Thursday, January 31

GBBC Review: Dear Friend & Gardener

I first read Dear Friend & Gardener, a collection of correspondence between Christopher Lloyd and Beth Chatto, several years ago. When the Garden Bloggers' Book Club chose it for their December-January selection, I was thrilled, both at the chance to reread it and because I thought that I would have a "head start" on this month's post, having already read the book once. As my garden has expanded, and as I grew more into my own kind of gardener (whatever kind that might be) I suppose it's only natural that my reactions to this book have changed as well.

I was surprised to find that I am now familiar with some of the plants that had seemed like such exotics on my first read. But the awe factor has worn away a bit, and I am not afraid to challenge a few of the things that I have read and do not necessarily agree with. As Christo was obviously the most outspokenly opinionated of the two correspondents, you can imagine that most of the observations that raised my eyebrow were his. The major one being this:

"I confess to being unattracted to the concept of gardening with a moral implication. It puts a dampener on going all out to garden full-bloodedly in whatever way appeals to you most." (p. 15)

My inner hedonist agrees with him, and I probably thought, "Right on, Mr. Lloyd!" the first time I read that passage. Now, however, I wish that he were still around and on his way through Cleveland on a tour so that I could flag him down and have a little talk on this score. (By all counts, he seemed to enjoy provoking a good discussion, so he probably would have been delighted.)

My thoughts are enough to fill up a separate post--and I will make one, eventually--but for now I will simply say that I feel that he could simply look at drought tolerance as another one of his chosen limitations as a gardener, without blurring the focus of the finished garden being a tropical setting in a non-tropical climate.

On the other hand, I again enjoyed Christo's wit, and Beth's detailed impressions of the plants she has been noticing in her gardens. What piqued my interest more in this second read were the descriptions of plants in their native habitats, whether noted from research or observed in situ (mostly by Christo) during trips.

I confess, I probably skimmed right through these the first time... but now that I've been paying more attention to the natural origins of my plants--in the hope that I can give them a situation more to their liking in my own garden--I was intrigued.

Last, but not least, most GBBC reviewers have mentioned that they were surprised that this book was the result of planned correspondence. I was a bit taken aback by this as well initially.

But in my gut, I believe that their letters to each other wouldn't be all that much different if they had just agreed to be good about keeping in touch via letter for two years. Christo seemed to hold nothing back, as was his wont, and Beth seems to be a civil and thoughtful lady, which shined through in her letters.

It was most telling to me that at the beginning of the first read I thought of them as "Mr. Lloyd," and "Mrs. Chatto," but that now I think of them as "Christo" and "Beth" instead. And that I wish that they could come by for tea, and to take a look at my garden to give me a few helpful hints, at some time... not unlike most of the other gardeners I have met via blog, instead of via book! I look forward to rereading this again in a few years' time, and discovering what new revelations it holds once I have even more garden experience under my belt.

Pictures, from top: 1) Plectranthus argentus. I hadn't known this plant the first time I read DF&G, but I grew it in my garden this year alongside woolly thyme and bloodgrass. 2) Calendula and blueberry foliage. Some of my own self-chosen garden limitations are utility and sustainability. 3) Actaea (nee Cimicifuga) racemosa is native to Eastern US woodlands and prefers moist, heavier soil. Had I known this, I may not have moved this 'Hillside Black Beauty' bugbane from my old garden to this new, sandy, dry one. ('Anniversary' lamium behind.)


Gloria said...

Excellent reason to reread any book. We learn ,we experience,we change to some degree sometimes without noticing.
Perspective has such influence.Reading a book together then expressing our thoughts gives each of us a look inside each other as well as a better understanding of the book in question as we see it through the eyes of others.
I have enjoyed reading your contribution.

Meagan said...

I have to admit the phrase "moral gardening" makes me laugh, but I think I know what you mean.

Carol Michel said...

Great review. I like a book that is worth re-reading, and when you do read it again, you find new passages that didn't "hit" you before.

I've added your review to the virtual meeting post.

Carol, May Dreams Gardens

Unknown said...

Nicely done, Kim! I also like the change in colour of your blog--easier to read (and I love the orange, too).

Unknown said...

Gloria, that's a good point! It really has been interesting reading the thoughts of others in regards to this book, and discovering which passages struck them the most. Quite a few times, I thought, "Hmm... I'm going to have to go back and find that part again!"

Meagan, of course you're laughing at the thought of "moral gardening." Didn't you want me to booby trap my front garden in response to the mailman's footprints?! ;)

Thanks, Carol. I do wonder what I'll find when I go back and read it again later.

Jodi, thank you. I wanted to keep it dark because less white=less energy usage in terms of computer screens... but it was brought to my attention a few days ago that George Ball mentioned my blog on his and commented that it was "hard to read, but interesting and quirky" or some such. (Quirky? Really?) It kind of spurred me to action, because I know that reverse type is hard to read... so I thought that maybe making only the panel behind my words lighter would be a good compromise.

A Larrapin Garden said...

You write a great book review and I'll check out this book. Great blog!

Entangled said...

That's a very good point about books seeming to change as the reader changes. One wonders how much these two gardeners changed over time as well.

I need to re-read the moral implication part. They really did have a fundamental difference on the subject of bending nature to the gardener's will. I felt more sympathy with Beth on this point, but OTOH I like growing annuals. I noticed at one point that Christo had combined colchicums with Purple Wave petunias.

