March 27th, 2007
The Gardener’s Year

The Gardener’s Year.
Karel Capek.
Illustrated by Josef Capek.
Originally published in Czech in 1929. Translated into English in 1931.
ISBN 0-299-10020-0.

Note: This review is for the Garden Blogger Book Club over at Carol’s May Dreams Gardens. The Gardener’s Year is one of my favorite books and I’m glad Carol pushed me to finally review it.

In this small book, with chapters not much longer than the average blog post, Karel Capek speaks the universal language of gardeners, a language that connects us across the decades and continents. What does it matter that he wrote 80 years ago and tended his plot in Prague, or that he introduced the word “robot” into our vocabularies? If you are a gardener, you will see yourself on every page, nod your head in agreement, and spend a lot of time laughing.

Your relation toward things has changed. If it rains you say it rains on the garden; if the sun shines, it does not shine just anyhow, but it shines on the garden… p 10

The chapters for each month are intertwined with essays on what it means to be a gardener, how one becomes a gardener, the gardener’s complaints on the weather, searching for signs of spring (crocuses and seed catalogs), the trials of gardeners on vacation, how a gardener’s physiology should have evolved, the envy and lust of gardeners, the importance of soil, the gardener’s prayer for rain (gently every day from midnight until 3AM but not on the drought-loving plants), the pain of choosing among the offerings in seed catalogs, the restlessness to be doing something in the garden in winter, and the miracles of seeds.

The Gardener’s Year is a quick and easy read. You will breeze through it. Maybe you won’t think much of it…until you are attacked by your garden hose, or waiting for the grass to sprout, or sifting through conflicting advice in gardening books. Then you’ll realize that almost every sentence is a gem. So, although it is small, don’t rush through it. Or read it once and then go back and read it again, savoring it.

I find that a real gardener is not a man who cultivates flowers; he is a man who cultivates the soil…the gardener is not a man who smells a rose, but who is persecuted by the idea that “the soil would like some lime”…A rose in flower is, so to speak, only for dillittanti; the gardener’s pleasure is deeper rooted, right in the womb of the soil. After his death the gardener does not become a butterfly, intoxicated by perfumes of flowers, but a garden worm tasting all the dark, nitrogenous, and spicy delights of the soil.–p. 34-37

snake in her hand

Let no one think that real gardening is a bucolic and meditative occupation. It is an insatiable passion… –p. 13

There are times when the gardener wishes to cultivate, turn over, and compound all the noble soils, ingredients, and dungs…Only cowardly shame prevents the gardener from going into the street to collect what horses have left behind; but whenever he sees on the roadway a nice heap of dung, he sighs at the waste of God’s gifts. –pp 31-33

This is one of Nature’s mysteries–how from the best grass seed most luxuriant and hairy weeds come up; perhaps weed seed ought to be sown and then a nice lawn would result. –p. 9

We gardeners live somehow for the future; if roses are in flower, we think that next year they will flower better…Each successive year will add growth and beauty. Thank God that again we shall be one year farther on! –p. 160

by M Sinclair Stevens

8 Responses to post “The Gardener’s Year”

  1. From Carol (Indiana):

    I agree, this is a small book, quick to read, if one wants to read quickly, but it much better to savo. Thanks for participating in the book club, and for this great suggestion. It turns out to be a great book for a month that has many of us starting to scramble to get outside (and be attacked anew by our garden hoses!)

    Carol at May Dreams Gardens

    I forgot to add a trackback to the Gardener’s Book Club in my post originally. I’ve added a note as introduction. Thanks for encouraging me to sit down and finally review one of my favorite books. You’ve introduced “The Gardener’s Year” to a lot of gardeners. Good job! — mss

  2. From entangled:

    Yikes, I swear I didn’t read your review before writing mine, but we seem to have chosen some of the same language.

    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. — mss

  3. From Annie in Austin:

    Your list of recommended books put the title in my head, MSS, so that the name jumped out from the shelf at the bookstore. Thank you so much. You’ve caught the essence in this post, so anyone who hasn’t read it yet will certainly want to read it now!

    In this garden we don’t need to pray for overnight showers of liquid guano – resident flocks of white-winged doves are already at work.

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

  4. From Ki (New Jersey):

    Just a question about the photo of the worm in your? hand. I looks like a snake rather than a worm…perhaps some kind of blind snake?

    It’s a snake. — mss

  5. From Julie (Austin):

    Great heartfelt review.

    Will cash in the bithday gift certificate and buy a copy of this book!


  6. From Angelina (Oregon):

    I have been wanting to find some good garden writers. I like the excerpts you included. I will have to start a list, this will be the first one!

    Is that YOUR hand holding the snake. Wow. My son would like to do that. (catch a snake and hold it)

    Yes, it’s my chubby, grubby little hand. I had a hard time trying to hold the snake with one hand and focus the camera with the other. — mss

  7. From jenn:

    Gorgeous little snake!

    And my hands look pretty much just like that today. I’ve been out muckin about in the garden.

  8. From Kate (Canada):

    I am so enjoying reading the reviews of this book. It was such a good read and that comes shining through in all of the bloggers’ reviews.

    I liked the way you put in some of the really great quotes from the book.

    My sense is that this is a book we will all go back to from time to time …

    Oh, yes! I agree. — mss