There’s only so much you can do outside this time of year. Might as well sit down with a cup of tea and a good gardening book. Here are a few suggestions.
GARDENERS ARE READERS. I can say that with certainty after working as a horticultural librarian for 18 years.
The wealth of knowledge on our topic of choice is both curse and challenge. We never feel caught up but, on the other hand, we’re rarely bored. There is always intriguing research, new plants to consider and fresh visuals to enrich our mind’s eye.
Speaking of visuals, Seattle-based designer Richard Hartlage has a new book out, cowritten with Sandy Fischer, that’s sure to brighten a winter day with its sumptuous photography and modernist design take. “The Authentic Garden: Naturalistic and Contemporary Landscape Design” (Monacelli Press, 2015, $50) features the work of famous international designers. It’s arranged thematically, from “graphic planting design” to “ecological planting approaches.” In the chapter on dramatic seasonal plantings, you’ll be dazzled by the vivid coleus combinations in a New Jersey garden designed by Hartlage’s firm, Land Morphology. The Northwest is well-represented, including private gardens, the native landscape at the Gates Foundation Visitor Center and plantings swirling around glasswork at Seattle Center’s Chihuly Garden and Glass.
Mountaineers Books recently published one of the most compellingly beautiful books I’ve ever seen. “The Living Bird: 100 Years of Listening to Nature” (2015, $29.95), from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, features a foreword by Barbara Kingsolver and photography by Seattle-based Gerrit Vyn. This oversized, photo-laden book must be the bargain of the year. Every North American bird species is here, along with the mysteries of migration, the joy of flight and song, and a deep understanding of bird ecology. Common garden birds such as sparrows and woodpeckers, chickadees and hummingbirds are featured, alongside more exotic species. The book won my heart right up front in the introduction, “How Birds Can Save the World,” by John Fitzpatrick, director of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. He writes, “Our goal should be nothing short of a new relationship with the earth. Happily for all of us, we can rely on our beloved backyard birds to help us get there.”
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A more modest book might have the most profound effect on the futures of our gardens and how long and well we’re able to tend them. “Gardener’s Yoga: 40 Yoga Poses to Help Your Garden Flow” (Sasquatch Books, new edition 2015, $16.95) is just what we need to keep us pain-free as we bend and stretch, dig and plant. Just like the gardening year, the book is arranged seasonally; the winter sequence (Warrior II, forward bends, lunges) is energizing and strengthening while opening shoulders and hips. Artist Frida Clements’ sweet drawings of plants and postures will keep you turning the pages in every season.
Winter feels generous; there’s even time to revisit old favorites. Now when I most miss being out in the garden, I go back to May Sarton’s earliest journals (“Plant Dreaming Deep” and “The House by the Sea”). No one writes more eloquently about the dailiness of tending a garden, and the rhythm of a life lived close to nature.
There’s also the great gift of dipping back into “Dear Friend and Gardener: Letters on Life and Gardening,” a 1998 collection of letters between Christopher Lloyd and Beth Chatto. Open to any page, and read how these masterful British gardeners shared their knowledge, woes, triumphs and favorite plants over decades of correspondence.
May you find solace, companionship, inspiration and yes, even flexibility and fresh energy, in these precious months that offer the most dedicated gardener guilt-free time to settle down with a cup of tea and read.