When New Year’s Day morning brings snow and ice, the only thing to do is stay indoors in the warmth and read the Christmas present that my daughter gave me.
The first book of my summer reading was The Rose Girls, by Victoria Connelly. It was a sweet romance with a love of roses and gardening at the heart. It was a perfect book to take to the beach, or just enjoy on the front porch. The story is of three sisters who live in a crumbling old manor house in England. Raising and selling roses has been the family business for generations, but after the death of their very difficult mother, who suffered from Narcissistic Personality Disorder, the three young women are left to deal with the emotional trauma of their upbringing. At the same time, they are faced with insurmountable costs of fixing and maintaining the medieval manor house while trying to keep their rose business afloat. The three sisters redefine their relationship with each other and find the healing power of family.
It’s a sweet story, but my favorite parts of the book were all the references to roses! So here is a linked list of some of the roses that were mentioned. The links will take you to sites with photos and information on each rose.
- La Reina Victoria
- Comte de Chambord
- Madame Pierre Oger
- Gertrude Jekyll Climbing Rose
- Celeste: Alba Rose
- Penelope: Hybrid Musk Rose
- Madame Isaac Pereire
- Honorine de Brabant
- Summer Blush
“All thoughts of finances were forgotten as she gazed at the perfect bud. That was the effect roses had on you — they filled your head with beauty so that there was little room for anything else…”
What to do on a stormy November weekend? I’m going to enjoy reading Marta McDowell‘s book, Beatrix Potter’s Gardening Life: The Plants and Places that Inspired the Classic Children’s Tales. I also downloaded onto my Kindle, Beatrix Potter Complete Tales, because I’ve only read some of her lovely tales, but not all, and I thought it would be fun to read them as I learn about her gardening life. So storm away, November! I’ll be hunkered down with Beatrix Potter and another one of Marta McDowell’s wonderful books about writers and their gardens!
Reading about gardens and gardening has become an enjoyable focus in my life as the days shorten and I spend less time outdoors in my own garden. While searching through the gardening section of Powell’s bookshop recently, I discovered a fascinating little book, In the Land of the Blue Poppies: The Collected Plant-Hunting Writings of Frank Kingdon Ward. I brought it home and was immediately captured by the story of this passionate naturalist/explorer and his plant hunting expeditions in the Himalaya.
Frank Kingdon Ward was one of the great plant hunters of the early 20th century, and he was also a great explorer and adventurer…
“. . . travel had bitten too deeply into my soul, and I soon began to feel restless again, so that when after four months of civilised life something better turned up, I accepted with alacrity. This was none other than the chance of plant-collecting on the Tibetan border of Yunnan, and though I had extremely vague ideas about the country, and the method of procedure, I had mentally decided to undertake the mission before I had finished reading the letter in which the offer was set forth.”
He was the son of a botanist and trained as a botanist himself. When plant hunting became his career, he searched for the beautiful and unusual, and brought back from his travels many plants new to England that have become very familiar in gardens throughout the world today. This quote gives us a glimpse into his patient, methodical, dedicated working life as a plant hunter:
I wished to try and collect seeds of the dwarf Iris which I had failed to get at Modung. I soon satisfied myself that all the Iris capsules were empty. Nevertheless, I believed that with patience I might find the seeds scattered in the earth close to the plants, wherever they grew thickly. And so it proved. On bare dusty slopes facing south I managed to pickup a few hundred seeds. It was slow work, but by devoting two hours a day to it, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, lying full length and going through the dust and debris carefully, my efforts were crowned with success. Such is intensive seed collecting!
Although the Blue Poppy (Meconopsis speciosa) had already been discovered by another plant hunter shortly before his own discovery of that unique and beautiful flower, he is forever associated with it. Two other gorgeous and unique flowers he discovered and named were the Rhododendron wardii var. puralbum and a lily (Siroi lilium).
Frank Kingdon Ward was one of the great plant hunters of the time, but he was also a great explorer, sharing much of his experience and knowledge-gained about a remote part of the world by writing many books about his expeditions and his interactions with the people he met. I loved one particular story about his first experience at crossing over a deep gorge on a bamboo rope “zip-line” bridge. His description was thrilling to read, especially because I had read that he was afraid of heights!
“Let go!” and at the word I was whirled into space. Whiz! a rush of air, a catch of the breath, a smell of something burning–the rope gets very hot– the hum of the slider over the twisted strands, a snap-view of the muddy river foaming below, and I was slowing down where the rope sagged at the other end. It was all over in a moment, and pulling myself up the few remaining feet to the platform, I untied and stood up on the opposite bank. After that first experience there was nothing I enjoyed so much as a trip across a rope bridge..
This little book was a fascinating look into the life and work of one of the great horticulture explorers. It was a book that revealed one man’s passion for flowers and plants of all kinds, and for a life of discovery and excitement.
To learn more about Frank Kingdon Ward, visit the links below.
I first read May Sarton’s journals, Plant Dreaming Deep, Journal of a Solitude, and The House by the Sea, 35 years ago, and I remember loving them. In these journals she describes her daily routines, her homes, her gardens, her neighbors and friends, and her inner life as a writer and poet. Both her inner and outer journeys were fascinating to me, and I was very influenced by her thoughts and ideas on solitude, creativity, and on being an artist.
