Can I make a little confession today? As much as I have been enjoying my monthly gardening reading, I think I am ready to turn those final pages and move on to some other nature book next year as my 'serial'/monthly read. Don't get me wrong, Anna Pavord is such an engaging writer and so much of The Curious Gardener has been pure delight. But, and there is always a 'but' isn't there? But I think the reason I have not been reaching for the book of late (once again this month I am lagging behind and am playing 'catch-up') has more to it than simple busy-ness of life at the moment.
I love all the social history and personal experiences and travel bits that Pavord includes in her short essays. There are all sorts of interesting things I never knew about gardens that I find really fascinating, but I tend to get bogged down in all the practical aspects of gardening that she writes about. This book is as much about what to do in your garden as it is about all the peripheral things associated with them. The curiosities I find so interesting to read about. But the practicalities less so since I do not myself garden. I don't feel as though I have enough of a background and basic knowledge about how to garden to get full enjoyment out of it all.
Another admission on my part . . .when she talks the serious shop talk and begins discussing plants and flowers and peppers the essays with all the Latin references my eyes (at least this time around, and maybe I have been simply distracted by other things) tend to glaze over. I realize I haven't a clue what she is talking about as I have no frame of reference and am so often not near a computer in order to look up terms and get visuals (and let's face it, plants and flowers of a specific sort call for good visuals or a knowledge of them and ability to pull from memory what it all means). So, some of the essays are wonderful and very evocative and I can relate to, and others are very specific and I just can't apply it in any meaningful way to my life right now.
Still, there is always plenty to like and enjoy about the topics she does choose to write about. I just hate the idea that I found myself this chapter wanting to skim parts. I never skim parts of books (not that I am properly reading like this one). I always think of that as cheating in some weird way. If I am going to read a book, I am going to read the whole thing or just set it aside. But I did read it all and tried to pull back my mind when I found myself wandering on occasion.
The bits I really liked? She begins with mazes.
"This maze is extraordinary. It lies on gently sloping ground at the edge of the parkland and represents the Green Man, a potent figure in Celtic mythology. Most of the outline is traced in beech, but the curling lips are made of yew, clipped in billows, the nose is a bank of lavender tumbling from a tumulus of stone and the chin is a pool, mostly filled with jagged upturned tree trunk."
The maze owner wanted the 'goal' to be simple--"very much a quiet place of nature". The center of the maze also had a holly tree which is a symbol of the Green Man. Now, this is exactly the sort of thing I like to read about and know enough about that I can visualize it nicely.
And I really liked the short essay on 'giant vegetables'. She asked a group of gardeners why they grow these monster veggies. And one of them replies (courtesy demanding an answer to so obvious a question), "I was looking for something to do". Fair enough.
"The expertise needed to produce these monster vegetables, the love and care lavished on them, is self evident. But why is bulk so much more interesting than quality? Because it is measurable, say the people who grow them. Incontrovertible. It's a mine-is-bigger-than-yours situation. No argument."
Am I just imagining it, or did I read somewhere that someone trying to grow a massive pumpkin milk fed it? Hmm. It is a curious hobby, but why not, right?
Even in the sections that are a little above my head there is often still something to latch on to, something to admire in the writing and appreciate. Like how she can easily and smoothly segue from one topic to another--bicycle paths in West Dorset to trying to decide how to label each plant in her garden (the link between the two--tin--and in the end she decides to skip the labels no matter how good an idea they are. Or, one other nicely turned phrase . . .when she talks about hydrangeas, I thought this was a lovely description:
"The flowers are cream and droop down in rather shapeless long panicles. The way the other two hold their flower heads is so much better. They present them like waiters swirling into a dining room with plates poised high on their fingertips."
Now that I can indeed imagine! Hopefully some of the rest (which I don't) will rub off in a good way, in a way I don't exactly realize right now.