Gifts for Gardeners: The British Book Edition

Rosa 'Carefree Beauty' against an old fence in my back garden.

British garden books are a whole different flavor from American ones. I think the ones below would make great gifts for any gardener on your list.

These books are my current British favorites. Some I was sent through the American arm of their publisher while others I purchased for myself. As I looked over all the books this year, I kept wondering how the British are able to afford to publish such big, beautiful tomes in these days of cutting publishing expenses. Perhaps, it’s because they are a nation of gardeners, and gardening books sell better there. I don’t know, but I will bask in the richness of their photography and page length.

Cover of Virginia Woolf's garden. Gifts for Gardeners
Cover of Virginia Woolf’s garden. Photography © 2013 Caroline Arber

Although my first choice is titled Virginia Woolf’s Garden, (Jacqui Small, LLP 2013), by Caroline Zoob, and photographed by Caroline Arber, it’s really about Virginia’s husband, Leonard, who was the hands-on gardener. At Monk’s House, he made a sanctuary for Virginia where she could lift her spirits and write uninterrupted. As a writer, I wonder what it would be like to have a little cottage at the end of a fragrant path in which to think, plan and dream. I probably wouldn’t ever make to the computer because of all that beautiful distraction.

Virginia Woolf's Garden. Photo used with permission. Photography © 2013 Caroline Arber
Virginia Woolf’s Garden. Photo used with permission. Photography © 2013 Caroline Arber

This book is great for anyone who loves Virginia Woolf’s work. I’m not in that camp, but as a writer and gardener, I appreciate Leonard’s inspired choices. The book is beautifully laid out with panoramic views, garden plans and lovely full-page photographs. It is scrumptious. Here is another review of the book from a Virginia Woolf enthusiast.

Cover of RHS Companion to Scented Plants. Gifts for Gardeners
Cover of RHS Companion to Scented Plants. Photographs copyright © Andrew Lawson 2014.

The Royal Horticultural Society Companion to Scented Plants (Frances Lincoln Limited 2014), by Stephen Lacey and photographed by Andrew Lawson, is a revised and expanded edition. The more you garden, the more you wish for scented plants. As you may know, I’m a huge rose aficionado, and a few years ago, I concentrated on red and yellow roses, along with more highly scented ones. I’m very glad I did. Although my roses have taken a beating from Rose Rosette Disease in the last few years, I still have many, and I don’t know what my garden would be like without their wonderful presence.

Rosa 'Grace' has a strong and complex perfume according to the RHS Companion to Scented Plants. Photo used with permission from publisher. Photographs copyright © Andrew Lawson 2014.
Rosa ‘Grace’ has a strong and complex perfume according to the RHS Companion to Scented Plants. Photo used with permission from publisher. Photographs copyright © Andrew Lawson 2014.

Roses, however, aren’t the only plants in a scented garden’s repertoire. Our olfactory sense is our oldest and most long-lasting so a book like this would be helpful in planning for more fragrance. This is a great and extensive guide with beautiful photographs. I was glad they explored scented tulips and narcissus too. There are plenty of scented options here. Note, however, if you live in a hot climate, some of the suggestions may not work for you. Check out the growing conditions, and if they say partly shaded, you’ll need to grow them in shade.

Cover of The Writer's Garden. Gifts for Gardeners
Cover of The Writer’s Garden. Photograph copyright © Richard Hanson 2014.

The Writer’s Garden: How Gardens Inspired our Best-loved Authors (Frances Lincoln Limited 2014), by Jackie Bennett and photographed by Richard Hanson. Of all the garden books I read this year, this one touched me the most. Seeing the landscapes that were muses to many of the greatest British writers, was simply fab. The photographs are gorgeous.

Bateman's, Rudyard Kipling's home and garden.  Photographs copyright © Richard Hanson 2014.
Bateman’s, Rudyard Kipling’s home and garden. Photograph copyright © Richard Hanson 2014.

The information in the book is wonderful, and there’s even a section on favorites, Jane Austen and Roald Dahl. Buy this book for your garden-loving, loved one. They will thank you. Rock Rose did a review on this book too. I now think we need a similar book with American authors as its focus. What a grand book that would be.

Cover of Sissinghurst. Gifts for Gardeners
Cover of Sissinghurst.

