Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The Gardener's Year

Executive Summary

This is my very favorite gardening book of all time. I am hopelessly prejudiced.

This is not a how-to book. If that's what you want, put it down right now. If instead, you like books about the human element in gardening, prepare to be delighted at recognizing yourself in Čapek's garden musings.

The Longer Version

It's all here - winter restlessness, fretting about the weather, the joy of spring, buying too many plants, the folly of the lawn, leaving your garden (gasp) to the care of others, the lure of garden catalogs. And all written in a slightly quaint (translated from Czech) early 20th century manner, when so many writers expressed themselves with grace and style.

I've had this book for years and reread many times the parts I particularly admired, but I read it through again before writing this. The bits I remembered were the ones that made me feel as if the author had been watching me, but I had forgotten about some of the more humorous parts: plant communities of railway stations, sectarian violence among cactus fanciers, revisionist history of dahlias.

The writing conjures up so many visions, it needs no illustrations, but Josef Čapek's Thurber-esque line drawings are perfectly in tune. I especially like the redesigned gardener, and the flowery aroma of manure.

Karel Čapek was best known as a science fiction writer - maybe he got his best ideas for fiction while puttering in the garden. He certainly seems to have spent a great deal of observant time there. What a pity he didn't get the eleven hundred years of life he calculated every gardener needs in order to really know gardening.

I mentioned that I've had this book for many years. It came to me via Garden Design magazine, when they used to publish excerpts from garden books they thought should be more well-known. I read from The Gardener's Year - I think the part about the blessed rain - and had to track down the book. I used to pester my non-gardening husband, reading aloud to him from this book, but then I discovered blogging. It's only for fear of becoming monotonous that I haven't quoted more from it.

Thanks, Carol, once again, for hosting the Garden Bloggers' Book Club.


M Sinclair Stevens (Texas) said...

I don't think your review is so very much like mine. Whatever similarities there are simply demonstrate that Capek really did hit the mark with his observations and understanding of what it means to be a gardener.

I'm so glad you included one of Josef Capek's illustrations in your review. They integrate so perfectly with the text.

Annie in Austin said...

Hi Entangled,

It's interesting that both you and MSS reread one of your favorites for the book club, while some of us have only recently become acquainted with this work by the Čapek brothers. I love what you wrote about it.

That illustration was one of my favorites, too - wings might keep my big feet out of the way!

Annie at the Transplantable Rose

Carol said...

Thanks for posting for the Garden Blogges' Book Club and I'm glad we picked your favorite book. Like Annie, this was my first time to read it, and I really enjoyed it. It is definitely one to go back and enjoy often.

Great review. If I hadn't read the book, I'd be ordering it now.

Entangled said...

MSS: I think I zeroed in on "If you are a gardener, you will see yourself on every page" in your post, or maybe it's just that you wrote what I was thinking. :-)

Annie: I just stomped on a clump of Zephyranthes the other day, and was wishing for wings.

Carol: Thanks again for hosting the book club - such a great idea!

Jenn said...

I used to pester my non-gardening husband, reading aloud to him from this book, but then I discovered blogging


Entangled said...

Jenn, I think my husband is happy about it too (for the most part) ;-)