A garden should be, of course, whatever the gardener can make of it, and this is (as a rule) not much. But it is more important for the gardener to be enchanted than for critics to be pleased.
Henry Mitchell The Essential Earthman, p. 69


Shrub Roses of Today by Graham Stuart Thomas; Classic Roses by Peter Beales; The Rose by David Austin. The great triumvirate of British rose books. The richness of Thomas' book is in his intimate knowledge of the performance of specific roses in various garden situations. Less than three dozen illustrations, but I prize this book above all others because Thomas never loses sight of the rest of the garden, even when he's up to his [rose] hips in rugosas. He understands that roses are, for most of us, part of a scheme rather than the whole program and he helps us remember that important fact. Nevertheless, the Faithful Reader has learned to revel in the photographs and comprehensiveness of Beales' work. Any of you who share her weakness for falling in love with a picture in a catalog or--worse!--some rose purveyor's honeyed words: check this book out or, alternatively, spend serious time with Austin's book. He matches Beales' opinionated approach, but gracefully allows in a footnote that Graham Thomas finds one of his remarks about a particular rose "libellous"!

For Love of a Rose byAntonia Ridge. Old-fashioned and a bit hagiographic in its approach, but a relief from the headlines, all right? The Peace rose, widely grown and unfortunately now considered a bit passÚ by arbiters of garden tastes, has a fascinating and almost miraculous story, nicely told here.

Roses of America Stephen Scanniello and Tania Bayard, in cooperation with the Brooklyn Botanic Garden and highlighting its Cranford Rose Garden; Scanniello is the rosarian. Big photos of roses ("real life" roses, spots and bugs and all), so relatively few varieties are represented. Of those shown, many are listed as "rare," perhaps in an effort to jump-start rose growers by creating demand.

Roses: Questions & Answers by Bill Swain. A guide to British rose gardening, but useful to others, as well. Before he gets down to Q&A, he delivers more than a hundred pages of basic, well organized material. If only the Faithful Reader would grow as well as she knows...

The FAQson roses.

To look right now at some excellent photos and splendid descriptions of old roses, visitCollection of Old and Old Garden Roses

Return to top of page


The Indoor Plant Spotter and The New House Plant Expert by D. G. Hessayon. "Prodigious" doesn't begin to describe this Boswell of British gardening. On indoor plants these guides are thorough, easy to use and, frankly, cheap. The scope is impressive; the writing is plainspoken. No catalog prose here.

The Complete Book of Houseplants by John Evans. Guide to about 200 relatively well-known houseplants; copious illustrations. Evans rates plants as 'Easy', 'Quite Easy', 'Quite Difficult', and 'Difficult' and provides specific information about care and common problems. Although the scope is less broad than Hessayon's, new indoor gardeners might find this book more helpful because of its realistic assessments of a plant's probable pleasures and plights. The Faithful Reader took grim comfort in learning that she could rightfully assign the epitaph of 'Difficult' to the graves of some houseplants she has killed.

Return to top of page

Through the Year in the Garden

Garden Notebook by Beth Chatto. Year-long journal, part autobiography and part master gardener jottings. This is my idea of a good bedside book; open it anywhere to a lucid and inspiring paragraph or a masterfully simple drawing.

Gardening Through the Year: A Monthly Guide to Looking After Your Garden by Hazel Evans. A lively UK garden writer, whose book was eviscerated (from the point of view of a Pacific Northwest gardener, because we have few enough books of use other than British ones) to produce an American edition, which is what I sadly ended up with. For our friends away from the maritime climates, this is a good book. For me, it was a disappointment.

Gertrude Jekyll on Gardening edited with commentary by Penelope Hobhouse. Struggling to make sense of our little suburban plot (rats and errant school children notwithstanding), I turn most often to books organized by months of the year, like this one, Lawrence's above, and Ann Lovejoy's The Year in Bloom. Hobhouse edits for current nomenclature and horticultural practices, and provides a wealth of illustrations. Jekyll purists might not bother, but the rest of us are blessed by this concise, tidy volume of ideas.

