Reviewed by: Caroline McCullagh.
You’ll have to excuse me. I’m just recovering from an attack of nostalgia. Do you remember the book, The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett? If you’ve never read it, go out of your way to find it. I’m thinking about it because the book I read for this month has an excerpt from it. It’s the section in which nine-year-old orphan Mary first enters the garden. She thinks all the plants a dead, but then she notices little green spears poking up through the soil and fighting their way through weeds and grass. It’s a magical scene.
This short excerpt is one of 93 sections of prose and poetry in Invitation to the Garden: A Celebration in Literature & Photography. This is a delightful coffee table book edited by Ferris Cook. I don’t know whether people still have coffee tables featuring artfully arranged books—none of my friends do—but this book would be perfect for that. Your guests would get great pleasure leafing through it, enjoying the photos, and savoring the short readings.
Thirty-six of the ninety-three readings are poems. Most of the authors wrote during the 19th and 20th centuries— poets such as Homer, Chaucer, Shakespeare, John Donne, Andrew Marvell, and Po Chu-I are included. Some of the prose authors are Lewis Carroll, Colette, Virginia Woolf, H.G. Wells, and A.A. Milne. What a rich selection. If you are an aspiring writer, this is just the kind of book to study for examples of the best writing of different eras.
One section is especially charming. It has inscriptions from sundials, of all things. The inscriptions are variations on a theme that time is fleeting and human life short. My favorite: Haste, traveller, on thy way. / The Sun is sinking low. / He shall return again, / but never thou. Not a cheery thought, but still, interesting.
I’ve told you about the words. The more than 100 pictures, by nine different photographers, are equally eye-catching. My favorite is a spectacular photo of prize-winning onions that accompanies Pablo Neruda’s poem “Ode to the Onion.”
Editor Ferris Cook is both an artist and a writer. Her wide knowledge of garden writing and photography is on display here. She has a number of other books in print, some illustrated by her own very fine drawings instead of photos. Two that I found listed were Bark: Selected Poems about Dogs and Yowl: Selected Poems about Cats. These and Invitation to the Garden could cover just about everyone on your Christmas list.
Just a small note: It may take a little work to find them. Invitation to the Garden is one of those few books that doesn’t show up on Amazon either by title or by editor, so you’ll have to use the ISBN—1-55670-397-X. It’s definitely worth making the effort.