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Seeing The Light

Flower stem emerging from Aloe petricola; Leucospermum 'Tango' first flowers color up   No gardening today.  The wind is ripping branches, leaves, and flowers from shrubs and trees today.  At least it's a cold Santa Ana this time, not hot, and a strange one, because the sky is grey with clouds instead of the usual tannish with blowing dust.  A low pressure system from the south and a high pressure system from the north are meeting to squeeze Great Basin air, sending it roaring through our neighborhood.  The neighbor's dead Eucalyptus rocks stiffly, like Frankenstein's Monster walking; the live Eucs, with considerable grace, sway.  An occasional leaf blown hard, hits window glass with a plunk.  Birds are absent.   Indoors, I look at garden photos and consider light.   Late afternoon light: Midday light: Late afternoon: Midday: Advantage, late afternoon.   Overcast morning: Sunny morning: Advantage overcast.   Late afternoon, really too late, but with the sun behind

Garden Book Review: Uprooted By Paige Dickey

 

 All photos in this post are from the book

This book is about creating a new garden after selling and leaving a previous garden--a famed and admired previous garden.  The basic content is the same as the Dan Hinkley book reviewed a few weeks ago.  The differences are the gardener's life experiences, profession, and of course the garden's climate.   Northeast vs. Northwest.  East Coast Educated  vs. Midwest Farm Kid.  One generation difference. Writer/Garden designer vs. Nurseryman/Plant explorer. 

Some books are interesting in themselves, others for comparison with similar books, or for reasons outside of the book.  I struggled a bit, but only a bit, to get through the book, as the climate and plants and Dickey's experiences are so very different from my own.  They are very East Coast.   I found in comparing this book with Hinkley's Farm Boy Goes West story, Hinkley's held my interest more than Dickey's book, though Dickey is the more polished and professional writer. 

Above, Duck Hill (apparently now one big lawn) 

 Dickey's previous garden, "Duck Hill", was famed and loved as a garden tour highlight, while Hinkley's was famed and loved as a rare plant garden accompanying a plant nursery.  Since the Internet allows for a search of the name and real estate sites, I did some looking, curious as to what happend to Dickey's previous garden and home.  Her 1830's farmhouse was completely remodeled by a subsequent owner into a "modern farmhouse", and the garden appears to have been almost completely removed and replaced with a vast lawn.  This is the fate of all but a very few gardens.  Dickey, wisely, does not look back.

The book, like Hinkley's, begins with an introduction about leaving a garden and looking for and finding  a new one, and is then followed by a description of each garden area and its development.  A garden map, as was provided in the Hinkley book, would have been helpful.  Each chapter contains lyrical descriptions of each area, with whys and wherefores about what is planted where.

Such descriptions are not without value, even when the plants described are plants the reader can never grow, in an amount of space the gardener will never have.  Passages well written accompanied by photos well crafted create the effect of walking along with the gardener in her garden as she describes the process of creating what is there, the problems, the joys of various plants, along with the ghosts of what grew there before.   What gardener doesn't enjoy visits to other gardens?  It occasionally will bring to the surface garden knowledge stewing in the unconscious mind:  here, a reminder that Dahlias are "stiff".  Yes, they are.  Stiff.  Stiff until, when their flowers are at their grandest and most glorious, they decide it is time to flop. Admittedly, they flop stiffly, like Frankenstein being pitchforked.  But I digress.   

 It's not a real gardener's garden book unless the author takes the opportunity to complain about rabbits.  This occurs on Page 84-85, so that box is ticked. 

 The chapters on the areas of the property left natural were the most interesting--invasive non-natives to control, the history of what was there before--rock removal, farming, pasturing, a return to nature's ways.  The current popular trend that we as gardeners must think of the native birds and insects in our area and do what we can to offset habitat loss is discussed and agreed with, though not extensively--poetically, rather.

Reading about northeastern woodland reminded this semi-arid-climate-gardener that plentiful year round rain brings its own issues:  rampant growth of invading plants and weeds, because rain.  Drought, as it turns out, has its advantages.

