“A book is like a garden, carried in your pocket.”      Chinese Proverb

Earlier this season I was building a client’s container garden in a lovely courtyard with many pots. Arranging the plants within them is a fun project I look forward to every year.  Ruthie, my client’s middle-aged black labrador, might get up from her napping spot to peer out at me, but I am usually there a good while before her gentle brown eyes find me just behind her nose that is pressed against the glass. Once she determines I am no threat, she is back to sleep.

The first part of the project is emptying the pots of any plants that didn’t survive the winter, usually the annuals. Depending on the size of the containers, I might dump the contents entirely or just remove some of the soil along with the dead plants and top-off. Moving briskly along pot to pot, I grabbed hold of a dead plant from one and pulled hard. I jumped back with a start as my effort brought out the entire contents, plant and all, revealing a good-sized toad at the bottom, his big eyes blink-blinking up at me, his throat flexing and his belly moving in and out. I placed the pot with Toad in it at the edge of the terrace under a dogwood tree as he seemed set on staying in and I didn’t want to plant fresh over him. I wondered the rest of the afternoon if he burrowed in from the top or if he squeezed himself in via the drain hole in the bottom? Still, it was a delightful surprise as I have no toads in my Haddon Heights garden and they are helpful garden friends as they eat insects.

There are so many ways in which the garden surprises and delights. Books are like this, too. Back in high school days, we had summer reading lists provided by teachers in order that perhaps our minds didn’t go to mush over the vacation. In the spirit of those lists, here are some garden-inspired books you might enjoy this summer:
1. The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery. The first movie made based on this book is due out August 5th. So read it first! Then go see the film. One of my favorite parts of the story is about the businessman who is so busy counting his numbers that he never gets enough exercise. And hates to be interrupted. I had to laugh. Then there is the theme of the rose–I’ll let you find out about that;
2. A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson. Last fall while I was recovering from hip surgery I read Grandma Gatewood’s Walk, an inspiring read for me as I hobbled about. I spotted A Walk in the Woods at a thrift store for fifty cents and grabbed it, thinking it would be a fun read to get another perspective on the Appalachian Trail. I was entertained by the antics of the author’s trail mate, Katz, and I learned some interesting facts: I did not know that the Delaware River is one of only a handful of rivers in the United States that has never been dammed; a town called Centralia, Pennsylvania where a fire started in a coal mine burned underground for decades; I also learned a bit about the plant and animal diversity of the Smoky Mountains. There are parts of the book that inspired me–as Grandma Gatewood did–to walk the trail, at least in parts; other points made in the book changed my mind in a second. Good thing there are books like this, though, so I can at least live vicariously;
3. The Garden of Reading, edited by Michele Slung. This collection includes garden writing form authors Steven King, James Thurber, Eudora Welty, and Garrison Keillor. I would say this is a perfect book if you are looking for a vacation or travel read as the stories and essays are not long so you can pick it up and put it down as you time and attention allows. Garrison Keillor writes, ” Becky Diener stayed upstairs in her bedroom and looked at the tree. She was stuck on an assignment from Miss Melrose for English, a 750-word personal essay, ‘Describe your backyard as if you were seeing it for the first time.'” I stopped to think of how I might craft such an essay;
4. Braiding Sweetgrass, Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Kimmerer. The author writes about her father’s love for wild strawberries: “Gifts from the earth and from each other establish a particular relationship, an obligation of sorts to give, to receive, and to reciprocate. The field gave to us, we gave to my dad, and we tried to give back to the strawberries. When the berry season was done, the plants would send out slender red runners to make new plants. Because I was fascinated by the way they would travel over the ground looking for good places to take root, I would weed out little patches of bare ground where the runners touched down. Sure enough, tiny little roots would emerge from the runner and by the end of the season there were even more plants, ready to bloom under the next Strawberry Moon. No person taught us this–the strawberries showed us. Because they had given us a gift, an ongoing relationship opened between us.” The garden and plants are true gifts to us–the provide for us food, oxygen and shelter; it is indeed an important relationship to cultivate;
5. Creative Vegetable Gardening by Joy Larkcom. Just in case you thought growing vegetables a departure for the beauty of an ornamental garden, this book will change your mind. The photos are gorgeous just for themselves yet the book is still full of practical and design advice of things ranging from path ideas and construction to incorporating fruit trees as a decorative feature, and charts for potager management. I get fresh ideas every time I look at the book–not just for the vegetables but for use of foliages. Even plants that are fruit-bearing can have beautiful foliage.

Do you have any favorite garden books or garden stories you’d like to tell us about? Please write in the space below.

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