The Secret Gardeners – Britain’s Creatives Reveal Their Private Sanctuaries by Victoria Summerley with photographs by Hugo Rittson Thomas (Francis Lincoln $45) is a glamorous armchair tour of beautiful gardens created such creative people as Sir Richard Branson, Julian Fellowes, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Rupert Everett, Sting and 20 other familiar and not so familiar British stars.
Most of us don’t think we are engaged in garden design when we go out to plant a perennial bed or plant a tree. We might be thinking of a garden we have admired, or of a green memory or a dreamed of desire that we want to bring to life. But all of that is what goes into a garden design. That is equally true for the gardeners in this remarkable book. Author Victoria Summerly explains, ‘All artists, whether they are writers, musicians, actors, painters or sculptors, use their experience of life as raw material for their work. The owners in this book have applied the same process to their gardens.”
Since many of this books gardeners are performers of one kind of or another it is no surprise that in addition to lush flower beds, vine covered stone walls, streams and rills there will be some major projects and unusual accents. When Sir Richard Branson bought his property in Oxfordshire the first thing he did was to dig out a lake, complete with islands to welcome and support waterfowl.
Ozzy Osbourne’s garden includes an iconic red telephone booth and the model of a cow looking down on a great flower bed. I was particularly fascinated by Sting’s garden with a pollarded Lime Walk which is sculptural in winter and cooling in summer, as well as a grassy labyrinth. And of course Sting’s wife, Trudie, has a wonderful rose garden. The Secret Gardeners is a book for dreaming, but we gardeners might easily find some element that would translate beautifully in our own garden, perhaps with a little scaling down.
The Naturalist’s Notebook for Tracking Changes in the Natural World Around You by Nathaniel T. Wheelwight and Bernd Heinrich (Storey Publishing $19.95) is a book with a very different goal – teaching us how to observe the natural world around us including its finest details, and keep a record of our observations in the Five Year Journal pages.
By nature I am not a detail person – at the same time I want to be attentive to the beauties and fluctuations of the natural world around me. As a gardener I do pay attention to the larger changes in my garden and I keep minimal weather records in a notebook along with names of plants planted – and sometimes I list when they die out. But I want to see more and I want to know more. I have launched myself into this book and the instructions it provides.
After introductory notes the first chapter is Being Attentive and then we embark into directions and suggestions about how to be observant and the tools we might need from quick drying pants, a magnifying glass, a camera, an insect net, and other small items like a pH meter and thermometer that will help measure the physical characteristics of ponds and streams. Wheelwright and Heinrich have given us practical instructions about outfitting ourselves as they teach us what to look for and the questions to ask ourselves as we make our observations.
We live where it is easy, even in the town of Greenfield to go on a nature walk and look at the identifying form of a tree from its canopy to the tiny details of its leaf buds. Reading this book reminded me of the square-foot field trip, a science exercise we teachers-to-be at Umass practiced, which made us aware of how much there was to see and learn in any square foot of lawn or wilderness.
Half of the Naturalist’s Notebook is given over to the 5 year Calendar-Journal. It is organized a week at a time over five years so that you can compare changes in weather and sightings of plants or wildlife at a glance. Wheelwright and Heinrich even give suggestions about writing with abbreviations and symbols. They also suggest that you might want to keep a larger journal with not only information about what is happening around you, but what you are thinking and feeling as you make your observations. This beautiful book is a Notebook, and a journal will allow for fuller descriptions, but it is a wonderful beginning.
If you have a budding young naturalist in your family I can recommend Kathryn Galbraith’s book, Planting the Wild Garden with illustrations by Wendy Anderson Halperin (Peachtree $15.95) This beautiful book has won literary prizes and prizes for science and nature writing.
Many of us start our children’s gardening with a few seeds in a tiny part of our own gardens. However, many of the flowers and plants around us are planted by Mother Nature with help from the wind and rain, and animals who carry the seeds in their fur, or in their droppings. When I read this story to local first graders, they always giggle at the thought of seeds travelling in animal poop.
Books are high on my gift giving list. I know the gardeners on my list welcome a new instructive and entertaining book as much as I do. Happy shopping.
Between the Rows November 25, 2017