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The Gardener’s Bed-Book

By Richardson Wright

Reviewed by: Caroline McCullagh.

I found this book in a stack of second-hand books for sale. I knew immediately that I wanted it because it is part of a series called Modern Library Gardening edited by Michael Pollan, author of The Botany of Desire and Second Nature. Modern Library published the eight book paperback series in 2002 and 2003. I’ve reviewed three others: The Gardener’s Year by Karel Čapek (April 2012), We Made a Garden by Margery Fish (November 2011), and Green Thoughts by Eleanor Perênyi (May 2008). I look forward to finding the other four titles in my various forays to bookstores. They are Old Herbaceous by Reginald Arkell, The American Gardener by William Cobbett, In the Land of the Blue Poppies by Frank Kingdon Ward, and My Summer in a Garden by Charles Dudley Warner.

Pollen, one of the best garden and nature writers, put into words an appreciation I share with him. Speaking of the authors, he writes:

Their voices could be by turns personal and prescriptive, diffident and prickly, and, somehow, both self-deprecating and incontrovertible at the same time…I discovered that as soon as one got past the how-to volumes written by experts, and the illustrated coffee-table tomes of garden porn, the garden bookshelf brimmed with the sort of quirky, sui generis writing often produced by a good mind operating in a small space.

Richardson Wright (1887-1961) is one of those good minds that produced some quirky writing. He wrote 28 books during his career, including The Gardener’s Bed-Book, originally published in 1929, in addition to editing House & Garden magazine for 35 years.

The author calls it a bed-book because you can read one short section every night before going to sleep. Most of the readings are less than a page, but he includes one longer reading (two-plus pages) at the end of each month. Following each reading is a suggestion for what you might do the next day in the garden. For January 27, he says, “This is an excellent season for carrying on garden correspondence, especially with people a little less favored than you.” For the 28th, he suggests, “Hang a Cabbage from the ceiling of the chicken house and make your hens take vicarious exercise.” For the first week of April, he advises: “See that you have plenty of Dahlia stakes and Bean poles on hand.”

For some reason, most of the people who write this kind of book live and garden well east of us. Wright’s garden was in Connecticut, so many of his suggestions will not be relevant to us, except that they show us all the things we don’t have to do to prepare for winter.

I found this book an absolute delight. I recommend it to you for Wright’s good writing, his observant eye, and his wry sense of humor. No wonder Michael Pollan likes it so much.

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