Sunday, March 20, 2011

Garden Fiction

This time of year nothing is moving fast enough for me.  The winter wait is over, the early spring rituals of cleaning up the dead and fertilizing the "soon to be" has been completed weeks ago, and now all there is left to do is wait.  And wait.  Despite the fact that when I go out each and every morning with my coffee to inspect each plant and do indeed find progress, it is never enough.   More dirt than plant is visible to the naked eye and though I know those perennials with a few leaves sticking out of the dirt will definitely be several feet wide soon, I can't help but tell them to get with the program already.

I cannot get my mind off of gardening, basically, and yet there is nothing to do.  In times like this I turn to my other great hobby, reading, to satisfy my gardening fantasies.

We all know there are tons of non-fiction how-tos and non-fiction pictorials of gardens great and small.  We spend our winters with these books at our side plotting and planning for future gardens.  However, what really fills my fantasy world at least, during this time, is fiction books ABOUT gardening and gardeners.  They are not as easy to sniff out and not nearly as common, but what fun to curl up with a good story and still be immersed in green and dirt and flowers.

Below is a selection of fiction of various kinds that I think might be worth a read for the garden crazy person.  I hope you enjoy!

Historical Fiction
Earthly Joys by Philippa Gregory

From the lady that brought you The Other Boleyn Girl, we have an historical fiction novel set in the 17th century. In this novel the main character is a gardener, John Tradescant, who is a botanist, gardener and collector in the time of King James I.  This is a very interesting look on what it would have been like to be a gardener to royalty during these times, and seems to answer some of those questions that come up when we visit old manor homes and the fabulous gardens that were wrought during those earlier times.  "What must have it been like?"

Classic Fiction
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
If you have not read or re-read this classic as an adult I highly recommend you run right out and get a copy.  I suspect this book of childhood discovery in a secret walled garden might have created many a gardener today.  This is a must read.

Trash Fiction
In The Garden Trilogy by Nora Roberts

The books in the trilogy, Blue Dahlia, Black Rose, and Red Lily follow a few years in the life of a group of women operating a nursery in Memphis, Tennessee.  I'm not going to lie to you, this is trash fiction at its finest, with every heroine in her turn (each book) taking the lead in finding purpose, solving internal problems and of course, finding Mr. Right (who was right in front of her face, all the time).  Some standard cliched light romance stuff, however the main plot is actually a ghost story.  In a garden, no less.  This is perfect beach reading.

Children's Fiction
Seedfolks by Paul Fleishman
A great book for young and old alike.  This novelette follows the progress of a community of ethnically diverse people who have come together to start a community garden in a vacant city lot.  The story is told through the eyes of thirteen different characters as the garden, and the sense of community are born.  This book is the perfect story to read to that curious child or grandchild in your life, and one that you will enjoy just as much as they will!

Modern Literary Fiction
The Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver
For a more solid literary piece with emotional and philosophical heft, Barbara Kingsolver's book about the lives in a small mountain farming town fits the bill. Obviously, this book isn't about flower gardens, however, it does touch on the way of life of people who live on the land, by the land.  As an aside, her non-fiction work, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, which reads somewhat like fiction, is a definitely must read.

The Solitary Summer by Elizabeth Von Arnim
A book ostensibly about what the author does with a garden one summer of her life set aside to spend all by herself.  Set in a small village, this story has brilliant descriptions of her garden plants, so much so that you can almost smell the scent off the pages.  Another great read by this author, also botanically related, is Enchanted April. I highly recommend both.


  1. I just wrote them down, Jess. Thank you. I am sooo tired of waiting for spring to emerge from the depths of winter. Regardless of what the calendar says it's still drizzly and gray. I'm hearing now that if we finish out the month without a 60 degree temp [we're well on our way] it will be the first time since records were kept. At least this is confirmation that it's not just me whining, although I am indeed whining--loudly! But I'll get myself a book to read until the weather improves, thanks dear heart.

  2. Hi Jess - I remember willing things to grow just a few short months, as everything goes over the top for a last burst of lush growth before Autumn really settles in I just want to go outside and yell "Slow down!!"
    All of those books sound intriguing, especially Prodigal Summer, so I'll have to keep an eye out. The Secret Garden, of course is a firm favourite - my daughter has recently read it and has fallen in love with it too!

  3. Jess, Intriguing recommendations, esp that last one - will definitely put on my list!

  4. Jess, what a great list. I wish there were more books that combined gardens with literature. I like my garden books but I love novels. I see you're a fan of Barbara Kingsolver. The Poisonwood Bible is one of my favourite books. I wonder if the author is a gardener herself as that book also features gardening.

  5. Thanks for the selection, I need to check them out. Waiting for spring can be hard for me too, I sometimes can't believe that those tiny perennials will be an overgrown jungle by summer's end... Patience has never been my great strength:)

  6. Must admit that while I'm waiting for Spring I prefer dirty books. They're so much more fun!

  7. Jess, This is a great set of book choices. Some I've read, but most are new for me. The Solitary Summer definitely looks like my kind of garden narrative, and Earthly Joys looks very appealing, too. BTW, just last week, I was thinking it was time to get out my original-cast recording of The Secret Garden and pop it in the CD player in the car; listening to it is a rite of spring for me. -Jean

  8. Jess. I just found your blog and it's now bookmarked. I wonder if you've watched the BBC series "Rosemary and Thyme"? Two lady gardeners driving around England in an old Land Rover fixing gardens and wearing charming clothes. It's wonderful. I have another children's garden book for you too. Have you tried Rumer Godden's An Episode of Sparrows? She also wrote a good garden/house book China Count, Thanks again for a great blog. Kay.