The Garden Bloggers’ Book Club , has invited posts this month about books that show how gardeners think, assuming optimistically that gardeners actually do think. It so happens I’ve recently finished this winter’s companion garden book – the one I take in small doses when I can’t afford to shop for any more seeds on line, and the weather outside is not yet warm enough for gardening.
The Curious Gardener, is by Jurgen Dahl (1929-2001) a German journalist and environmentalist, who was an eclectic and very curious gardener. He’s an old-fashioned, Old World European, whose well-written essays reflect not only his obvious love for gardening, but also his extensive horticultural and historical knowledge of his subjects. Many of the previously published essays in this volume were taken from his weekly gardening column. His advice to curious gardeners is more of a warning than an invitation: the curious gardener will, he promises, “find many more answers than questions when he says ‘good morning’ to the garden if he is curious and observant enough to perceive the many small changes that occur every hour.”
Dahl's powers of observation and description, and his quirky take on his own garden as a laboratory for endless wonder and experiment is as informative as it is entertaining. Reading Dahl provides a refreshing tonic to counter much of the predominately female-oriented garden writing – particularly in some of our own lovely pastel-hued blogs adorned with flower pictures (including mine).
The Curious Gardener's choice of subject is so eclectic that there is something for every gardener, regardless of gender. He can turn on his Old World charm for the gentle ladies who may prefer to enjoy their gardens wearing white gloves and sipping tea from china cups: “A bud symbolizes a secret and a promise”. Then, like a sudden seasonal change, he lectures us on the fascinating history of oaks.
In other essays, he can gush as exuberantly as a seven-year-old boy - talking about creepy crawly bugs and spiders, and about what plants to cultivate in a “Stinking Garden.” On a more serious note, he reminds us that a harvest is really a murder. “For every harvest, we also have to mutilate, destroy, get rid of, exterminate, or kill something. We just call it by other names so as not to disturb the image of the gardener at peace with nature.”
Because my particular interest is in edible gardening, I found his essays on growing and harvesting food to be especially fresh and new. He daringly eats just about anything that grows, from the “forgotten spice” of Baldmoney (Meum athamanticum) to chickweed, He’s as opinionated as my grandmother (both disliked eggplant) and yet he apparently never met a wild mustard he didn’t like.
Dahl offers some of the best thinking I’ve ever heard about introducing non-organic “things” into our gardens, a subject American gardeners may recognize – except that we use the more sophisticated term “garden whimsy." ”All objects that at first may seem strange in the garden," Dahl advises, "eventually become assimilated." The transience of objects introduced to decorate the garden not only stands "for disappearance, but also for a procedure in which every stage has its own form and its own charm.”
This is good news to me, because my whimsical tastes are a bit on the kitschy side, as these pictures of my yard reveal. I like to think this author would be "charmed" by my small plastic cobra, winding his way between some rocks on a shelf of potted plants.