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by Louise Beebe Wilder, Illust. By Will Simmons
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From Publishers Weekly
"I wanted a garden that looked like something I had in my mind's eye, but exactly what that might be I did not know and even now do not know." Celebrated novelist Kincaid (The Autobiography of My Mother) should delight fans of her fiction and connoisseurs of the literature of horticulture with this personable and brightly descriptive, if somewhat rambling, book-length essay, most of it about her own garden in Vermont. Kincaid (who last year edited the anthology My Favorite Plant) shuttles constantly and with ease between the practical, technical difficulties of gardening and the larger meanings it makes available. She asks herself why her new weeping wisterias won't look right on her stone terrace; why her Carpinus betulus Pendula looks so lonely amid poppies and "late-blooming monkshood"; what's wrong with roses, and what's good about Blue Lake green beans; and how to stack up stones. But she also coaxes from her plot of earth more philosophical and psychological questions--inquiries about geography, heritage, marriage, motherhood, power; "how to make a house a home"; whether and for whom "to name is to possess." Kincaid's Antiguan upbringing recurs as a point of comparison, a source of political insights and a focus of nostalgia: "it dawned on me that the garden I was making... resembled a map of the Caribbean and the sea that surrounds it." A botany-centered trip to Kunming, China, gives the last chapter a welcome change of scene. Kincaid, her publisher and their designers have made of her meditations a remarkably attractive physical object, suffused outside and in by shades of green and decorated throughout with illustrations by Jill Fox. (Dec.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.
From Library Journal
Kincaid blends a fertile inner life, botanical and colonial history, gardening lore, and her long gardening experience to create a rich, rewarding read. She contrasts the colonial specimen plants of the botanical garden of St. John's, in her native Antigua, with the wild, unruly garden she's created at her current home in Vermont. This garden, says Kincaid, reflects her passions and interests. "When it dawned on me that the garden I was making... resembled a map of the Caribbean and the sea that surrounds it... I only marveled at the way a garden is for me an exercise in memory, a way of getting to a past that is my own." Kincaid is a hopeful, imaginative gardener who lazily pages through catalogs during the long Vermont winters and plans trips to China, Giverney, and Sissinghurst to further feed her passion for plants. "I wanted a garden that looked like something I had in my mind's eye, but exactly what that might be I did not know. And this must be why: the garden for me is so bound up with words about the garden, with words themselves, that any set idea of the garden, any set picture, is a provocation to me." Is her ideal possible? "I shall never have the garden I have in my mind but that for me is the joy of it; certain things can never be realized so all the more reason to attempt them."
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Kincaid's exuberant writing style complements her wide-ranging ruminations on gardens and the pursuit of gardening. Plant life is mysterious; specimens that should flower but do not do so raise questions that beg to be answered. Winter is not Kincaid's cup of tea, but the season allows time to enjoy inspirational seed and plant nursery catalogs. Insofar as her involvement in making a garden goes, Kincaid acknowledges both "satisfaction and despair." Readers who garden will recognize those feelings as the predictably contrary states of mind when we cultivate the land. Kincaid tours London's Chelsea Flower Show, Monet's Giverny, and Gertrude Jekyll's Munstead Wood, and she recalls unusual plants and observes the behavior of individuals from the past and the present. Still, Kincaid's views extend beyond the musings found in your usual garden journal. She ponders the history of slavery, the arrogance of the ruling classes, and the fact that ornamental gardens are a luxury, offering a great deal to savor and reflect on. Altogether, a fascinating cornucopia to consort with on nights when the garden is at rest. Alice Joyce
From Kirkus Reviews
A quirky, entertaining, and richly emotional look at the inner life of one particularly introspective and perceptive gardener. Kincaid (My Brother: A Memoir, 1997; The Autobiography of My Mother, 1996; etc.), a native of Antigua transplanted to Vermont, says of her own garden, which resembles a map of the Caribbean, that it is an exercise in memory. Memories and history figure large here. The sight of a hollyhock, one of her favorite flowers, stirs unhappy childhood memories of harvesting cotton, its close relative, and leads her into a pain-filled discourse on history. Books and reading, too, are at the center of Kincaid's work: books about gardens and gardening and books on horticulture and botany, but most of all seed and plant catalogues, the gardeners' wish books. For Kincaid, the grimness of the long Vermont winter is eased by the joy of catalogues, especially the plain ones without color pictures and captions. One of the book's most memorable scenes is of Kincaid on a ten-below-zero day sitting in a tub of hot water eating oranges and reading Ronniger's Seed Potatoes catalogue. Her description of plant hunting in China, where she spent a month with other plant enthusiasts gathering seeds in remote areas, is both witty and poignant, and there are thoughtful visits to Monet's garden at Giverny and Vita Sackville-West's famous English garden, Sissinghurst. Kincaid's unique style, replete with odd parentheses (the title, for example), asides, deliberate repetitions, and rhetorical questions, draws the reader into her personal world of anxieties, hopes, and joys. Kincaid has given her fellow gardeners something far more engrossing than seed catalogues to look forward to this winter. -- Copyright ©1999, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.
Verlyn Klinkenborg, The New York Times Book Review
". . .[She] is able to do something that is almost never done in garden writing, and do it very well . . ."
". . .[She] is able to do something that is almost never done in garden writing, and do it very well . . ." --Verlyn Klinkenborg, The New York Times Book Review
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