In January, a popular garden meme makes its way around the internet with a quote that may or may not be attributed to its author, Josephine Nuese, my next featured Lost Lady of Garden Writing.
The familiar quote is, “Anyone who thinks that gardening begins in the spring and ends in the fall is missing the best part of the whole year. For gardening begins in January, begins with the dream.”
Gardeners trot that quote out every January as though it was a decoration of the season and post it on Facebook, Instagram, and who knows where else.
The quote comes from the first two sentences of Josephine’s only published book, The Country Garden (1970, Charles Scribner’s Sons).
I went down my usual rabbit holes of Ancestry.com and Newspapers.com and found out that Josephine was born in 1901 and died on January 4, 1974. I found a census listing from 1950 which listed her occupation as school bus driver for five hours a week. Now that is interesting! That census also listed her husband, Robert E., born in 1893, two daughters, and two sons. Based on the youngest son and youngest daughter both being the same age, I’m going to assume they were twins.
From the back flap of the cover of her book, which my copy still has, I learned that Josephine Carter Nuese lived and gardened in “northwestern Connecticut in the kind of rural setting she describes.” She also wrote an informal garden column for The Lakeville (Conn.) Journal, a local weekly paper.
“At one time, and briefly, she acted as a professional garden consultant, designed gardens for friends, but soon found that the all-important follow-through, the personal supervision of soil preparaton, planting, and the laying out of lines—for she claims the finished beauty of any garden depends entirely upon these—demanded more time than she could spare from her private life, her own plantings. Since then she has declined all professional work.”
And that would have been all I found about Josephine until I did one more search and stumbled upon an interesting newspaper clipping from the Hartford Courant, August 18, 1970, about one of her talks.
“Josephine C. Nuese, Cornwall author of “The Country Garden” will speak on “Using Native Plants in Landscape.”
That would be a popular talk today! Was she ahead of her time?
But what’s really interesting…
“Mrs. Nuese has had a busy career both as a writer and as a gardener. She was born and brought up in Elizabeth, N.J. She says she resisted formal education which began with Miss Mary Franklin Jones School for Girls in Elizabeth, included “a brief and fruitless encounter with the local high school” and a series of tutors, “most of whom soon resigned in order to recuperate.“”
Fruitless encounters with the local high school? Tutors who needed to recuperate after teaching her? It sounds like she was a bit of handful as a child and teenager.
How did she go from that unusual education to becoming a published writer? For starters, she headed off to New York City when she was 18 years old.
“In 1919, she went to New York and a job at Harper’s Bazaar as a secretary. Later she joined the editorial staff of Vogue and, still later was with the New Yorker during its first year of publication.”
But then what happened? I assumed she got married and moved out to the country. Still from the same newspaper…
“In 1927 she moved to northwestern Connecticut and in 1932 began gardening in earnest, reading every gardening book she could find, especially the older ones, studying landscape design, experimenting with soils and learning the hard way which plants combined best and where.”
And somewhere in there, she raised her children, drove a school bus, wrote gardening columns for a weekly newspaper (which I could not find online), and published her one and only book, The Country Garden. Good used copies are still available wherever used books are sold, including Amazon. (By the way, for those writers who think they are too old to write and publish a book, Josephine was 69 when her book was published.)
After reading more about Josephine, I put my copy of her book back on my reading pile. There’s a chapter for each month of the year, so I think I’ll read it one month at a time, taking the whole year to savor it.
Now, here’s one more quote to enjoy from Josephine Nuese as I wrap up this post.
At the beginning of the chapter on May, she wrote, “Ideas are always disturbing, especially new ideas. Most normal, charming, intelligent adults have learned to leave their minds alone and so are immune to new ideas. But not gardeners. These unfortunates are susceptible to every new idea carried by the wings of chance.”
And that’s what I found about Josephine Nuese, another lost lady of garden writing, one who is quoted often, especially in January.
Kathy from Cold Climate Gardening says
If I remember correctly, Sydney Eddison was a great fan of Josephine and quoted her in one of her (Sydney’s) books. I think it was that quote that became the meme. But it’s the quotation you shared from the May chapter that makes me want to read that book!