What is it about garden anthologies and garden writers that interests both beginner and experienced gardeners alike? It can't be the focus on the finished product the garden because any gardener will assure you that the garden is never finished. More than likely, it's the process of gardening itself that fascinates, and Jane Garmey's The Writer in the Garden is a good example of that process.
It's been said of gardeners that they trust only the wisdom of those who have dirt under their fingernails; obvious hands-on experience and the tell-tale signs of battle are recognizable and admirable. We even reward the effort by hanging on every word recounting frustrating skirmishes or glorious victories. To us, the words of Cynthia Kling make perfect sense: People who don't really understand gardening think of it as a patrician and benign hobby. That couldn't be further from the truth. To serious gardeners, it's blood sport. Keeping individual entries brief and easy to read in one sitting, editor Jane Garmey draws from some 56 writers who have practiced the living art of gardening. Of course, there are the usual jottings of Vita Sackville-West, Russell Page, Gertrude Jekyll, and Christopher Lloyd, but who would have thought that M.F.K. Fisher would have anything to say about roses? Or that Edith Wharton would care to contemplate Italian gardens? The musings in Christopher Lloyd's "Hurrah for Vulgarity" and Henry Mitchell's "On the Defiance of Gardeners" ask us to think about gardening and gardeners in a new way, but by the time we get to Patricia Thorpe's "The Day of the Living Dead," we recognize familiar territory. There's no doubt whatsoever when we read the words of Ken Druse: "If it's rare we want it. If it's tiny and impossible to grow, we've got to have it. If it's brown and looks dead, and has black flowers, we'll kill for it."
There are a few more months to go before another growing season begins, and wise gardeners will gather strength from this brief respite they know they're going to need it. The Writer in the Garden is one anthology that will put you in the mood for what's coming.
Pat Regel lives in Nashville.