Book Review & Giveaway: The Backyard Parables

The Backyard Parables

Parable is one of those Old — no, make that Ancient World words.  Just saying it conjures up an image of a toga-ed philosopher sitting on the steps of the Parthenon, eager and inquisitive students kneeling and sitting and catching each one of his words.

That’s kind of how I felt as I read Margaret Roach’s newest book, The Backyard Parables.  Okay, it wasn’t a toga party, but I could certainly imagine gardeners arriving from far and wide to her rural New York State garden — gathering about her as she shares the wit and wisdom of her words.   (Note to self: find out Margaret’s Open Garden Day schedule.)

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Autumn In Peyton Place

Indian summer is like a woman.  Ripe, hotly passionate, but fickle, she comes and goes as she pleases so that one is never sure whether she will come at all, nor for how long she will stay.

This is the quote that runs through my mind on any autumn day when summer-like temperatures breathe their last breaths – much like this past Friday when an October day, with its changing leaves and angled sunlight, seemed to conflict with the June-like temperature.

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Book Review: Vegetables (A Biography)

I love my veggies.  I love them raw, steamed, roasted, grilled, sautéed and pureed.  I just don’t grow them.  In fact, other than the rare bonus packet of tomato seeds that comes with my annual seed order, I avoid growing vegetables.  There, I’ve said it.

Don’t get me wrong.  I love the idea of growing and harvesting my own food, and the whole locavore movement (although I do have issues with the word.  I think it sounds like “crazy eater.”) — it’s just that I’m more in love with the idea than the actual task.  And the sad part is, I know I’m missing out on something.  On many things.

Part of my aversion comes from the multitude of garden pests.  I know what they can do just in my flower garden – and squirrels have been known to push me over the edge.  I just don’t think I could handle a) the vigilantism of protecting my food from varmints and b) the disappointment of seeing my dinner on someone else’s plate.

I also feel that with vegetables, it’s either feast or famine – and both are ill-timed.  When I’ve tried to grow tomatoes in the past, there were very few for summer salads.  Instead, they all arrived at once at the end of the season – and let’s not forget the brown bags full of green tomatoes and an apple to help them ripen.  The same goes for strawberry.  Yes, strawberry – because that’s about all I was able to enjoy as a freshly picked dessert and I know I’m not alone.  Here is some proof from Tidy Gardens by Jane.

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Book Review: Mentors In The Garden Of Life

I’ve always had a green thumb, and I’ve always wondered from where did it come?  Is it something that sits quietly on a strand of DNA, inherited through the millennia courtesy of an ancestral gatherer, Neandernittygritty erectus?  Or is it something learned, passed down through several generations – a horti-oral tradition, if you will?  Or is it information picked up and shared along the gardening path?  Is it perhaps a combination of all three theories?

These were the questions rolling around in my head when I was introduced to an amazing memoir, Mentors In The Garden Of Life, by Colleen Plimpton.  In short, if I ever write a book, this is the book that I would love to write.

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Book Review: Wicked Bugs

I’m good when it comes to bugs.  For the most part.

I mean, I generally do not become hysterical when I cross paths with a 6- or 8-legged creature.  In fact, there are some bugs I actually enjoy.  I’m captivated by a trail of ants going about its journey; I love the sultry summer chirp of cicadas; I’m totally in love with praying mantis; I’m mesmerized by the flicker of lightning bugs; I’m completely overjoyed by the arrival of a butterfly (which is why it received top billing);  and when it comes to bees, we have a firm understanding.  I’ll let them do their work, if they let me do mine.

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Spring, “The Secret Garden,” and You

I cannot think of a better way to celebrate spring than with a visit to The Secret Garden, Frances Hodgson Burnett’s classic piece of children’s literature about a willful girl, pain and loss, and the healing power of gardening.  By the way, do not be turned off by the “children’s literature” label — it’s a story that knows no age.

I must admit that although this book was first published in 1911, I never got around to reading it – and that was a huge mistake.  Yes, I am familiar with the various film interpretations, but I never treated myself to the beauty of Burnett’s written words. 

My second mistake was downloading the free Kindle version.  With each “page,” I found myself nodding along as Burnett captured in language all of my thoughts about gardening.  And with each nod, I craved an illustration.  Fortunately, the strength of the prose allowed me to paint the images in my mind.

Before The Secret Garden was published in book format, it ran as a serial – sort of like posts on a blog.  To correct my mistakes, I would like to invite Frances Hodgson Burnett to be today’s guest blogger via a few spring-like passages.

