First, bear with me while I indulge in a bit of history.
When I began to garden, I was nineteen years old, married and living outside Del City, Oklahoma (near Tinker Air Force Base) in a mobile home. At the local Wal-Mart, I bought three rosebushes, their bare roots encased in plastic (ugh). Because I didn’t know any better, I planted R. ‘Tiffany’, R. ‘Double Delight’ and the grandiflora ‘Queen Elizabeth’ in a straight row in a bed next to the sidewalk, surrounded them with other plants, watered and waited. In spite of my lack of rose know-how, they flourished, and I loved them.
I was also in college at Oklahoma University studying to be the next Great American Writer, and since I had 200 pages of a novel due my senior year, gardening was probably the furthest thing from my mind. However, shopping one day, I saw Barbara Damrosch’s Theme Gardens, and I was entranced because she wove a bit of fantasy in with her information. I could see myself in a gossamer gown hanging out in the rose garden, or the butterfly garden, and I bought the book although I had almost no money or space to implement her plans.
After graduation, we moved to a small house. In the front border were three peonies, two of which were probably the classic, ‘Karl Rosenfield’; the other was white. I increased the size of the border and added several roses. The economy slumped, so I put off being a novelist and worked first as a legal secretary and later, when I earned another degree, as a legal assistant. I then had more time to garden, and I began dabbling in vegetables. I still didn’t know much, but I read a lot and had enough success to keep trying.
Although unhappy in that house which was not a home, when I moved alone to an apartment, I still mourned the garden I left behind. So, on my apartment balcony, I grew everything I could in containers, which was quite a lot. I also read and learned more.
Then, when I was twenty-six, I met HH again, and he swept me off my feet to my dream home, a log cabin overlooking a small spring fed pond/lake. When spring came, the garden urge rose like sap within me, and he tilled a vegetable garden in the place where the new potager is. It was my first garden on our acreage, and after I amended the sandy soil with composted cottonseed hulls, manure and other good things, I had a beautiful vegetable garden. Twenty-one years later, we have come full circle.
What made me so reflective was a book I’m reading. I’m sent a lot of garden books for review, and I read them all. Many are good, but rarely does one call to me from the shelves. Garden Anywhere, by Alys Fowler practically leapt off the shelf at me. Part of the appeal was the cover. It looked all earthy, productive and beautiful. It sang of dirt and good things to eat; plus Alys (who I wish I knew, but she lives in England, so I can’t just pop over) is so cute, you just want to follow her spade in hand.
The tagline is “How to Grow Gorgeous Container Gardens, Herb Gardens, Kitchen Garden, and More–Without Spending a Fortune.”
This is a smart book. With that tagline, she is making gardening sound possible, and she is talking thrift. This will engage young people. When I started, I had no money, but the idea of growing my own food was appealing. Now, I am more comfortable, but I love the way vegetables, picked fresh from the garden, taste so I’m still growing much of my food. By the way, I ate my first red chard and bok choy today in a stir fry with a couple of green onions, tofu and chicken. Tender and crisp, bursting with flavor, why doesn’t everyone grow a little something? Because, they are afraid of failing.
I’d recommend Garden Anywhere to anyone who is starting out, or who wants to re-purpose things and save money. Alys won me over with her intro which she calls The Slow Lane. As she described her life and career path, I found myself nodding along. I’ve been in the slow lane ever since I decided to stay home with the Diva and ASW fourteen years ago. Alys was once a presenter on British TV’s Gardeners’ World.
Pardon me a moment while I again complain about the lack of garden programing in the U.S. I’ve resorted to watching Martha reruns on the Hallmark channel and videos of Ruth Stout on YouTube. Nuff said.
The book is structured much like those of the You Grow Girl franchise. The subjects are short and to the point with beautiful photos that make you want to go dig in the dirt. I find these look much like blogs, and Alys has done some blog writing for Gardener’s World. One of the things I find most appealing about the book is Alys working in many of the photos. She isn’t just standing pretty holding a plant or walking through a perfect English meadow. No, she’s got her Wellies on and is down in the dirt, planting, dividing, designing and pruning. In short, she is a gardener. She has the horticultural pedigree too, but I am more impressed by her willingness to do the work.
The point of the book is to just get on with it. Which is what reminded me of my own story. Everywhere I’ve been from my mother’s house, where I grew houseplants in macrame holders (it was the 70s after all) to my present home where I’ve created an English country garden with Oklahoma plants, I’ve always gardened.
Always. Forever. Amen.
This book should give anyone who wants to garden, but doesn’t know how to do it where they’re at, the impetus to get in there and as Nike says, “Just do it.”
According to an article on Alys Fowler, she has a new BBC series which started on April 7, starring her backyard. There is also a companion book. I wish we could see it, but alas, no. Come on BBC America, show us something other than Dr. Who.
In the meantime, here’s a video of her having tea and pulling weeds in the allotment. You don’t get more British than that.