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Good Winter Reads


In our neck of the woods, there’s been little snow to speak of, but the temperatures finally dropped into the teens. And while I was tempted to perhaps get a jump on spring (which is 10 weeks away) and cut down the grasses and clean up the perennial beds (which I neglected to do during that fabulously long autumn), I’ve opted recently to stay indoors and stick my nose in a few new garden books.

The Roots of My Obsession: Thirty Great Gardeners Reveal Why They Garden” is a great little book by Thomas Cooper, the former managing editor of Horticulture magazine. (Timber Press, $14.95, 164 pages.) He has compiled very short essays from 30 garden writers, among them plant explorers, designers, nurserymen, breeders and educators, all of whom explain their obsession with plants and gardens. Now here’s a book you can pick up before you doze off and easily get in one or two chapters. Here are a few of my favorite excerpts:

“A good garden delights more senses than any other art. You can smell it, touch it, listen to it, look at it, eat it.” Anna Pavord

“Gardening is not about instant gratification. It is a process—from seedling to flower (a matter of a few weeks) and from small rooted cutting to a useful shrub (often a few years). This whole process, rather than the ultimate product seems to me half the joy of gardening.” Penelope Hobhouse

“Whatever else might be happening in my day, or in the world, the garden is always there, carrying on its unhurried, miraculous business in the bee-humming, earth-splitting Now. Being in it connects me to that vital present — listening, smelling, belonging to it absolutely, complete. “ Susan Heeger

“The garden was never meant to be either a destination or a profession. It was something much bigger and far more important. It was the setting for a marriage that endured 45 years, a home to friends, students, young family members from abroad, and our beloved pets. So once again, my reason for gardening changed. Today, the garden is becoming simpler and its purposes clearer. I garden for the stillness of a Sunday morning when even the trucks on I-84 seem to take a break. I garden for the swish of the oscillating sprinkler and the glittering silver arcs of water wafting back and forth, the calling of birds, and the spring sun on my back. I garden for the moment.” Sydney Eddison

“I cannot see a French marigold without feeling the presence of my son, who brought one home in a Dixie cup from his preschool. He had started that plant from a seed, which as far as I know, was the only time my garden-averse child ever tried such a thing. His marigold bloomed in our garden and set seed, spawning a race of flowers that endured several years. They are vanished now, as is he. Though in the spring following my son’s death, when I came upon a lone purple crocus blooming in a hayfield, for a minute his free spirit was right there with me. Right there. This is for me the greatest power and attraction of gardening, the transcendence it yields at unexpected moments. “ Thomas Christopher

What makes you garden? Tell us about the roots of your obsession.

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questions

I’d like to start composting. Do you have any advice on what kind of bin to purchase/build so that it is successful in the Chicago climate?

What is the largest tree that one can plant? We are trying to replace some 7- to 8-foot trees that were recently destroyed.

My split-leaf Japanese maple tree is 15 to 20 years old, about 7 feet high and about 10 feet wide. It is overtaking the corner of the yard. Can I trim it, and at what time of the year?

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