The Overlook Guide to Winter Gardens by Sonia Kinahan. Graham Stuart Thomas' Colour in the Winter Garden is the definitive work, of course, but Kinahan touches my heart because she's out for more than pretty bark and striking foliage; she wants actual flowers in Winter, and so do I. Month by month through the dark days and a thorough, if hard to use, plant directory. The writing style is idiosyncratic, at best, and illustrations are not top notch. But if you find it remaindered, as I did, it's worth picking up.

Through the Garden Gate by Elizabeth Lawrence, edited by Bill Neal. Blessings on Mr. Neal, who has resurrected garden columns by this Southern gardener and writer, and has put them into a useful and readable through-the-year format. Much garden lore, many literary and historical references, and a superb index. This book is worthwhile and great fun, besides. Because the publisher is University of North Carolina Press, it is a little hard to find. But it is worth the hunt! (By the way, does anyone know of a non-quarantined-to-Oregon source for asphodels?)

Martha Stewart's Gardening. Or, cattily, how rich people garden. One package of each variety of sweet peas in the Thompson and Morgan catalog? Really! I can't top the snippy review that appeared several years ago in Horticulture, and wouldn't want to, besides. There are pages and pages of magnificent photographs and, as Allen Lacey has observed, Ms. Stewart knows what she's about. The monthly format posts her journal, with its startling admissions--"Lavender rotted." Useful and worthwhile, so if you can pick it up for forty per cent off, buy it for yourself. If you're in the mood and circumstance to part with major cash for a gardener you well and truly love, buy it for that person, perhaps in lieu of precious gems. Check an unofficial Martha site. There's also the Lair of the Anti-Martha, a Tres Bizarre site selected a while back.

Return to top of page

General Topics and Essays

What Happens in My Garden by Louise Beebe and A Woman's Hardy Garden by Helena Rutherfurd Ely. Two grand old books, reissued. Ely's essay on planting a small plot (two strips each two feet wide by thirty feet long) suggests that "borders can easily be made and planted at a cost of less than thirty dollars"--which includes 400 spring bulbs, "three or four Peonies," dozens of perennials and summer flowering bulbs, and--of course--labor. Wilder's book, first published in 1935, has chapters on plants I love: flaxflowers (linums), hostas, allium. Useful and evocative.

The Essential Earthman and One Man's Garden by Henry Mitchell. I like Mitchell because he understands and dares to write about the folly, sentiment and human hopefulness that underlie gardening efforts. There's worthwhile information here, such as his list of presents for gardeners in One Man's Garden, but what's most refreshing is his attitude. You will not be disappointed if, some winter evening, you put aside the seed catalogs in favor of Mitchell's prose.

Beds I Have Known: Confessions of a Passionate Amateur Gardener by Martha Smith. Collection of funny and occasionally informative essays by an Eastern U. S. journalist. She loves dahlias and has some laugh-out-loud stories to tell about the rigors of competitive gardening.

Elizabeth and Her German Garden by Elizabeth van Arnim. Did you see "The Enchanted April?" Here is its author, charmingly Edwardian, on becoming a gardener. Even non-gardeners may enjoy her vignettes of country life and continental travel before the Great War.

Check out Mary's Garden's for lovely pictures and ideas about gardens that honour of the Mother of God.

Return to top of page

For the Reference Shelf

Xeriscape Gardening: Water Conservation for the American Landscape by Ellefson, Stephens, and Walsh. Call it the "X" word, because the Denver Water Department has seen fit to trademark it, which irritates me off the bat. What's next? Licensing chickens who want to manufacture fertilizer? Somewhat worthwhile review of mulches and watering techniques, but the plant list and regional advice for the Pacific Northwest is pitiful. Sure, Garrya elliptica is mentioned, but not the preferred "James Roof" variety. See instead Beth Chatto's The Dry Garden. For gardening with less water, it's a complete and inspirational text.

