Last year, members of the Garden Bloggers’ Book Club seemed to thoroughly enjoy reading Two Gardeners: Katharine S. White & Elizabeth Lawrence–A Friendship in Letters so when someone suggested we might also like Dear Friend and Gardener by Beth Chatto and Christopoher Lloyd, a book of letters between these two distinguished British gardeners and authors, I was happy it was chosen in a survey to be the December-January selection.
The first thing I realized when I started to read Dear Friend and Gardener is that the letters were written with the authors knowing they would be published in a book and the letters go back and forth for just a year. This is quite different from the letters between White and Lawrence, which go back and forth over several decades, written with no thought that they might be published.
I was a little bit disappointed and wondered if the letters might seem contrived or forced. But fortunately, they aren’t. They seem, not surprisingly, like long letters between two old friends.
I enjoyed reading this book, starting back in November and nearly finishing it this weekend. Through it I learned quite a bit about not only the gardens, but also the lives, of these two authors.
There were several passages along the way that I enjoyed re-reading a few times because of how they captured some universal truths about gardeners. I decided to share a few of them as my contribution to the virtual club meeting.
From Chatto to Lloyd, Saturday 2 November:
“…I have met a regular visitor to the garden enjoying the same scene, and she remarked what we all know, that many people cannot find interest or pleasure in leaves for their own sake. She said she had sometimes brought visitors who could not see the point of it. This underlines the point: we only take in what interests us, what can be linked to previous experience or knowledge. When offered plants at the nursery how many people say, ‘But what sort of flower does it have?’ no matter how beautiful the plant itself might be.”
I immediately thought of some friends of mine, who will ask me to go with them to a garden center to help them pick out some plants. We’ll look at all the perennials and shrubs and the question is always “so what does it do?” And I usually reply, “it does that” and point to it sitting there in its pot maybe just showing us its leaves. Can’t plants just be leaves? Must they all perform with flowers, fall colors, interesting fruit?
From Chatto to Lloyd, Sunday 25 May:
“…We mostly have too many responsibilities at home to go wandering, but I am aware that I miss opportunities of gaining new experiences and knowledge if I never leave home.”
There are more than a few gardeners, I suspect, who have to be convinced to leave their gardens, especially in the spring, summer, or fall. There is so much to plant and water, and mow and harvest. But we should all leave our gardens once in a while to see what is beyond our own garden gate. We’ll be better for it and the new ideas we bring back will be like a fertilizer infusing new life into our gardens. So, who is planning a trip to Austin this spring?
From Chatto to Lloyd, Sunday 15 June:
“I love white foxgloves, lighting up the garden like church candelabras, carrying the eye deep into dim recesses, self-sown, in drifts or singly. Each year I fret when they are in flower – should I be planting more in strategic places for next year? Sometimes we get round to it, but more often than not, left to themselves, they make a better job of what we might have done.”
This makes me think about how much “interference” a garden really needs from the gardener. At one time, haven’t we all be on our hands and knees weeding through a flower bed, when we come across not just weed seedlings, which I think we can all pull without a second thought, but perennial seedlings. We pause. We think about that seedling. “Is that a good spot for that flower to grow?” “Should I transplant that elsewhere in the garden instead of composting it?” “Was this plant just meant to be right there where it sprouted?” What do you do when you encounter such a seedling?
This Garden Bloggers’ Book Club is an easy book club to join, with three options this month. Option 1 is to read the book selection and post a review or thoughts about it on your own blog, as I have. Or if you don’t have time to read the book, option 2 is to post a review about any book by Christopher Lloyd or Beth Chatto. Or you can choose option 3 to post something on the topic of “what I’ve learned from corresponding with other gardeners”.
Then once you’ve posted your contribution, let me know via an email or comment, so I can find your post. Then when I post the virtual meeting post on January 31st, I’ll include a link to your blog post. It’s that easy.
And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go get a cup of hot tea and finish reading the book while you head over to the right side bar and vote for the book you’d like for the February-March selection.
A nice look at Lloyd and Chatto’s correspondence, Carol. I especially like both the excerpt from 2 November and your response to it.What do plants have to ‘do’ except be healthy and lovely and interesting? And they mostly all are, whether in bloom or not, as you observe.
An online book club sounds interesting…
I can’t wait for the next book, I’ll try to join in then.
I will have to try and track this book down. The library doesn’t have it. I love reading collections of gardening letters. They are often more informative than gardening texts.
I’m glad to see that ‘Second Nature’ is on the list of possible books for the next selection.
Yolanda Elizabet Heuzen says
I bought this book a few years ago and have read it twice now. It’s a great little read. Unfortunately my copy is in Dutch which I don’t like at all as a lot get lost in translation. Loved the third excerpt as I’ve sown some white foxgloves last year (first time, ever) and can’t wait to see them in flower.
Hi Carol, got my post up at http://tinyurl.com/ywmutp
Hope this is the right place to report. I can’t remember from last month. Duh….gotta be the weather (it’s now raining here, and the wind has knocked all the ice off. Whew.)
Carol, your observation about leaves is so true. A cool green place in summer shade, a walk through woods, a meadow of tall grass blowing in the breeze rely only on the presence of the plants themself to be appreciated. But I must admit to loving the flowers as well not only for beauty but also because they are part of a cycle that feeds first the insects and then the birds and small mammals.
thanks for linking my Commonweeder posting about my friendship with Elsa Bakalar. I will be prepared for the next meeting of the Book Club, and will have read the assigned book.
I liked how CL wrote at the end:
“I suppose this’ll be my last letter of the year, which means of the series, but it does not mean that we shall stop writing to or telephoning each other. Just that we shall no longer be going public. I don’t think that has inhibited us much.”
And then he goes on to say it is essentially in plant information that they may have said something different to the world that they wouldn’t have had to say to one another. I thought they were really remarkably honest. She did not have to include her (what sounded like) depression. And their fears for the future could have been eliminated if they didn’t want the letters to be so personal.
I was struck by how very different they were in their outlooks. It seemed that he was more the optimist, the one who didn’t worry so much; but then he wasn’t married to a partner who was quite seriously ill.
Anyhow, all I am trying to say is I think the letters worked beautifully. And again, I thank you for the suggestion. I’m not reading this month’s because I have too many other books going, though one of them is by M. Pollan. :