About Good Scents

The cut flower business ended in 2011 but I continue to post other items about gardening.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Winter Reading - The Essential Earthman

The weather is just starting to get unpleasant so this is a great time to settle in with a good gardening book while the wind blows and the snow piles up. I've literally got about 15 feet of gardening books but aside from a handful of reference works, there are only a few I re-read over and over.

One of my favorites is Henry Mitchell's The Essential Earthman, the first of three collections of 'Earthman' columns Henry Mitchell wrote for the Washinton Post. Mitchell, who died in 1993, knew a great deal, but was still one of us - an ordinary but passionate gardener. He hated pretense and showing off, saying, "Gardening is not some sort of game by which one proves his superiority over others, nor is it a marketplace for the display of elegant things that others cannot afford." Deborah Needleman describes him as the anti-Martha Stewart, saying, "He would have hated her, and she would be appalled by him."

Earthman is full of cultural information about choosing and growing daffodils, dahlias, irises, water lilies and so on. It also contains some of the best guidelines for designing gardens I have ever read, including:
  • Keep the center open
  • Plan with severe formality then plant informally withing these formal bounds
  • Give space to reflecting water
  • Pay more attention than seems reasonable to foliage color and texture
But, Mitchell gives you permission to ignore his advice by noting that, "it is more important for the gardener to be enchanted than for critics to be pleased".

I also think the book is really funny, but not all of my friends agree. Earthman is filled with quotable observations like:
  • Compared to gardeners, I think it is generally agreed that others understand very little about anything of consequence.
  • There are no green thumbs or black thumbs. There are only gardeners and non-gardeners.

and my favorite:

  • Flowers are of course a sexual display unmatched in the living world and anybody who does not respond a little probably has no blood in him.

I'm not sure if new copies of The Essential Earthman are currently available at brick and mortar bookstores but you can get used copies very reasonably through various Amazon re-sellers. Check it out for yourself or that special gardener on your shopping list.

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