At the end of the year we review the past growing season and plan for the next. The year becomes our test period before we review again. Our bodies are attuned to follow the seasons. Writers seek a framework to support the story they wish to tell. What then would come more naturally to a garden writer than the progression of the gardening year. But is a year giving us enough? A quick search on the Internet provides me with a slew of gardening books, how to's and memoirs, all with the word year in the title. Yes, some of them are classics or hilarious or incredibly informative but the arbitrary cut off leaves me asking, Well what happened next? Did you stick it out? Solve the annoying neighbour problem? Get more hens?
Give me the equivalent of Two Years Before the Mast by Richard Henry Dana Jr, Five Years in Revolutionary Cuba by Carroll English, Den of Lions: Memoirs of Seven Years by Terry Anderson or even Thirty Five Years of Newspaper Work by H.L. Mencken (though can't help thinking you could have come up with a snappier title H.L.)
In this frame of mind I chose Paul Gervais' A Garden in Lucca for my entry to the Garden Book Review.
It is a twenty year memoir of transforming an abandoned garden in Tuscany into a personal paradise. Gervais embarks on some serious research, devouring books, investigating garden history and exploring significant gardens. The author has a lyrical style which is a pleasure to read for it's beauty alone.
Unfortunately I found the tone to be more than slightly pretentious at times. The use of foreign phrases and Latin names without explanation becomes tiresome. I have taken to ignoring the parts I don't understand and adopt a "Oh, Paul!" defence to examples of pomposity. Truth be told this Quaker girl finds them rather delicious. I keep going back for phrases like these:
"There's a flood of white "Sea Foam" roses cascading off a low ledge, and there are pink and yellow honeysuckles, mauve "Marie Viaud" roses, and a sky-blue California lilac trained up on a southern, framing wall."
"In late winter, the young, bare-limbed cherries wade in deep floods of yellow and white narcissuses"
" ...a three-hundred year old Zizyphus tree, all wretched and thorny, like something a not-terribly-wicked witch would grow."
and give a wry smile at
" my salone, the nineteenth century style room I'd always thought of as quite Lucchese in style"
Twenty years gives both the writer and reader scope for reflection, a quality that attracts me to this book, despite it's flaws.
|Garden at Lucca from Villa Massei website|