Books about flower gardening, women gardeners and seeding

  • “Flower Gardening” by Matt Mattus. Contributed image

  • “The Seedling That Didn’t Want to Grow” by Britta Teckentrup. Contributed image

  • “The Earth in Her Hands: 75 Extraordinary Women Working the World of Plants” by Jennifer Jewell Contributed image

Published: 3/23/2020 9:11:06 AM

It was once a dream of mine to have a cutting garden. In my imagination, this would be a garden with lots of flowers from early spring to late fall. I would stroll amid these beauties every morning and pick a little bouquet, snowdrops or narcissus for my bedroom. I would wake every morning to the beauties of spring. In the summer and fall, the house would be filled with my beautiful bouquets of roses, peonies, Mexican sunflowers and zinnias and endless other delicate and sturdy flowers.

Need I tell you I never made such a cutting garden? However, at one point in my life, I was quite pleased with my big bouquets of autumnal foliage and my favorite late-blooming chrysanthemum called the Sheffield daisy.

I was just sent a beautiful book that has rekindled my desire to bring flowers into the house. Matt Mattus has written “Mastering the Art of Flower Gardening: A Gardener’s Guide to Growing Flowers from Today’s Favorites to Unusual Varieties” (Cool Springs Press, $30).

In his introduction, Mattus tells us, “Within these pages, I touch on many of the lost 19th-century horticultural crafts gardeners practiced, such as forcing lily of the valley pip into bloom or raising tuberoses and mignonette in the home garden.”

I have no trouble with lily of the valley, but my attempt at growing a tuberose last summer was a total failure. And I’m not even sure I know what mignonette is. But this beautifully illustrated book gives me hope.

There is a brief beginning with basic information about getting started. Then we are on to gorgeous portraits of some spring bloomers like primulas and irises, but that is just a teaser. It is followed by page spreads of several flowers with very specific information about that one flower.

Certain flowers like primroses, Primula, which come in many forms, earn even more special attention. I have two types of primrose in my garden. Japanese primroses, which are more than a foot tall, love a swampy site that even has shade. They were given to me by a friend. My other old fashioned polyanthus is very small and sweet and makes me feel like I might bump into Shakespeare any minute.

Then, Mattus moves us into spring with information about 57 summer bloomers. Many of these will be familiar like lavender, petunias and zinnias. Some I never heard of like Bird’s Eye Gilia grown in cottage gardens in 1700, and Mignonette, also grown in the 1700s and loved for its fragrance. It is just wonderful to find new plants that might feel like a necessary addition to your garden.

Additionally, Mattus also has a wonderful blog. “Gardening With Plants” has useful information about the world of plants and how to combine plants in the garden and in a bouquet.

Another book, “The Earth in Her Hands: 75 Extraordinary Women Working the World of Plants” by Jennifer Jewell (Timber Press, $35) takes us on a tour of the work done by women in many fields including botany, environmental science, landscape design, agriculture, garden writing and photography, public garden administration, public policy and more.

Some of the women profiled will be familiar. There is Marta McDowell, author of “Emily Dickinson’s Gardens” and “Beatrix Potter’s Gardening Life.” July Moir Messervy is a garden designer with several excellent and useful books to her name. I have been reading Amy Stewart’s books for 15 years for their information and charm.

But there are other fascinating women I have never been introduced to such as British Tessa Traeger, who is an amazing photographer; Hemlata Pradhan a botanical artist in India; Mia Lehrer, a landscape architect at Studio-MLA in California whose concern is making cities more livable; Fionnulal Fallon writes a garden column for the Irish Times and is also a flower farmer and florist in Ireland; and Cynthia Ann Brown, who is the manager of Horticulture Collections and Education at the Smithsonian Gardens in Washington, D.C.

There are many ways to go to work in the garden. All these women have included a note about other women who have inspired them. This is the kind of book that will lead you to find other books and gardeners to follow.

For the past three years, I have been invited by a friend to read to her First Grade every Friday afternoon. These First-Graders want to learn about everything, history, art, bad days, and learning about jobs they might do someday. This book will help in that endeavor.

“The Seedling That Didn’t Want to Grow” by Britta Teckentrup (Prestel, $14.95) gives us a delightful story of how a seed was slow in sending up its first shoots. However, accompanied and encouraged by a lady bird and an ant, it began to grow among the forest trees. This unique seed grows and changes until, finally, its branches reach the sun. But that is not the end. There will be a lovely surprise in the spring.

The beautiful illustrations invite children to think about plants, other creatures and the environment. And, we are all reminded that growth does not happen on a tight schedule. It has been hailed by Publishers Weekly as “delicate, complex, extravagant, beautiful and strong,”

Happy reading.

Pat Leuchtman has been writing and gardening in Heath at End of the Road Farm since 1980. She now lives in Greenfield. Readers can leave comments at her website:

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