Sunday, April 19, 2015

A Secret Garden, and A Few of the Books That Inspired It

A Secret Garden
and a Few of the Books That Inspired It

When the Songwriter and I became engaged to be married, the minister we chose to formalize the process requested we meet with him to answer a few questions and receive a few learned words of advice, something we were more than happy to do.  There were far too many stars in my eyes for me to have been expected to retain all he told us, but one nugget of wisdom took root and has flourished over the years, bearing fruit in all sorts of far flung areas.  To avoid the pitfall of financial disagreements, we were told, always consider any grand purchase to be “exchanging one form of wealth for another”. 

 The Songwriter remains wryly amused that this is all I can recall from that momentous meeting, but throughout our life together I have found it a useful bit of wisdom.   It has encouraged us to take leaps that have resulted in irreplaceable memories and has, on numerous occasions, made our lives better.  It also enabled me to back away from the trendy, thus saving my feet from the mile-high, toe-pinching Sex and the City shoes of the nineties and the humiliating peplum skirt phase of the eighties.

We employed this much relied upon wisdom once again last fall when we decided to add our birdhouse screened porch onto our bedroom.  One enters this porch via a very special door in our window seat and follows a screened breezeway down the side of the cottage to the round, pointed-roof porch.  Here no one can find me, here it’s all birdsong and wind chimes, here Edward and Apple curl up in their matching tartan beds and doze as I write, and knit, and read, and dream.   And here, I am surrounded by our back garden, a garden that, sadly, was utterly ruined during the building of this lovely screened hideaway.  
So, throughout the Christmas holidays, all during those long, cold days of January and February and the unreliable warmth of March, I planned.  With a stack of favorite gardening books at the ready, I made notes and grew pictures, went spelunking deep into Pinterest boards and wandered nursery aisles.  I’m happy to say, all this paid off wonderfully and our new garden is now a reality.    

Presided over by a serene stone Humpty Dumpty, it is filled with Mauve Lenten Roses, Pink Astilbe, Chartreuse Hostas, Japanese Forest Grass and and Foxglove.  There is a round flower bed in a circle of  English cottage stone with masses of white verbena spilling over and around, calling forth butterflies of every size and colour, and a flagstone terrace with Mazus Alba flowering between the stones. And best of all, old-fashioned Gardenias by the door and under the old stained glass casement windows.  I sit in my gothic willow chair, listening to the exuberant splash of robins in the birdbath  and the lugubrious hum of fat, lazy bumblebees as they hover around the blooms.  
Truly a fair exchange of one form of wealth to another, wouldn’t you say?

  I have recently returned from a visit to a very special, very happily haunted, garden and will share all with you soon, but till then I thought you might like to take a look at some of the books that inspired the creation of this secret garden of mine.  I found as much inspiration from narrative as from instruction.   Perhaps you will too, I’ve shared an irresistible quote from each, just click on the books to see more.  
If any of you love gardens, and gardening, as much as I do,
 please share your favorite flowers, and gardening books, with me! 

Onward and Upward in the Garden
by Katherine White
I have read somewhere that no Japanese child will instinctively pick a flower, 
not even a very young child attracted by its bright color, because the sacredness of flowers is so deeply imbued in the culture of Japan that its children understand the blossoms are there to look at, not to pluck.”

The Morville Year
by Katherine Swift
“I love the way wild foxgloves have their bells all on one side,
 as if straining to catch the last notes of some far-off tune…”

In Your Garden
by Vita Sackville-West
“The charm of annuals is their light gaiety, as though they must make the most of their brief lives to be frivolous and pleasure-giving.  They have no time to be austere or glum.  They must always be youthful, because they have no time to grow old.  And so their colours are bright, and their foliage airy, and their only morality is to be as cheerful as possible….”

Merry Hall
by Beverley Nichols
“But whatever else people may see, they cannot help seeing the lilies.  They are all over the house, like groups of dancers, poised and waiting; those that stand near mirrors seem to take on a silver sheen, and those that catch the glow of the candles are lit with gold; in the full light they sparkle like sunlit snow, in the shadows they are luminous…and always, upstairs, downstairs, in every nook and cranny, there is fragrance.”

The Writer in the Garden
edited by Jane Garmey
“That evening, for instance, as the light faded, and the tree branches grew black against the pink sky, I knew it was getting on toward dinnertime, and I felt so peaceful sitting like a child in the warm earth.  It was dark as I strained my eyes, searching out infinitesimal parsley seedlings among the weeds.”

Virginia Woolf’s Garden
by Caroline Zoob
“…a weekend of no talking, sinking at once into deep safe book reading; & then sleep:  clear, transparent, with the may tree like a breaking wave outside & all the garden green tunnels, mounds of green:  & then to wake into the hot still day, & never a person to be seen, never an interruption:  the place to ourselves:  the long hours.”

The Gardens of William Morris
by Jill Duchess of Hamilton, Penny Hart and John Simmons
“The garden, divided by old clipped yew hedges, is quite unaffected and very pleasant, and looks in fact as if it were a part of the house, yet at least the clothes of it:  which I think ought to be the aim of the layer-out of a garden.”

Beatrix Potter At Home in the Lake District
by Susan Denyer
“Beatrix was not preserving a cottage garden; what she was doing was creating a garden  - her own garden - in the cottage style.  It was in this way that she conformed with what was then being written about gardens:  the imagery of gardens, the way spaces within then should be divided up and above all how gardens would be seen as an extension of the building to which they belonged.”

Writing the Garden
A Literary Conversation Between Two Centuries
by Elizabeth Barlow Rogers
"No one gardens alone."