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Book Review: Year of Wonders

We all know we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover – but is it polite to judge it by its title?

Take, for example, Year of Wonders, by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Geraldine Brooks.  On the surface, it seems like a pleasant name for a book – inspirational and awe-inspiring.  It’s the haunting tagline under the title that seems a little unnerving: “A Novel of the Plague.”

Not exactly an uplifting subject – and yet, it was all that and more.

Based on true life events, this fictional account focuses on a small English village in which Plague has taken hold.  Under the guidance of the local minister, the town quarantines itself – and through the eyes of Anna, we witness moments of horror and joy, life and death, infection and healing.

As Plague ravishes this small community, the reader witnesses Anna’s spiritual growth.  As a woman who has faced monumental losses, she is able to face life one step at a time, to learn, to find her purpose as a healer and midwife, and to discover her voice – no small feat for a woman in 1666.

Through Brooks’ rich and eloquent prose, the reader is allowed to witness Anna’s p

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Book Review: Two Women, Two Writers, Two Gardens


Prior to starting this blog, I did very little garden-related reading.  In fact, most of the garden reading I had done was the technical kind, usually to research a plant or a seed.  It never crossed my mind to want to read a gardening book for pleasure – and now I find myself craving garden books and garden blogs.  Recently, I read two remarkable books at the same time, and I am enchanted.

From the moment I received One Writer’s Garden, by Susan Haltom and Jane Roy Brown, from my friend Catherine, I knew it would be a difficult book to categorize.  It’s definitely a gardening book, but it’s a biography and a history book, as well – all woven together with strands of roses and irises and camellias.

The garden, located in Jackson, Mississippi, was designed and planted by Chestina Welty, an amazing woman who passed her love of gardening on to her daughter, the Pulitzer Prize-winning Eudora Welty.  In beautifully written narrative, the reader is transported to a time that now seems almost other-worldly.

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Book Review: 1493

When children recite, “Mary, Mary, quite contrary, how does your garden grow?” perhaps a more appropriate question would be, “From where does your garden grow?”  That’s the question I ‘m asking myself this Columbus Day weekend after reading the best-selling new book 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created, by Charles C. Mann.  This meticulously researched book examines the world after Columbus set foot in North America. 

While Columbus certainly has his critics, there can be no mistaking that his arrival in the New World placed the entire world on the globalization frontier.  The author’s position is that much of what we enjoy today can be traced back to what he calls the Columbian Exchange, a means of moving plants and seeds and animals from one part of the world to another part.  It is why, for example, that tomatoes arrived in Italy and citrus arrived in Florida.  So much of what we take for granted wasn’t always so; and much of it would not be if Columbus had not set the process in motion. 

I myself am a bit of a mutt: English, Scottish, German, French, and Italian.  My paternal ancestors arrived in North America in 1675; my maternal great-grandfather entered through Ellis Island.  While this is my gene pool, I wonder just how diverse and worldly is my garden? 

Thanks to the Internet and Google, I learned that what I plant has traveled a long way to be planted.  In fact, my garden could be a lesson for world leaders seeking peace.   Although it heavily favors Asia and Central and South Americas, there is little conflict in plants from many lands successfully sharing common ground.   (Note to self: bring Australia into the mix, but wait until full-out global warming for Antarctica to come into bloom.) 

And to think my melting pot only took 518 years — and still counting — to plant. 

Happy Columbus Day — and enjoy the weekend in the garden.

Book Review: Anthill Antics In Alabama

A few weeks ago, I saw an excellent review of a new book, Anthill, by E.O. Wilson.  Still, after reading the review, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to get bogged down in a book about ants and an environmentalist.  That’s what I thought until the other day, when I visited my local library and saw the title on the new book shelf.  Clearly it was calling me, and I took a chance.  I’m glad that I did.

The novel traces the life of  Raff Cody, an inquisitive, eco-friendly young man living “on the Gulf Coastal Plain, on the fringe of the North American subtropics,” also known as Alabama.  Throughout his boyhood, Raff is completely enamored of an undeveloped piece of pristine Alabama land.  His commitment to his environment follows him through high school into college, then onto Harvard Law and into corporate America. 

What is truly stunning in Mr. Wilson’s first work of fiction is the care the Pulitzer Prize-winning author takes in describing and celebrating the rich biodioversity that often comes into conflict with developers.  While most of the book follows the efforts of Raff to preserve his piece of the planet while balancing his corporate responsibilities, one section can stand on its own as an impressive piece of writing.

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