“THERE IS NOTHING like the first hot days of spring when the gardener stops wondering if it’s too soon to plant the dahlias and starts wondering if it’s too late.” Angst about gardening is perennial, so the words of Henry Mitchell, the Washington Post’s Earthman, who wrote his column for 25 years before his death in 1993, live on, and on.
Wise and witty, he’s still being discovered. Take a Google. The number of recent references to him are stunning. Dive right in with The Essential Earthman, because . . . it’s essential.
There are other books that I return to time and again for inspiration; most are still in print—or findable on Amazon. They tend to verge on the fabulously overblown, which is how I like things.
Thomas Hobbs comes first to mind. The Jewel Box Garden and Shocking Beauty Dazzlingly photographed, filled with extraordinary juxtapositions of this and that. Flip a page, any page. Here a cobalt blue bowling ball nests beside a terracotta pot, surrounded by orange dahlias. A teal blue pot of nothing startles in the midst of shady garden greenery. If you want drama in the garden, look no further.
Then there’s design legend Tony Duquette (1914-1999), the man who gave me more courage to fake it—though I had a tentative toe in before I actually dropped $75 on the book of his work, written by Wendy Goodman, that carries his name and covers it all. Now I kind of delight in things going wrong. It’s an opportunity for play!
The volume is huge. It makes a great doorstop, when I’m not drooling over pages of insane color and clashes of materials. The man did everything, from interiors to jewelry to stage and movie sets to costumes for the original Camelot. His gardens were the antithesis of serious. Stage sets for the outdoors where plants were rather . . . secondary to his notions.
If you don’t have a garden but wish you did, weep not. Gardenhouse by Bonnie Trust Dahan from Chronicle Books brings the outdoors in, adding garden furniture and ornaments—and a plant or two, or at least a large branch—to every room in the house. I especially love this book in the last dregs of winter, when spring is just over . . . there. But not here yet.
A Day With Claude Monet in Giverny, by Adrien Goetz, is a smashing present for the gardening pro, the day dreamer or the totally delusional. Beautifully slipcased and splendidly illustrated, this is Rizzoli’s latest addition to Flammarion’s popular “A Day With” series, taking readers through the picturesque French village and on an intimate tour of the artist’s home and the gardens that inspired him.
It’s compact enough to tuck into a bag and serve as a tour guide, should you be lucky enough to be heading to Normandy. My only quibble is that the font used for the text is so bloody small and faint that you might need readers, even if you don’t usually wear them. If the gardens are impossible to replicate, the photos provide an inspirational tutorial on creating a smashing still-life on the sideboard or mantel with jugs, bowls, fruit and flowers.
A couple of weeks ago, Southern humorist Julia Reed was in town, signing copies of her latest opus, Julia Reed’s South: Spirited Entertaining and High-Style Fun All Year Long, at Ann Mashburn, the Georgetown boutique of striking women’s wear with equally striking price tags—which is another story (Ed. note: Indeed it was). Prosecco and cheese straws were served while Julia charmed fans in the sunlit space and I fumbled my cane and dripped my drink attempting to photograph the scene.
Emilie Sommer, buyer for the East City Bookshop, a little gem of a bookstore on Capitol Hill says, “Readers love Julia Reed for her wit and her recipes and they can enjoy lovely photographs as well. This is the perfect book for anyone who appreciates gardens, entertaining, or both.”
Emilie also singles out The Flower Appreciation Society, by a pair of British floral designers, Anna Day and Ellie Jauncey.
There are no tortured and constipated arrangements or preciously displayed single stems to be found. “They instruct on arranging flowers in every way possible, from jars to floral crowns and headpieces,” she says. The flowers pictured flow and blouse this way and that, relaxed, natural and breathtakingly beautiful. Take a drool at their blog.
And then there’s the perfect book for the novice veggie gardener lusting to stuff a wild zucchini. American Grown: How the White House Kitchen Garden Inspires Families, Schools, and Communities,” Michelle Obama’s tale of tilling the White House soil and creating a kitchen garden is a best-seller at the store. “Everyone loves Michelle Obama,” says Emilie, with a wistful grin.
LittleBird Stephanie really loves gardens and gardening books. You can read a year’s worth of her columns (not all at one sitting) by typing Green Acre into the Search box at the top right of the page.