Reading Plant Dreaming Deep the first time as a young stay-at-home mother, I was especially inspired by her stories of gardening at her new home in Nelson, New Hampshire. The winter I read this journal, I spent hours pouring over seed catalogs, planning my own little flower garden. When spring came, I cleared a small patch of slightly sloped ground next to the driveway, put in some good-sized rocks and created a little rock garden. My first flower garden! That was a lovely spring for me! I remember planting cosmos and marigolds, and some tall sunflowers, all from seeds I sent for during the winter. I was very proud of that first garden and called it my “May Sarton Garden.”
Now, 35 years later, I just reread this book and loved it all over again. Once again, May Sarton has inspired me to plan and plant… and experience the joy of gardening!
Is there a joy except gardening that asks so much and gives so much?
MAKING A GARDEN is not a gentle hobby for the elderly, to be picked up and laid down like a game of solitaire. It is a grand passion. It seizes a person whole, and once it has done so he will have to accept that his life is going to be radically changed.
~May Sarton, from Plant Dreaming Deep
Good morning, friends! I am reading Celia Thaxter’s classic gardening book, An Island Garden, and am loving it, taking notes as I go because there’s so much to learn from her! She was a beautiful writer of both poetry and prose, and her other passion was gardening. I’ll be sharing more about her soon, but for this morning, here’s a passage that I particularly loved from this joyful book:
When in these fresh mornings I go into my garden before any one is awake, I go for the time being into perfect happiness. In this hour divinely fresh and still, the fair face of every flower salutes me with a silent joy that fills me with infinite content; each gives me its color, its grace, its perfume, and enriches me with the consummation of its beauty. All the cares, perplexities, and griefs of existence, all the burdens of life slip from my shoulders and leave me with the heart of a little child that asks nothing beyond its present moment of innocent bliss. These myriad beaming faces turned to mine seem to look at me with blessing eyes. I feel the personality of each flower, and I find myself greeting them as if they were human. “Good-morning, beloved friends! Are all things well with you? And are you tranquil and bright? And are you happy and beautiful?” They stand in their peace and purity and lift themselves to my adoring gaze as if they knew my worship–so calm, so sweet, so delicately radiant, I lose myself in the tranquillity of their happiness.
~ Celia Thaxter (1835–1894), from An Island Garden
During the hot afternoons of the last few days, I completely immersed myself in a lovely book– Emily Dickinson’s Gardens: A Celebration of a Poet and Gardener, by Marta McDowell. I love poetry, and I love reading about the gardens of the great gardeners, so this was the perfect choice for me. And to add depth to this immersion, I pulled from my bookshelf my volume of The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson, as well as another beautiful little book for young people, Emily Dickinson: A Brighter Garden, with some of her poems illustrated by the wonderful artist (and gardener), Tasha Tudor. What a lovely way to spend my heat-wave afternoons!
The “Belle of Amherst” was a brilliant poet who drew much of her inspiration from nature and from her garden, in particular. Her love for flowers and for gardening started very young, as did her love for words and poetry. As a teenager, she put together a very impressive “herbarium,” a collection of dried and pressed plants, all beautifully organized and identified by their Latin names. She loved spending time in her family’s gardens and in the meadows and woods adjacent to the family homestead.
During her lifetime, Emily DIckinson was known as a gifted gardener. Not everyone knew that she also wrote poetry, although she shared many of her poems with friends and family. Very few of her poems were published during her lifetime, and no one knew the extent of her writing until after her death when her sister, Lavinia, discovered almost 1,800 poems tucked away in a drawer.
This book was organized by the seasons of the year, and included descriptions of the plants that were grown in Emily’s garden each season, and poems that were inspired by those plants or by the season. A lovely combination! The author, Marta McDowell, is herself a gardener, so she lovingly included how-to information and special tips for other gardeners.
The mix of very interesting biography, descriptions of Emily Dickinson’s gardens with beautiful poetry interspersed, and very helpful gardening advice made the book a pleasure to read and a wonderful learning experience.
Vincent’s Gardens, by Ralph Skea, is a lovely little book that I read over this very dark and rainy January weekend. I love the art of Vincent Van Gogh! I’m also reading as much as I can about gardens and gardening since we moved into our new home in the Grove. So the combination was perfect, and looking at his beautiful paintings of gardens was simply a delightful way to spend the weekend!
I love the feeling of accomplishment when a project is completed. This morning I finished reading The Morville Year, by Dr. Katharine Swift. It was a lovely read and a real gardening education for me as I look forward to my return to gardening at our new home in Oregon before too long.
The project? As I read the book, I kept track of all the flowers, books, places, and people she talked about in this story of a year in her wonderful garden at Dower House, Morville Hall, Shropshire, England. And then I created a Pinterest board where I collected photographs of each thing on my list. The result is a visual book review, which I really enjoyed creating! If you are already a member of Pinterest, please visit my board and enjoy the photographs that I chose to honor this book. [Please forgive any mistakes I made in my photo selecting.] I don’t know if you can visit the board without being a member, but here is the link, just in case. It was a labor of love for me … homage paid to a lovely book.
[This review was originally published on my book blog, A Fondness for Reading.]