Is there a word in the English language that is the opposite of ‘green-fingered’? If so, I’d love to know what it is? If not, there should be, because it describes what I am – very good at killing plants.
But while I might be useless at growing things, I do love a nice garden, and I also like to read about gardens. Recently, in preparation for giving a talk on Frances Hodgson Burnett, I re-read The Secret Garden. I’d forgotten just what a lovely novel it is. Published in 1911, the novel became an instant best-seller. It tells of two psychologically damaged children who find happiness and purpose when they restore an old garden. It was said that you could actually learn to prune roses from its pages.
Elizabeth von Arnim’s lovely Elizabeth and her German Garden, published in 1898, describes a rather idiosyncratic gardener and recounts frequent mistakes (those I can relate to!). Elizabeth was a relative of NZ writer Katherine Mansfield, who also writes lyrically of the beauties of trees and the natural world.
Many years ago, I greatly enjoyed For Love of a Rose by Antonia Ridge, about the creation of the beautiful Peace rose. Lady Winifred Fortescue created a glorious garden near Grasse in the South of France, and wrote a delightful book called Perfume from Provence (1935) which is terribly funny in recounting the battles she has with Hilaire, the elderly French gardener, over what plants might be permitted to “mate” with each other. It was reissued in the 1990s and became a best-seller all over again. Czech writer Karel Capek’s The Gardener’s Year (1929) is another lovely read, full of aphorisms such as “a real gardener is not a man who cultivates flowers; he is a man who cultivates the soil.” Rumer Godden’s An Episode of Sparrows (1955) depicts two children establishing a garden in bombed out London after the war, while Edith Holden’s The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady (1906) celebrates the beauty of the English countryside.
Do you have some favourite books, fiction or non-fiction, about growing plants? Share your favourites in the comments below. Or perhaps you can suggest an antonym for green-fingered?
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Elizabeth and her German Garden by Elizabeth von Arnim
Perfume from Provence by Lady Winifred Fortescue
The Gardener’s Year by Karel Capek
An Episode of Sparrows by Rumer Godden
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