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The Winter Gardener

Winter – the time for roaring fires, hot coffee and books! Books about gardens to recharge the mental batteries and refresh the mind. When the allure of the garden dims in the face of cold southerlies and driving rain, that’s the cue for time out with a book.
Some books on gardening are timeless classics – a joy to read every year – more lyrical then practical. Others are more mundane with the endless ‘how to’ or ‘should do’.
Those are not my kind of books although I do use them from time to time. When the flowers in the garden die off then I need the visual assault of poetic, picturesque prose. here's to books

Winter is the time when I turn to the craftsmen and women, of words as well as plants and gardens. People like Miriam Osler, Jane Brown, Christopher Lloyd, Robin Lane Fox, Graham Stuart Thomas and Jane Fearnley-Whittingstall who can craft a garden with words as well as they craft a garden with their hands and plants.

These writers and books are not the latest and greatest but are in our house well worn re-treads expressing a love of the world of plants and the business of gardens. Some are dead or well past their prime but their knowledge and language are still here for winter enjoyment.

When I wrote a review of ‘The Thoughtful gardener’ by Robin Lane Fox in which I eulogised about it, I was challenged later by a reader who had entirely different views to mine. I re-read it. It is a book to dip in and out of and although I acknowledge the reader’s point of view I still stand by the fact that he writes beautifully and he is a writer I would not be without.
If the rest of my winter list is also challenged that’s great. At least people are reading reviews and books and for that I have no quarrel.

For a fun time in front of the fire with coffee, hot chocolate or wine try ‘The 3,000 Mile Garden’ – letters between  Roger Phillips in England and Leslie Land in New York – it chronicles their love of food, gardening and life in general. Books of letters always enthrall me. Such courage to lay out your life and soul to the scrutiny of others. Alas in the times of emails I suspect the art of letters will be lost.

Jane Brown writes of ‘The Rose Tree’ not as you may suspect about roses but about the Rhododendrons from around the world. They are not my most favourite of trees but are great in parks and wilderness areas and allowed to grow wild and untamed. This is a travel book as much as a gardening one.

‘A Gentle Plea for Chaos’ was my bible at Trinity Farm when people came and expected a neat and tidy city section. That was not for me or my style of gardening. Rather I like plants to express themselves without the need to be tamed by humans. Miriam gave me permission to allow my plants the freedom to explore their surrounds.

And lastly a book on the wonderful exuberant and difficult to grow in our temperate Otaki climate, the Peonies- The Imperial Flower as Jane Fearnley-Whittingstall calls it. What a bible on that Chinese plant with its history and beauty.

So go to it. Put away the spade and secateurs. Pull up a chair and pour a glass and enjoy winter gardening at its best.

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