Ivington Diaries book cover

December 7th, 2010
The Ivington Diaries

A reader left a comment on my review of another Monty Don book, The Sensuous Garden that the two of us obviously have personality differences and that I should just leave it at that. What? Not me! I really don’t see any point in reading only people I agree with because I learn so much more from people I don’t agree with. If someone shows me a demonstrably better approach, I’m always open to changing my mind. Besides, I don’t think our differences are irreconcilable. Monty Don and I just are reacting to different environments. I live in a land where expertise is a dirty word. He lives in one where pedantry drains the passion from the art of gardening. See how alike we are.

“My second [New Year’s] resolution is to make a point of learning something new…if you have been gardening for awhile it is easy to become fixed in your likes and dislikes and to dismiss things of which you are ignorant. I want to challenge my own ignorance…”

I’m glad I didn’t give up so easily because the third time’s a charm. The Ivington Diaries is just the kind of gardening book I find to be the most readable: a personal adventure in creating a garden. Monty Don moved to a new house in 1991 and the book draws on journal entries written over the subsequent 18 years. There is one entry per day, beginning with January 1st, for almost the entire year. The interesting twist is that the years are not in chronological order. The first entry is January 1, 1998, then January 4, 2004, followed by January 5, 2002.

I really like this layout because it focuses on the gardener’s year rather than on the chronology of building the garden. I received this book as a Christmas present last year and I have read it bit by bit as the seasons changed in my own garden, comparing observations and differences in climate with Monty Don’s. The book has color photos of the garden every few pages which help the reader to visualize the layout and special features of the garden. The photos aren’t glossy printed so they never distract from the text. This is a very readable book, not just a flipping-through-the-pictures book. (That is, it’s meaty not just eye-candy.)

Like a garden blog, the journal entry for each day has a theme and a title. The themes are quite varied. Sometimes Monty Don details some project, problem, or success in the garden. Sometimes, he muses on his observations of the nature and the garden. Often he describes people who have influenced him over the years as he became a gardener. He describes in detail his experiences with many plants, his desires, his trials, his successes and his failures.

I marked scores of passages in this book and will go back and dip into it again and again. Because the entries for each day are fairly short and because chronology is not important, The Ivington Diaries is an ideal book for delving into at odd moments when one wants to be entertained and informed by someone who really thinks about and is passionate about gardening.


December 6th, 2010
Five Books: Essential Reads for Gardeners

Genevieve at North Coast Gardening wants to know what five books do we think are a must for every gardener. Creating a book list was one of the first things I did when began this blog almost a decade ago. I’ve read hundreds of gardening books since then and yet these few are always at the top of my list.

Karel Capek: The Gardener’s Year

Find out if your favorite gardener has this book, and if not, make a present of it. This has to be the funniest book ever written on gardening, more so because it is all true. To give examples, I’d have to quote long passages. Don’t give this book to a beginning gardener, though. The reader should have gardened through at least one year to really appreciate Karel Capek’s observations.
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The Elements of Organic Gardening

What can you learn from a prince about growing veggies? Quite a lot, actually, even if your suburban lot is nothing like his castles. This looks like it might be just another gorgeous coffee table book (and it is beautiful) but it is also full of information, written intelligently, clearly and compellingly. This is my favorite gardening book of the last couple of years.

Down to Earth: Practical Thoughts for Passionate Gardeners

People have told me that I should write a book. After reading Margot Rochester’s Down to Earth, I don’t feel the need to. I turned page after page and thought, “Hey, that’s exactly what I’m always saying.” I knew I’d found a true kindred spirit. And she’s written my book for me. Of course, the title clued me in. I’m both passionate and practical, a combination which confuses those who think every choice is an either/or choice.
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Passalong Plants

Offbeat, wacky, outrageous…words not normally associated with gardening books. I love these guys! I’m also pretty sure that my Bouldin Creek neighbors take landscape design advice from these two southern plantsmen. An antidote to English gardening books from a couple of good ole boys who garden in the south and understand our weather and our ways. Descriptions of each plant run about a page, accompanied with a memory, and a color photo.
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Tottering in My Garden

If Midge Ellis Keeble lived now, she would have been a garden blogger. She writes delightfully the various gardens she had over her life and the lessons she learned from each. The focus is foremost on the stories: the thrill and the trials that face all gardeners. But like talking with any experienced gardener, there is so much to learn. When I reread it years later, I was amazed to discover that many things I’d done and learned in my own garden were from seeds planted in my mind from this lovely little book.