OUR GARDENS COULDN’T BE MORE DIFFERENT, yet Page Dickey and I find ourselves in the same moment of their lives: when it’s time to make some tough changes. I heard Page speak not long ago on a program featuring us both, and kept thinking, “She’s talking about my garden,” and yet the slides on the screen said no. Now, reading her new book “Embroidered Ground: Revisiting the Garden,” I have that feeling again: Is she telling my tale? More on that, and a chance to win copies of Page’s new book, out February 15, and my about-to-be one, due the 23d:
There was nothing growing there garden-wise when Page arrived 30 years ago at her place, except some very old lilacs (here, too, 25 years back in time). Now there is too much of many things, too many things over all—and many of those have simply grown too big.
“Suddenly,” she writes in the preface, “in a middle-aged garden, we reach a point where we have to take stock, stand back, think about renewal, renovation, hacking back, shrinking, adapting.”
“Embroidered Ground” is the story of one garden—Duck Hill, 60 miles north of New York City—but also the story of all gardens.
NO, I DON’T KNOW, or grow, roses with Page’s expertise or flourish; I have no formal herb garden, and no flowering meadow in the making (and no dogs!). Maybe you don’t, either. But the me-too connection I felt to Duck Hill is not some surface-level thing. It’s bigger, the way this garden things always tends to be.
And differences aside, there were many startling little matching details—besides our trees and shrubs embarrassingly, inconveniently now grown into pathways. Things like these:
Page still wishes she could grow Santolina; we apparently both tried heroically way back when to get the textural gray beauty to survive (forget thrive) in our climate. She describes it as being coral-like, and yes, it is that exquisitely sculptural. Exactly.
She knows that, seductive as it is, you can have too much variegation in a garden (another friend calls the variegated things “clown plants;” a lot of them quickly form a circus). Go easy, she warns. (Must I?, I want to answer back.)
Page confesses that even good gardeners kill things. We hungrily bring home or order too many plants, then neglect them with too little water and too-late transplanting—bringing about their death. Yes, I have done this. Page’s husband, Bosco, cannot abide such behavior, however. “Tsk, tsk,” I can hear him saying as he rescues one after another. (Can Bosco stop up here occasionally in late spring when he has finished seeing to Page’s needy cases?)
So “Embroidered Ground” is the story of a marriage growing within a garden, too—Page’s remarriage to Bosco, a keen gardener himself, after being the sole gardener in her household for decades, and having her way.
Though I garden alone, those might be my favorite sections of “Embroidered Ground”—the candid, tender ones about how they sort it all out. Though the marital dynamic is quite different, I am reminded of one of my favorite garden books ever: Margery Fish’s 1956 “We Made a Garden.” Order that from your bookseller, too, when you call in for your copy of “Embroidered Ground.”
How to Win the Books
TO ENTER TO WIN THE SET OF BOOKS–Paige’s “Embroidered Ground” and my “And I Shall Have Some Peace There”–comment here by answering this question: How old is your garden, and is it having any growing pains or facing some moment of needed change? Regulars to my blog know that I understand some of you are shy and just prefer to say “Count me in,” or “I want to win,” but if you feel like sharing a detail about your garden, please do; all the better.
Entries close at midnight Sunday, February 13, with the winner to be drawn at random (using the tool at random [dot] org) and announced the next day. Good luck!