LONGER AGO THAN I care to recall, I found “Green Thoughts: A Writer in the Garden” by Eleanor Perényi on the shelves of my local bookstore. The book, an alphabetical compendium of 72 short essays, observations and notes, is, and always will remain, a sentimental favorite because it was on Perényi’s strong opinions, erudite language and blunt admonishments that I first honed my horticultural reading chops.
Hardworking garden resources and photo-filled design titles are pragmatic and inspiring, but those books don’t lodge in my heart the way most garden memoirs do. Filled with thoughtful reflection, expert advice and — let’s face it — fellow commiseration, gardeners who write about their gardens seem to see their way into our own growing spaces.
Madeleine Wilde was such a gardener and a writer. Together with her husband, David Streatfield, a professor in the School of Landscape Architecture at the University of Washington, Wilde tended a woodland garden above the southwest slope of Queen Anne Hill. And, beginning in the 1990s, for more than 20 years, her “Notes from the Garden” column appeared in the Queen Anne & Magnolia News. I knew Wilde as a loyal nursery customer and can attest to her horticultural expertise as well as her gift for finding beauty in every sense and season.
The world lost a passionate and poetic gardener when Wilde died of cancer in 2018. Thankfully, Mike Dillon, her publisher for many years, has compiled more than 130 short essays, excerpts of her work at the newspaper, into a delightfully compelling book. Organized by season, “Notes from the Garden” follows a gardener’s year through the lens of a life spent tending a Pacific Northwest landscape.
Wilde’s voice is authoritative, sometimes wry and always infused with wonder. In January 1994, she wrote, “I spotted a young, first crocus bloom yesterday. Its small, intense yellow signaled the door to spring is slightly ajar.” She shifts between lyrical prose and practical instruction with ease and doesn’t shy away from sharing strong opinions. Like, from April 1996, how to properly remove faded rhododendron blooms: “ … twist it off, rather than cutting it off — the new leaf buds are perilously close on the stem below the flower bud.”
Wilde was a mindful and observant gardener. Taking regular walks throughout the surrounding neighborhoods, she kept her readers apprised on unfurling events of the current season. An essay from April 2009 notes, “Four plum trees at the corner of Seventh West and West Crockett make you pause to admire their elegant structural beauty, now adorned with airy, white blossoms,” along with an update on the health of the madrona groves along the “inaptly named” Magnolia bluff, pointing to a “mighty magnolia on West Highland Drive near Seventh West.” Do these botanical marvels remain today? I don’t know — but she wanted people to notice them then.
With wind and rain, darkness and chill battering the landscape outside our windows, winter is the perfect time to settle in with a good book. I suggest you start your year’s reading with “Notes from the Garden.” As Wilde writes, “While hours can fly by reading and doing research on the internet, a good book still brings such greater pleasure. Snuggling into a chair and entering another world happens with books.”