  The photos are lovely but much less plentiful than in the Hinkley book.  The prose is professional, polished, and elegant (yes, East Coast).  None of Hinkley's quirky logophilia, or his idiosyncrasies.

I'm glad to have read "Uprooted", though for reasons other than the bulk of the content.  For any gardener who had the chance to visit Duck Hill in its glory days,  or who has seventeen acres of the Northeast to live on, it would be more interesting.  I meditated instead on the cultural differences between Dickey's generation, genteel East Coast culture of education, literacy, child of parents with inherited money, and professional designer/authorship vs. Hinkley's Midwesterner Goes West.  Which actually was enlightening.  

 My discomfort with an East Coast point of view dates to being a beginning gardener naively reading garden books that were written by and for East Coast gardens.  Which, when I started, most of them were.  The plants did not work.  The advice was baffling.  Frost heave?  "Drought" defined as three weeks without rain?  Three weeks?  Here six months is not drought, it is normal.  What about that?

 It occurred to me that my discomfort, unfamiliarity, and unease with "East Coast" is not unlike one thread in the mind of those who supported the losing candidate in our recent Presidential election.  

I can, for a moment, glimpse something of the point of view of the losing candidate's supporters, and think, yes, I get some of that.  When, for example, you are a Texas cattleman checking fences you need a gun to fend off the wild hogs so they don't kill you and eat you.  Yes, I get that.  

I feel it myself if not in politics then in matters gardening--"East Coast Elite" is alien for me, too.  It does not fit my experience or region.  If only the Texas cattleman would acknowledge that a homeless New Yorker suffering from paranoid schizophrenia does not need a gun. 

If only such an essentially surmountable thing was the sole thing dividing us.  Tragically it is not. 

 

Note:  I bought this book.  It was not a freebie.

Comments

  1. Loved this review, HB. My thoughts on the comparison between this and the Hinkley look are largely in sync.

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  2. I thoroughly enjoyed this book mainly because I could relate to the plants. ha... It seems to me that most books are written by the elite gardeners whether they are self-made or money made.
    I also read Windcliff. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I can't relate to the plants much but since I have read your blog and Kris's blog for a couple of years I could visualize some of the plants he talked about. It is the garden making, decisions etc that were most interesting to me.

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    1. Yes the planning, decisions, changes, problems, mistakes and how to fix them, are always the most interesting and are interesting no matter what the climate. Even unfamiliar plants are pretty fascinating for us plant-a-holics.

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  3. Very interesting review and it is my experience exactly. I grew up in Central New York State. I gardened there for many years and worked at a full service garden center for 4 years. So I know East Coast gardening. My first book on gardening was Thalassa Cruso's Making Things Grow. She lived on a big estate in Massachusetts and she was my idol! Then after East Coast living for 35 years we moved to Phoenix. Boy, did I have a learning curve! The problem here was that all the books I read were centered on California gardening. Finally Mary Irish, who worked at the Desert Botanical Garden here, started writing books for the Sonoran Desert gardeners. Thankfully, others have followed.

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    1. From NY state to Phoenix, that must have been a big change--weather and culture. AZ's growing conditions are unique, and you do need your own regional information. It's great there finally are some. The DBG is a beautiful place. I really enjoyed our visits there.

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  4. I enjoyed your insightful book review. Twenty years ago, when I was a very young inexperienced gardener I fell in love with the book”The American Woman in Her Garden” by Starr Okanga. We live in Temecula. Our home and garden are very humble. But we have loved our allotted space for 25 years. I never tired of reading and perusing the photos in Starr’s book. But as I discovered a lot of the climate zones were not relatable to our Southern California local. My in laws are “East Coast” and at times have been as inscrutable as their climate zone.
    Your comment about why gun ownership can not be an universal right was very wise. Also your attempt at understanding opposing points of view is refreshing.

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    1. Happy you liked it, thank you! The Okanga book must be good because it is still in print over 20 years later. I will have to look for it. Thanks for the tip.