(I like the new look to the blog. You've chosen some of my favorite colors.)

Meagan said...

Actually I want you to booby trap your garden (and house) regardless of your mailman's footprints.

Nan said...

I find that I go back to all my gardening books off and on, and not just the how-to books. Every gardener has something to say that I am interested in, and at different times I want different information. This was a great review, and now I'm off to look around your blog. I'm also interested in this light and energy thing. Could you talk more about it, please?

Anonymous said...

I haven't read the book. But it has made it onto my must-read list. Some day.

I imagine that it has the kind of sustained back and forth that I don't yet see in the garden blogging world. Wouldn't it be great to have two great gardeners do something similar over the course of a year or two online with the rest of us chiming in and influencing the conversation through out comments? Who would the gardeners be who could sustain interest?

Kathy said...

nee Cimicifuga . . . I like that. I have had the same experience with other gardening books, and even magazines. I remember there was a time when Horticulture seemed "over my head," and now I write for it!

Anonymous said...

It is funny how our view of things changes as we learn more - it is perhaps not so much as 'knowledge' as it is pure experience I think. I don't participate in the book club, although I do enjoy reading what everyone has written, and I have a list of books from these selections that I keep telling myself that I should buy. I need to find more time to read (and more time for a million other things as well). Oh - as for morality in the garden, it is perhaps the only place left...(oh, I don't need to go there. It's a stressful Monday morning and anything I write will reflect that).

Sue Swift said...

I really must join the book club, but never seem to have the time. reading reviews of books like this though, makes me wish I had.

This is to let you know that one of your posts has been nominated for inclusion in the next Garden Blogger's carnival - you can find out about it if you look on my site for 3 Jan 2007. I'm contacting everyone who's been nominated just to make sure that no-one wants to opt out. If you do please contact me. Otherwise your post will be included in the carnival, which is running in the week of Feb 4th. I’ll contact you again as soon as the link is posted.

kris said...

Hi Kim - enjoyed catching up with your posts. I totally agree with your thoughts about culling different points from books when you re-read them. I think of it as continuing to grow and learn as a gardener - can't argue with that! Your bugbane is very pretty - one of my favs. Mine require a little help in the moisture department from time to time, but they're such great plants I cut them a little slack.

Shady Gardener said...

What a thoughtful, thought-provoking post. This must be an interesting book. I haven't read it, but I'll have to put it on "the list." ;-)

I planted a Black Bugbane a couple of years ago, but it didn't like the site. Yours is just beautiful. A nice contrast to the lamium. (Guess I'll try it again!)

Unknown said...

Leigh, thank you! And thanks for coming by, too... I had been to your blog before, but it was a while ago and I had "lost" it for a while. Nice to reconnect. :)

Entangled, thanks for the compliment on the blog. And you're so right on the fundamental differences there. In fact, just after the quote I posted, Christo says something about how it would be easy for Beth to have looked askance at his water-heavy tropical garden, but that she does not. That she sees it as he wants it to be seen, and he appreciates that. (I'm paraphrasing, but you know what I mean.)

I don't think that annuals necessarily have to be intensive, though, do you? I know quite a few annuals that I would love to grow that would require a lot of work, but then there are others (amaranths, orach, orange cosmos, California poppies, nicotiana) that selfseed when they're happy and are pretty hardy things.

Meagan, you are officially not allowed in my house or on my grounds without proper supervision! *grin*

Nan I find that I am going back MORE to those books that are not how-to books recently, for some reason. Maybe it's just easier to go in-depth during the winter?

Craig, can I nominate you and Annie? (Seriously, I would love that!)

Kathy, lol, thanks! It's quicker to see nee a la the wedding announcements when a bride has taken her husband's last name, than to explain all of this name-moving that the botanists insist on these days! :)

Pam, it sounds like a rough Monday for you... hope it gets a bit better. *smile* And I do value the experiential knowledge just as much as the book knowledge, so I know what you mean.

Sue Swift, it sounds interesting--I'll have to go check this out on your site!

kris, I confess: this picture of the bugbane was from 2006. It was SO not happy in this year's drought that I felt badly for it... and I have really just reconciled myself to expecting it to look a bit less lush here. I can't pull it out, though--I LOVE the smell.

Shady Gardener, thanks for stopping by! (And is your "to read" list as big as mine? lol.) I really did like the yellow underneath those dark leaves, but the lamium wasn't quite what I wanted as my groundcover there so I switched it out for another yellow plant. The lamium is quite happy crawling around underneath my baptisia now. (Go figure!)

Sue Swift said...

Just to let you know it's carnival time, and your link is up. Check and see who nominated you!

Entangled said...

Kim, I forgot all about the self-sowers when I wrote that about annuals. I expect I'll remember them when things start growing again ;-)

Shady Gardener said...

Yes, my reading list seems to be growing by leaps and bounds... and I'm going to run out of time to read before long! ;-)

lisa said...

I can relate to your sentiment regarding less "wow" with regard to certain plants that used to seem so cool. I feel the same way looking through catalogs this year. It's one of the best things about this hobby IMO...the personal growth and evolution we enjoy as we go along. I'm just not much of a regular reader, but I enjoy the GBBC reviews just the same.

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