A Garden from a Hundred Packets of Seed

Overview

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 towards an essential flower garden, by the most traditional of routes: planting some seeds and seeing how they grow."

In this lighthearted, 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 ...

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2002 Hard Cover First Thus New in New dust jacket 0374160295. 12 oz.; 125 pages; HC w/DJ 1st US ED Unread/Unmarked ift Quality Copy. A refreshingly simple and free-spirited ... approach to making a garden for pure pleasure. N this light-hearted, instructive, original "games 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 one hundred readily available varieties, and tells how to acquire and grow them. Read more Show Less

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Overview

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 towards an essential flower garden, by the most traditional of routes: planting some seeds and seeing how they grow."

In this lighthearted, 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 novice and expert alike.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
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.
Giles Foden
[James Fenton is a] gardener . . . surprised by the joy of a lap full of seed.
The Guardian [London]
New Yorker
With the coming of spring, the Modern Library recently began a new series of classic books on gardening, literary excursions on the art and ethos of gardens, which the general editor of the series, Michael Pollan, likens to a conversation that "takes place over the back fence that joins any two gardens in the world." Perhaps the most delightful of the first crop is The Gardener's Year , from 1929, written by the great Czech author and playwright Karel Capek and illustrated by his brother Josef. While Capek pays lip service to the well-established month-by-month almanac of garden tasks, his true subject is the stubborn monomaniacal nature of gardeners themselves. "Let no one think that real gardening is a bucolic and meditative occupation," he writes. "It is an insatiable passion, like everything else to which a man gives his heart." Real gardeners, it turns out, are oblivious to the pretty things that ordinary people admire; they concentrate instead on controlling the earth. A gardener in Eden would probably "forget to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil; he would rather look round to see how he could manage to take away from the Lord some barrowloads of the paradisaic soil."

Evidence that the over-the-fence conversation of literary gardeners continues as volubly as ever can be found in James Fenton's A Garden from a Hundred Packets of Seed (Farrar, Straus & Giroux). Starting from the premise that, in the received wisdom of garden planning, "design has become a terrible, stupid, and expensive tyrant," Fenton encourages his readers to buy seeds, plant them, and see what happens. Contemptuous of the "color snobbery" of garden writers, he evinces a fondness for bright orange. Ideally, he feels, gardens need make no statement more consequential than "This is what I felt like having this year." (Leo Carey)

Kirkus Reviews
Fenton's highly personal musings on gardening with flowers that can be grown from seed. In what must be a labor of love-or perhaps an effort to conform to as many English stereotypes as possible-former Oxford professor, gardener, and author Fenton (Leonardo's Nephew, 1998) here sets down a wish list of 100 types of flowers to try growing in "a blank slate of a garden." Blatantly flouting current gardening convention, Fenton eschews the tedium of planning a plot's "bones," or layout, in favor of growing flowers that simply appeal to one for their own sake. Dreaming of yards that allow for whimsy and chance, he runs through short descriptions of flowers he has known and found intriguing. There is the Himalyan Balsam (#47), "which grew to around six feet, had flowers like pink coal scuttles, and smelt of 1950s hair oil," and the Spanish poppy (#69), which "hangs around the back door, returning year after year, looking after itself." Plants are sorted into chapters according to their color, size, tendency to migrate, and ability to look good when cut and displayed in a vase. Fenton duly notes gardening publications he finds interesting, gardens he has grown in the past, and his frustrations with such bromides as the injunction that growing meadow flowers requires gardeners to lower the fertility of their soil. For those who want to cut to the chase, a list of the hundred flowers is appended to the end, along with a short bibliography that includes seed catalogues, and a handy how-to guide to growing flowers from seed. A guide for people who know flowers-not so much a starting point for novices interested in exploring. Narrow but charming.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780374160296
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • Publication date: 4/1/2002
  • Edition description: 1 AMER ED
  • Pages: 136
  • Product dimensions: 5.25 (w) x 7.81 (h) x 0.68 (d)

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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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

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Table of Contents

Introduction 3
1 Flowers and Their Colors 13
2 Flowers for Their Size 23
3 Flowers That Hop Around 31
4 Flowers for Cutting 39
5 The Perennial Prejudice 47
6 Useful and Decorative Herbs 55
7 The Micro-Meadow 63
8 The Poppy Festival 75
9 Climbers on Impulse 83
10 For the Tropical Look 91
11 As an Afterthought 99
12 The Rest of the Kit 107
When Raising Plants from Seed 113
The Seed List 117
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