      I think we have a lot more in common in our country than not, and if we focused on our common goals instead of our differences, it would be a whole lot better.

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  5. I have been eyeing this book as I have one of Ms. Dickey's previous ones. Totally understand where you are coming from when not being able to identify with the East Coast environment. However, I love to live vicariously in your's and other's gardens climates so different from mine. Will never happen here but it's always fun to dream

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    1. It's just that I have no conception of the feel of a zone five, the rhythm of the seasons, the weather, what happens to the plants in hot weather, in cold--the light, the shade...the more you garden the more sensitive you become to all that, and trying to imagine all the variables in a very different climate is...a lot! I go one sunset zone (out of 24) different and I can feel the difference and could adapt to it quickly. 5 USDA zones, I'd be lost.

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  6. Sorry I have to comment on the gun issue, as it’s a straw man argument that Republicans love to use. Most (in fact I’d say the vast majority) Democrats are not against someone having a gun to defend their livestock.

    I have a big garden in the Southeast and I can’t imagine gardening 17 acres. Not even with a lot of help. Likewise I would be lost if I moved to a desert area and had to try to garden. The first thing I’d do is go to blogs in the Southwest and So. California and start taking concrete notes! The plants just have such different needs.

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    1. Do not be sorry at all! I am not an eloquent person, wish I was.

      To a large extent it's the political rhetoric and news coverage of that rhetoric (shallow and sound-bitey and gotcha) that divides us. Those other factors.

      The political leaders use extremes to scare voters in order to give powerful industry lobbyists what they demand because that gets them campaign donations. The media want clicks and eyeballs because that pays. Most gun owners are not against preventing another Sandy Hook, most Democrats know ranchers need to protect themselves and their livestock. We're not so far apart. We're divided by other factors.

      Blogs are great--the San Marcos Growers website is my bible, too--but the Internet did not even exist when I started gardening. Books from the library was it.

      Best wishes!

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  7. I agree with everything you said, except I struggled harder than you did to make it through "Uprooted"'s very dull middle chapters that seemed to consist of nothing but mentions of plants I'm not familiar with. The final chapter, where Dickey talks about how she could simply let the garden go back to its natural state, was by the far the most memorable for me.

    Overall, though, I found "Uprooted" a big letdown. It doesn't contain any of the magic I felt when reading Hinkley's book.

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    1. Oh, it was a struggle. I thought it was just me, so didn't mention it. Whoops--now I have.

      On to the next one! So many books, so little time.

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  8. Frost heave -- hehe, same! And yes, everything else can be so different too, which really screws you up when you're a newbie gardener in the Southwest or West trying to learn from East Coast or English gardening books. Thank heavens for local gardens, blogs, and regional books.

    I enjoyed your review of Dickey's book, and like you I found many similarities in layout between her book and Hinkley's, although they've had vastly different gardening experiences. His tone was funnier, hers more quietly reflective.

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    1. Yes, thank heaven there are more regional books, websites with regional plant focus, and (of course) garden blogs.

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  9. I haven't read either, so I'll take your word for it. I would say, from having visited Heronswood once - it was (and still is, thanks to the S'Klallam tribe) a fantastic garden, and so quirky and inspiring. The photos you shared from Uprooted indicate an entirely different aesthetic. I often think about what I would grow if I lived in a completely foreign climate, compared to where I learned to garden. I think I would feel somewhat deprived. We are so spoiled here in the PNW, where almost everything grows.

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    1. Yes the Northeast is a very different climate with a short growing season, and the scourge of ticks that transmit Lyme disease...a long winter where if you want to garden you need a heated greenhouse and a cold frame to force bulbs in pots.

      I would like to visit Heronswood someday. It sounds wonderful. Hopefully will get the chance.

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  10. Our, South African, garden advice is skewed towards Johannesburg - with frost and summer rain. I get more useful garden advice from you and Kris - who share my mediterranean climate and grow a lot of our plants!

    Heartbreaking to think of that garden flattened to lawn.

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