Friday, April 15, 2005

A Joy of Gardening by V. Sackville-West

I was straightening the shelves last week, getting the gardening books back in order, when I found A Joy of Gardening by V. Sackville-West. Our copy is a bit worn, the pages are slightly yellowed, the binding is starting to crack, and it seems almost out of place among all the bright, colorful gardening books. It looks rather plain, but it has obviously been borrowed countless times. Because the Library bought the books more than twenty years before it computerized its circulating system, we have no total count of users, but I can sense just by looking at its edges that the book has been a valuable part of our collection.

A Joy of Gardening was published in 1958 by Harper & Brothers Publishers. The editor Hermine I. Popper took essays from two of the author’s British publications to make a book of gardening advice for American readers. Nearly fifty years later, it is still an interesting and useful book. The author recommends plants for specific garden needs, such as brightening a dark corner or edging along a walkway. She includes interesting details. I learned about the protection rocks offer to roots of some plants and how vermiculite is made. Her well-written essays include historical notes, telling when plants were first brought to England from foreign lands; in some essays, the author expresses why she enjoys certain varieties of plants. Her advice is always practical. Readers who enjoy going to flower shows or attending gardening lectures or talking with the staff at commercial nurseries may enjoy this book.

Vita Sackville-West’s book ends with an essay “A Wint-Pring Corner.” She asks whether an in-between season called “wint-pring” could be accepted “like marriage, for better or worse?” This is an interesting end to the question for anyone who has read about the life of Sackville-West and her husband Sir Harold Nicholson. Though they both had many complicated extra-marital affairs, they somehow seemed to remain quite close to each other. Portrait of a Marriage, written by her son Nigel Nicolson, was dramatized by the BBC and shown on Masterpiece Theater in the 1991.

Sackville-West and Nicholson bought Sissinghurst Castle in 1930 and began laying out gardens, which opened to the public in 1938. They are still maintained by the National Trust. Photos of the gardens can be found at the website

Sackville-West, V. A Joy of Gardening. New York: Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1958. There was no ISBN in 1958.

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