The Cottage Garden and the Old-Fashioned Flowers by Roy Genders and Cottage Gardening in Town & Country by Philip Swindells. The new edition of the Genders book is great bedside reading for gardeners who love to learn arcane literary and historical references. There's horticultural information, but Swindells provides more of the technical material fledgling cottagers seek. Helpful diagrams, but the plant list is surprisingly brief.

Designing with Perennials by Pamela Harper. Marvelous photos, explanations and advice about perennials. Harper's approach is realistic, but not discouraging. She seems to understand the world view of us hoe-hounds, which is to be inspired by the unachieveable--did anyone else faint with bliss at the sight of the Queen's gardens in the Elizabeth R. documentary on PBS last month?--and to yearn for perfection in plants that belong just a zone or two from our little patch of earth. "Guidelines" rather than "rules," for the most part. Glorious photos and a wide ranging discussion that not only lists good combinations of plants but also explores what causes some combinations to be more felicitous than others. I hope the index will be improved in later editions.

The Flower Arranging Expert by Dr D. G. Hessayon. The prolific Dr Hessayon extends his empire of expertise beyond the garden into the drawing room. These are cheerful little reference books, not too dear, and the good doctor seems to know his subject here, too.

The Healing Garden by Sue Minter. The curator of the elegant, historic Chelsea Physic Garden in Central London has produced a broad survey of plant roles in healing bodies and spirits. Good browsing book with a thorough bibliography; it touches many topics lightly. Generous color photos and illustrations, and copious practical advice about planting.

Award of Garden Merit Plants by the Royal Horticultural Society. The mother of all plant lists: hardy trees and shrubs, hardy herbaceous, rock garden and alpine house, plants for glass houses, and fruits and vegetables listed first by category and then alphabetically. No illustrations; probably fewer than 50 complete sentences. If RHS standards (excellence in ordinary garden decoration, good constitution, reasonable availability, no particular susceptibility to pest or disease, not requiring highly specialised care, stability in vegetative and floral characteristics) and UK gardening experience suit your garden, you'll want this.

Truly Tiny Gardens by Thomasina Tarling. Inspirational photographs; clear, instructive text. This book testifies to the tenacity of plants and to the ingenuity of gardeners. Someone starting, by choice or by chance, with little space for a garden, will find all the necessary information here.

GardenNet is a fine site for general information.

Return to top of page

Beautiful Pictures

Town Gardens by Caroline Boisset. For those who yearn to peer beyond the garden gate, here's a pass. Large photos accompanied , for the most part, by detailed plant lists. Some technical information, but frankly the pretty pictures draw me into this book, which features gardens in UK, USA, Europe and Singapore! One fascinating garden is a mere 16 feet wide and 125 feet deep, and includes two big trees. It's much more than a haven for hostas; striking plant combinations thrive in a place most folks wouldn't even try to tame. Good ideas.

Great Planting by Lucy Gent. The photographs invite study as to the elements in a variety of 'great' plantings: structure (or lack of it), colour, and the diversity of whimsy and grandeur that distinguishes 'flower farms' from true gardens. A portion of the fascinating Parc AndrÚ Citroen on the outskirts of Paris is discussed.

Tasha Tudor's Garden by Tovah Martin. Although this is heresy to many gardeners, the Faithful Reader is no Tasha Tudor fan. Yet this book, with its gorgeous photo spreads and the simple expository text, is the closest thing to Eden on these shelves. It's a beautiful record of an enchanted place.

Rosemary Verey's Garden Plans by Rosemary Verey. A picture book of some very grand gardens. Some practical design information, and the photos are complemented by beautifully executed scale drawings. There are herb gardens and some small-ish designs as well as a grand peek at Elton John's place.

Return to top of page

Copyright 1996 Anna Read-The Faithful Reader. This page most recently revised on 1 October 1996 at 11:32 PDT.