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Between the Rows: Gift ideas for garden lovers

  • Pat Leuchtman



For The Recorder
Friday, November 24, 2017

Most of us don’t think we are engaged in garden design when we go out to plant a perennial bed or plant a tree. We might be thinking of a garden we have admired, a green memory or a dream that we want to bring to life. But, all of that is what goes into a garden design. That is equally true for the gardeners in the remarkable book, “The Secret Gardeners: Britian’s Creatives Reveal Their Private Sanctuaries.”

Author Victoria Summerly explains, “All artists, whether they are writers, musicians, actors, painters or sculptors, use their experience of life as raw material for their work. The owners in this book have applied the same process to their gardens.”

The book’s photographs were taken by Hugo Rittson Thomas, and provide a glamorous armchair tour of beautiful gardens by such creative people as Sir Richard Branson, Julian Fellowes, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Rupert Everett, Sting and 20 other familiar, and not so familiar, British stars.

Since many of this book’s gardeners are performers of one kind or another, it is no surprise that in addition to lush flower beds, vine covered stone walls, streams and rills, there will be some major projects and unusual accents. When Sir Richard Branson bought his property in Oxfordshire, the first thing he did was dig out a lake complete with islands to welcome and support waterfowl.

Ozzy Osbourne’s garden includes an iconic red telephone booth and the model of a cow looking down on a great flower bed.

I was particularly fascinated by Sting’s garden, with a pollarded lime walk — sculptural in winter and cooling in summer — as well as a grassy labyrinth. And, of course, Sting’s wife, Trudie, has a wonderful rose garden. “The Secret Gardeners” is a book for dreaming, but we gardeners might easily find some element that would translate beautifully in our own garden, perhaps with a little scaling down.

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“The Naturalist’s Notebook for Tracking Changes in the Natural World Around You” by Nathaniel T. Wheelwight and Bernd Heinrich is a book with a very different goal — teaching us how to observe the natural world around us, including its finest details, and how to keep a record of our observations on the Five Year Journal pages.

By nature, I am not a detail person, at the same time, I want to be attentive to the beauties and fluctuations of the natural world around me. As a gardener, I do pay attention to the larger changes in my garden, and I keep minimal weather records in a notebook, along with names of what I plant — sometimes I put them on the list when they die out. But, I want to see and know more. I have launched myself into this book and the instructions it provides.

After introductory notes, the first chapter is “Being Attentive,” and then we embark into directions and suggestions about how to be observant and the tools we might need — from quick-drying pants, a magnifying glass, a camera, an insect net, and other small items like a pH meter and thermometer that will help measure the physical characteristics of ponds and streams.

Wheelwright and Heinrich give us practical instructions about outfitting ourselves, as they teach us what to look for and the questions to ask ourselves as we make our observations.

We live where it is easy, even in Greenfield, to go on a nature walk and look at the identifying form of a tree, from its canopy to the tiny details of its leaf buds. Reading this book reminded me of the square-foot field trip, a science exercise we teachers-to-be at the University of Massachusetts practiced, which made us aware of how much there was to see and learn in any square foot of lawn or wilderness.

Half of “The Naturalist’s Notebook” is given to the five-year calendar/journal. It is organized a week at a time over five years so that you can compare changes in weather and sightings of plants or wildlife at a glance. Wheelwright and Heinrich even give suggestions about writing with abbreviations and symbols. They also suggest that you might want to keep a larger journal with not only information about what is happening around you, but what you are thinking and feeling as you make your observations. This beautiful book is a notebook — a journal will allow for fuller descriptions — but it is a wonderful beginning.

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If you have a budding young naturalist in your family, I can recommend Kathryn Galbraith’s book, “Planting the Wild Garden” with illustrations by Wendy Anderson Halperin. This beautiful book has won literary prizes as well as prizes for science and nature writing.

Many of us start our children’s gardening with a few seeds in a tiny part of our own gardens. However, many of the flowers and plants around us are planted by Mother Nature, with help from the wind, rain and animals who carry the seeds in their fur or droppings. When I read this story to local first graders, they always giggle at the thought of seeds traveling in animal poop.

Books are high on my gift-giving list. I know the gardeners on my list welcome new instruction and entertaining books as much as I do. Happy shopping.

Pat Leuchtman had written and gardened since 1980. She lives in Greenfield. Readers can leave comments at her Web site: www.commonweeder.com