A Garden from a Hundred Packets of Seed

A Garden from a Hundred Packets of Seed

by James Fenton
     
 

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"An engaging mix of the serious and the playful, and Fenton writes with a lightness of touch perfectly suited to the subject." --Alexander Urquhart, The Times Literary Supplement

Forget structure. Forget trees, shrubs, and perennials. As James Fenton writes, "This is not a book about huge projects. It is about thinking your way toward the essential

Overview

"An engaging mix of the serious and the playful, and Fenton writes with a lightness of touch perfectly suited to the subject." --Alexander Urquhart, The Times Literary Supplement

Forget structure. Forget trees, shrubs, and perennials. As James Fenton writes, "This is not a book about huge projects. It is about thinking your way toward the essential flower garden, by the most traditional of routes: planting some seeds and seeing how they grow."

In this light hearted, instructive, original "game of lists," Fenton selects one hundred plants he would choose to grow from seed. Flowers for color, size, and exotic interest; herbs and meadow flowers; climbing vines, tropical species--Fenton describes readily available varieties, and tells how to acquire and grow them.

Here is a happy, stylish, unpretentious, and thought-provoking gardening book that will beguile and inspire both novice and expert alike.

Editorial Reviews

bn.com
Poet James Fenton explores his passion for gardening with this charming book of lists. The premise is this: "What plants would you choose to grow, given a blank slate of a garden, and given the stipulation that everything you grow in this garden must be raised by you from seed?" Fenton's response to his own question takes the form of a series of humorous, imaginative, and thought-provoking lists -- choosing for color, size, mobility ("At first they are placed near the front of the border. Next they find their way out onto the path, into the gravel or the cracks in the paving"), cutting, and more. In the course of this thoroughly enjoyable read, Fenton manages to discuss gardening trends and even offer instruction on topics that are sure to be of great interest to gardeners.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780374528775
Publisher:
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date:
04/20/2005
Edition description:
Reprint
Pages:
144
Product dimensions:
4.88(w) x 7.48(h) x 0.41(d)

Read an Excerpt

INTRODUCTION

Of course, you may say it is only a game, and indeed it is a game: a game of lists. What plants would you choose to grow, given a blank slate of a garden, and given the stipulation that everything you grow in this garden must be raised by you from seed? It is a game of choice, but it could be more than a game. At the very least, it could be a way of thinking afresh about how to put a garden together, and with what purpose in mind.

For years now the gardening press (newspaper columns, magazines, and glossy books) has been, consciously and unconsciously, campaigning for a common approach. One starts with a design, the "bones" of the garden, the "structure." Next one shades in plausible areas and shapes, indicating trees, shrubs, and perennials. Finally, one is supposed to go out and buy the plants penciled in in those plausible shapes. The rest is mostly maintenance.

This approach to gardening would never have become plausible or popular if it did not reflect a certain wisdom. But may I respectfully suggest that it is not the only way to garden? It may be one wise way to operate, but it is not the only wisdom available to humankind. To take the simplest counterexample: in Britain every town has several communal gardens in which one can rent assigned plots known as allotments; these are used mainly for growing vegetables and fruit; an allotment gardener does not have to start with a design. The important question is: What do I want to grow?

The design of an allotment is hardly an issue. Content is everything. So the allotment gardener in January may be happily and appropriately engaged in the simple act of compiling lists: this is what I want to eat this year, or this is what I want to grow for the challenge, or this is what has piqued my curiosity.

Why should the flower gardener not feel the same? Why should he or she not ask: What do I feel like growing this year? What delights me? What bores me? What is ravishing? What is revolting? Flower fanatic and vegetable fiend, we are seated at the same kitchen table, leafing through many of the same catalogues. The same gales are howling around the rooftops. The same frosts are glazing the water butts. Why should I not feel, this January, the same freedom as my pea epicurean, my marrow-maniacal friend?

The first answer that springs to mind is that a flower garden is of its nature a permanent thing, whereas an allotment, to all intents and purposes, closes down for the winter. But this objection need not necessarily hold. After all, I have not yet defined the sort of flower garden I am thinking of. Indeed, I do not want to define it at all too nicely, because I am ambitious to hold the attention of more than one kind of reader (including, of course, the allotment gardener).

So my definition — my nondefinition — of a garden must include a spectacular one that I saw last summer in Manhattan, which consisted of nothing but morning glories grown on a fire escape, high up above the street. Mustard and cress sown on a washcloth, Virginia stock in an old crab shell, or a row of hyacinths in glasses — all these count as gardens, in my understanding of the word, along with Great Dixter, Powis Castle, and Versailles.

For those who have landed on some property of which they can say, "This is where I hope to live for the next so-many years," I have some advice, which may prove welcome, since it may well prove cheap. It is not the case that your permanent plantings, your graph-paper layout of shrubs and perennials (supposing this to be your ultimate goal), should be put in place as soon as possible. If you are renovating an old garden, or starting one from scratch, it may well be good practice to plant experimentally for a couple of seasons, relying mainly on annuals, until the soil has been well conditioned and the perennial weeds have been largely defeated.

Copyright (c) 2001 James Fenton

Meet the Author

James Fenton is a poet, critic, and gardener. From 1994 to 1999 he was Professor of Poetry at Oxford, where he has created a noted garden. He writes about poetry, art history, and gardening for the New York Review of Books.

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