April 27th, 2007
Old Wives’ Lore for Gardeners

Old Wives' Lore for Gardeners
On the left, the original book, Old Wives’ Lore for Gardeners. On the right, the combined reprint.

I’ve forgotten where I picked up my original copy of Old Wives’ Lore for Gardeners. I suspect it was one of those books that Margaret thoughtfully tucks into our Christmas box. However, browsing Half Price Books, I was excited to find a hardcover edition. My paperback is the 1977 second American printing from Farrar, Straus and Giroux. The hardcover edition is an 1998 Ecco Press reprint. Its pages looked fresh and the binding sturdy. I snapped it up.

Looking at it more carefully at home, I noticed the new book was actually a reprint of two works, the second being Bridget Boland’s 1977 Gardeners’ Magic. It was only then that I realized that the new book was named Gardeners’ Lore instead of the original Old Wives’ Lore for Gardeners.

That change takes the punch out of the brilliant opening line, “We are not Old Wives ourselves, being in fact old spinsters; nor are we professional gardeners in any sense.. The readers of the Ecco edition must wonder what in the world they are talking about.

And the new title destroys the focus of the book as a celebration of hand-me-down wisdom.

We began to ask all our friends, wherever they lived, for the sort of lore their grandmothers had passed down to them. Modern scientific gardening books we read, of course; but we found in old books too so much practical advice of the grandmotherly kind that the new books never covered that we decided to pass it all on to those who are not afraid of finding a certain amount of superstition mingled with good sense.”

The new book is a facsimile reprint. However, there is one glaring omission. A paragraph has been whited out. There is no explanation for the edit; no indication that this reprint is actually abridged. I might never have noticed it except that it was a story that had stuck in my mind and I looked it up one day to quote it in a comment. And it wasn’t there. I was so angry that I gave the book away.

Old Wives' Lore for Gardeners
The edited page.

Old Wives' Lore for Gardeners
The original page. I’ve typed out the missing paragraph below.

We once read of a family in France who were said to bury the unwanted babies of maidens in the villagery under their vines, presumably on the same principle. but let it not be said that we actually advocate this.

by M Sinclair Stevens

One Response to post “Old Wives’ Lore for Gardeners”

  1. From Angelina (Oregon):

    What a great paragraph, maybe they thought it was too controversial for the more current crowd of gardeners. I think it’s fascinating.