  1. Dear Pamela - the best garden book ever is Elena Perenyi's Green Thoughts. I know you will love it.
    Am off to England London/Sussex/Shropshire in early May. The gardens should be blissful there then.
    All best wishes.

  2. You have found so many fabulous books; that last one sounds like one I would like. I agree with the previous comment, Green Thoughts is a delightful read. Your secret garden and your aerie up in the sky (almost) sound like treasures.

  3. Your personal 'secret garden' sounds amazingly beautiful Pamela - I'm sure it was worth every penny spent and will bring you years of special times among the gorgeous shrubs and flowers. Perhaps you will kindly share some pics later, would love that.

    Great selection of books - hard to pick favorites as there are so many, but I love these from my shelf - A Growing Gardener by Abbie Zabar (on the rooftops of NYC no less!), and Notes From An Italian Garden by Joan Marble, in Canale north of Rome where ancient Etruscans once lived.

    I've posted on my own garden today - all pics taken this morning as the azaleas are blooming along with early surprises such as honeysuckle and clematis, and the bluebells are rampant creating small spots that remind me of my much-loved English 'bluebell woods'. The southern gardens are definitely showy this week - blossoms and blooms everywhere. I leave for Europe this week and hope to see many beautiful gardens in several countries!

    Lovely post Pamela - enjoy the weekend.
    Hugs - Mary

  4. Roses and peonies are my favorite flowers. Love so many roses it would be hard to name just one,,,,,French Lace, Princess de Monaco, Sexy Rexy, McCartney, Peace and Chicago Peace, Memorial Day, Secret, Tiffany,First Prize, Hawkeye Belle, Eden, Cecil Brunner, Pristine and the list goes on.

  5. Vita Sackville West is my gardening guru - I have all her books on the subject.
    Glad you have got Lenten roses in there - mine have done particularly well this year. Last year they seeded everywhere and this year purple flowers have popped up in all sorts of odd corners - lovely. Enjoy your summer days in your hideaway.

  6. Pamela I love your thoughts of remembrance from the minister you spoke with years ago with your Songwriter. Indeed the Sun room is a perfect exchange of wealth to be enjoyed for years and years! Thank you for more splendid book recommendations!!

    The Arts by Karena

  7. but I would say this was the wisest thing to remember...“exchanging one form of wealth for another” because of the deep truth it holds.

  8. Your porch perch certainly sounds like a worthy exchange of wealth. Thanks for this list which has me itching to find these treasures. As spring is working its way up the mountain, my husband and I are getting more and more eager to put some new plants in the ground. Just this past week we went to a nursery in the middle of nowhere overflowing with enticements. We came home with pink columbines that nodded gaily at me as I passed by, delicate maidenhair ferns, bellflowers, foxgloves, and hollyhocks - oh joy! This is our first spring here full time and every day we watch some new wildflower or fiddlehead emerge. Scanning your lists of books above, I have two of the authors on my nightstand, but in different books: "Two Gardeners - A Friendship in Letters" by Katherine S. White & Elizabeth Lawrence, edited by Emily Herring Wilson; and "A Thatched Roof" by Beverley Nichols. Another I would add would be "Elizabeth and her German Garden" by Elizabeth von Arnim, the author of "The Enchanted April," which is one of my favorite movies. I found a very old copy in an antique booth and I adore the little green volume.

  9. Love Beverly Nichols and have read many of his garden books. Am planning to read his biography this summer. thanks for your great book lists...I often find gems within.

  10. There are many time when I think we are twins. I love all those books.
    I bet you are a fan of Jane Gardam as well?

  11. I love the slightly wry humor and often the detailed scientific approach of the writings (not always of flowers but food plants too) of Michael Pollan. Also second the comments regarding Green Thoughts - my copy is so well read that I'm soon going to have to head for Amazon to find one in a little better condition. That author was so far ahead of her time in sensible sustainable gardening, I am amazed every time I re-read a chapter.

  12. Pamela, we have so much in common. Outlander, Dogs, Travel, The Draycott Hotel and Fish and Chips and now the Garden!! Bird song, wind chimes, secret gardens to ponder and hide that. I believe you recommended Virginia Wolfe's garden here. Its been such an inspiration, so much so I copied a planting guide from the book. Gardening in the Bloomsbury spirit with bright dahlias, daylilies, catmint and turned out a treat. "A garden without a fragrance is a garden without a Soul" Jackie French quote, an Aussie and a brilliant gardener. Can't wait to investigate all the other books mentioned. Just on Vita Sackville-West. If she inherited Knole, then Sissinghurst would have never been created. Cheers Anita

  13. Looking forward to your garden photos each season.

  14. Like Lunch above, we have so much in common and yet, are very different. I love the Japanese tale; so love their culture. I think I've grown most every plant over the years and like a quote from Stanley Kunitz, if a planting doesn't work, I'll simply pull it up and try something else. Edna St. Vincent Millay was an avid gardener. For some of us, it is not just a lifestyle, but part of life.

  15. Celia Thaxter's The Island Garden.

  16. Such a lovely post, Pamela. I, too, share your book choices, and would include Tasha Tudor's Garden and a nice little year of Marjolein Bastin, who does evocative illustrations (often found on Hallmark cards) with diary entries full of bits of nature observances. Tovah Martin writes wonderfully - anything she has written is full of wonder and nostalgia, as well as practical advice. She wrote for Victoria Magazine and I believe was horticulture director for the magazine for a time.

  17. Such lovely books to consider. Thanks, Pamela, for a peek into your own beautiful garden.


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