
Delightful post, thank you for authors unknown to me. It is like receiving a gift.
Susan Wittig-Albert China Bales herbal mysteries are great books. Home last year with pneumonia and I read the whole series back to back.. You feel like the characters are people you know. Always a plus.
I am smitten by that red forcing glass! And I suspect that you have just given me a new winter direction to go in (forcing bulbs). It’s especially timely because I’ve recently started to convert a sunroom into a “glass display” area; cannot use it for actual plants because it’s only heated to 45-50F and thus has wide day/night temp swings in winter. But I suspect that bulbs could handle it… hmm….
I had a clear version that was even better but I broke it through overchilling!
Good morning. I am intrigued by your sunroom. Are you familiar with Butia palms or other zone 9 desert hardy plants? They would thrive in a sunny place that stays above freezing with poor humidity. Desert temps normally swing 30° daily, due to the lack of moderating humidity in the air.
Aspidistra in various forms for the hidden corners, variegated fatsia, flowering Desert roses, Desert lilac – ceanothus, fragrant dianthus, rosy maiden hair ferns, dryland sun ferns (yes, that’s a real thing), half of the Plant Delights catalog of unusual mildly drought tolerate ferns…
You might be surprised about the whole list of beautiful plants that thrive in that environment.
Many of those plants are quite lush and flowering. No need to gravitate towards spikey blobs unless your heart leans that way.
It could be an opportunity to learn a whole new plant list that thrives in those parameters. 🙂
Wow, I had not even thought beyond seedling trays or pot plants for that room, to be honest. I tried seedlings there last winter, along with a max-min thermometer. On a sunny winter day after a 45F overnight (with the heating system burning dollar bills, lol) it would be 84F by about 10 or 11 am, and if I didn’t start cracking windows open immediately, in the 90s by 1pm if not before. Then the temps would take a nosedive at sunset, so I’d need to set an alarm to remind me to close the windows. It was basically a royal pain, lol. Spring and summer temps easily top 100 before midday because due to several environmental issues, we don’t open the windows in that room. In fact, even opening them in winter is a problem because the next-door neighbor uses a wood burning stove that generates a lot of smoke that I’d rather not have drifting into my house. So it’s better if the windows in the sunroom always remain closed year round regardless of interior temp.
I have hyacinths in pots in windows. And I always cut branches of lilac, red-stem and yellow-stem dogwood, apple, pin cherry and sometimes others to bring inside for vases. They make their leaves and sometimes I even get tiny flowers popping out. Keeps me sane till April, well, realtively sane. I like the Susan Wittig Albert series too.
‘Plot 29’ is a memoir of a difficult childhood with foster parents and a search for his birth family together with the continuing consolation of growing vegetables on a North London allotment as an adult. The author, Allan Jenkins, is the editor of The Observer newspaper’s ‘Food Monthly’ supplement here in the UK and also gardens at his wife’s family cottage on the Danish coast. It was his foster father who introduced him to gardening in rural Devon although Allan left that home as a troubled teenager to live independently. I found both aspects of Allan’s story, the grappling with his identity and life on the allotment captivating. He also has a column entitled ‘Plot 29’ in the Observer’s Sunday magazine each week.
I love his column in he Observer. His other book “morning” is really good also.
Enchanted April is a lovely book with an Italian Garden palying a lead role. Well worth reading !
I saw the movie version of that book several years ago. I loved it. I didn’t know it was based on a novel.
I solved one of Agatha Christie’s mysteries when one character said the scratches on her arm was from the rose outside her door. But the rose was a Zephirine Drouhn which is thornless. The scratches were from the murder victim. Don’t ask me which book.
Penelope Lively’s Life in a Garden is terrific. Well worth reading. John Fowles book on trees is equally fascinating. Neither are novels. Nor is Edith Wharton’s book about Italian villas and their gardens. But if you want to impress yourself in another time and place, it is a good way to do it.
I’m surprised no one has mentioned the Secret Garden. I haven’t read it recently but I do remember the pleasure it gave me years ago.
Happy to read that you also force bulbs to get you through the winter indoors! When I came to the US in 1962, I didn’t know that anyone interested in gardening didn’t put bulbs to force on their fall orders. I have been doing it with my mother since I was about 2 years old! It was just a fall ritual that we loved. I still do it of course. Nothing like coming out of the shower to inhale the fragrance of hyacinths in February!