Sissinghurst: Vita Sackville-West and the Creation of a Garden (St. Martin’s Press 2014), by Vita Sackville-West and Sarah Raven. You might wonder how Vita could co-author a book since she’s been dead since 1962. For fifteen years, she wrote a column for the Observer about plants. She also wrote some introductions to books and articles for Country Life and the RHS magazine. Who better to pull together Vita’s observations than her granddaughter-in-law, Sarah Raven. You may be familiar with Sarah’s online videos and her books. I’ve written about her book, The Bold and Brilliant Garden, which is one of my favorites, here before. Sarah gives a brief history of Sissinghurst Castle and then arranges the chapters around themes in the garden. Vita’s sparkling wit is sprinkled throughout. This is a book to read by the fire where you can make notes on what to plant next year and beyond. It is easy and fun to read. There are photos, but not that many. It is not a coffee table book like some of the others, above.

Cover of Beatrix Potter's Gardening Life. Gifts for Gardeners
Cover of Beatrix Potter’s Gardening Life.

Okay, this last one isn’t a British publisher or author, but its subject is British. As of this posting, Beatrix Potter’s Gardening Life: The Plants and Places That Inspired the Classic Children’s Tales (Timber Press 2013), by Marta McDowell, is only $16.96 at Amazon. I paid far more for my copy, and it won the Garden Writers Association’s Gold Award for Best Writing in 2014. I love this book. It’s the next best thing to traveling in The Lake District of Great Britain. One day, I will get to Hill Top Farm–I think I can. I think I can. The author, Marta McDowell, is a garden historian and horticulturist. Unlike many gardening books, her writing is in narrative style, and very readable. I can’t say enough nice things about this book.

Let me know if you’ve bought any of these British and American gardening books and what you thought of them. Sorry I’m so late with this British version of the gardener’s gift book list. Here is my American gift books guide. Merry Christmas Everyone.



On the occasion of the Winter Solstice

A Wreath in our cousin't home
A wreath over the fireplace in our cousin's home

For those of us with colder temperatures, or even snow, winter seems like it arrived a few weeks ago, but according to the U.S Naval Observatory Eqinoxes and Solstices list, winter officially makes its appearance today at 12:47 p.m. Around here, temperatures are moderate with a high today of 62F.  However, Wednesday and Thursday are another matter.

I will be taking a walk outdoors today.  Want to come along?

We may even get snow the morning of Christmas Eve.  I shiver just thinking about it, but it would be lovely to have a white Christmas.  I can only remember three white Christmases in my life, so it’s doubtful, but, still, like children, we can dream.

Frosted lamb's ear

My friend, Tim, of From the Far Away Nearby posted on Facebook today wishing all a Happy Solstice and then wrote that it was probably the oldest celebrated holiday of the season.  I’m sure that’s true.

A world without fences, but celebrating the sunlit land

Imagine being a person from antiquity.  You live outdoors, or in a cave with only your fire to warm and protect you from the elements and predators.  Someone had to keep those home fires burning, and with such long nights, you would cheer the sun’s return and slightly longer days.

Luscious stockings will hold tasty treats
A luscious stocking to hold tasty treats

Truth told, I’m glad to see those longer days too, even if we still have a lot of winter to go.  I’m even happier to celebrate Christmas.  Whether you think Christ’s birth was placed on December 25th, because it was nine months after the Annunciation, or to usurp a Roman holiday (Sol Invictus), or because of the Winter Solstice, I believe there’s another reason.  For those of us who call ourselves Christians, He is the Light of the World, and today, the 21st is the O Antiphon reflecting that:

“O Oriens (in English meaning “Radiant Dawn” or “Dayspring”):

“O Radiant Dawn, splendor of eternal light, sun of justice: come, shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.”

The O Antiphons are sung during the Liturgy of the Hours from December 17-23, and many of them are the basis of Advent hymns like the haunting O Come, O Come Emmuel.

What better teaching tool than to place His birthday during the darkest time of the year?

Whether you celebrate Christmas, the Solstice, Hannukah or Kwanzaa (have I forgotten anyone?), I wish you joy.  I also hope you get outside and enjoy the sunshine in this shortest day of the year.  I know I will.