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Irving Penn

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From the Garden

(originally posted February 24, 2010)

Writing about gardening last week I felt overwhelmed with the space restrictions of this web-blog WTF format ~ not to mention what I can fairly expect of your attention span when I suspect most of you get dozens of newsletters a week. I lay in bed wondering: Did I make it clear that while I believe growing food may be the most sensible thing you can do in the dirt, it might not, does not, have to be the trigger to get you started? I feel almost guilty with how much time and energy I’ve spent indulging my passion for growing flowers and vines over the years, but there you have it. The life cycle from seed to wilt of almost any non-hybrid flora can get me jonesin’ like almost nothing else ~ god (or Irving Penn) only knows why.

The renaissance in back yard food gardening we are witnessing is a truly powerful thing. Transforming lawns that suck water like drunks on holiday can give you something approaching ultimate security. “I can feed myself’ is probably the most empowering sentence in the English language, especially now that “I am rich” as a marker has thankfully imploded (somewhat). But. The nourishment you will get digging in your garden over the years does not necessarily have anything to do with literal sustenance. Something else is afoot but don’t look for it. Spend enough time in your garden and it. will. find. you.

When I first moved to Healdsburg seven years ago I certainly wasn’t looking for new friends. One of the few real benefits of being older is that you don’t have to truck in euphemistic social bullshit anymore, your toddlers don’t need friends and hopefully your work life is based upon what you produce, making business socializing passé. But when the eldest called me up one day a few weeks after he had followed us here from England and said “I met a woman you have to know,” followed by “she has an incredible garden,” I jumped. Why?

I have honestly never met a true plants woman I didn’t want to hang out with. Irascible, yes, opinionated, most definitely, but you always have something to talk about with farmers and gardeners. Turns out Bonnie Z was all of the above, and dragonfly wasn’t a garden so much as seven acres of rose filled heaven. As has often happened in a blessed life, the garden interests soon lead to real friendship. Same thing when I moved to the ridge. The kids were little then and I was looking for friends for them as they were going to be stuck on a mountaintop, out of the city, for the first time in their lives. I befriended the woman down the road who had just moved to Philo as well, and had two of the most unaffected charming kids I’d ever met. Over the past three decades I have watched Karen Bates grow The Apple Farm in Philo into one of the more superlative farms ~ with flowers gardens ~ in the country. She and Bonnie work their acreage full time, while I do not, but I have grown through knowing them in ways that friendships not based on shared passions are at a loss to match.

I’ve picked both their brains for the shortlist below of our must read garden tomes ~ some very odd titles perhaps but books we return to for inspiration over the years. Lucky you….lucky me.

Happy reading.

Jil’s Short List: The Metamorphosis of Plants Johann Wolfgang von Goethe The Well Tempered Garden Christopher Lloyd In Your GardenIn Your Garden Again Vita Sackville West Green Thoughts Eleanor Perenyi Down the Garden Path Beverly Nichols Planting Diarmuid Gavin & Terence Conran Chefs Garden Terence Conran Allotment Handbook The Royal Horticultural Society The Dry Garden Beth Chatto

Bonnie Z’s Short List: Vintage Pellegrini Angelo Pellegrini Honey From a Weed Patience Gray Cooking From the Garden Rosalind Creasey Green Thoughts Eleanor Perenyi Compost Preparations and Sprays E.E. Pfeiffer Great Garden Formulas Rodale Press Book edited by Joan Benjamin and Deborah Martin The Worm Digest

 

 

 

Karen’s Short List: In and Out of the Garden Sara Midda Painted Garden Sara Midda The Unprejudiced Palate Angelo Pellegrini   Everything by Penelope Hobhouse

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