A couple of books to take off the chill

March 01, 1992|By Sandra F. Ladendorf | Sandra F. Ladendorf,The Christian Science Monitor

Those who have reveled in the garden writings of Katherine White, Eleanor Perenyi, Russell Page, Sydney Eddison, or Louise Beebe Wilder have two new treasures for delightful bedtime reading on the verge of spring, when gardens still lie beneath the snow in parts of the country.

Any one of the short essays from "The Gardener's Eye and Other Essays" (Atlantic Monthly Press, 282 pp., $21.95), written by Allen Lacy, a philosophy professor at Stockton State College in Pomona, N.J., and garden writer for the New York Times, will amuse, educate, titillate, and occasionally infuriate the reader. Perfect.

Fifty years earlier, Southern garden writer Elizabeth Lawrence wrote a charming, inspiring, and equally opinionated book, "A Southern Garden" (University of North Carolina Press, 251 pp., illustrated, $24.95 cloth, $16.95 paper). Unlike many gardening books that come and go quickly, hers has been in print for most of those 50 years. This special edition is beautifully, if sparsely, illustrated with the watercolors of Shirley Felts.

While originally regarded as just a regional garden writer, Lawrence has gradually become recognized as a superb writer. "A Southern Garden" and her two other major books, "Gardens in Winter" and "The Little Bulbs," are well-thumbed treasures on many gardeners' bookshelves around the world.

"A Southern Garden" and "The Gardener's Eye" have much in common. They are heartfelt writings about the joys and woes of gardening, written by hands-on gardeners with curious minds.

Lawrence kept detailed records about her own garden experiences in Raleigh and Charlotte, N.C. Friends always described her as exploring with notebook and pen in hand whenever she visited their gardens.

Lacy is a constant observer of the delights, changes, successes, and failures in his own New Jersey garden, and he also gathers garden lore wherever he travels. He occasionally indulges in a -- of poesy reminiscent of the delicious purple prose of Reginald Farrer.

For example, when writing about snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis), Lacy says, "If gods make flowers, as ancient peoples believed, then the tulip was made by a tyro, the snowdrop by a god who had mastered the craft, a god with no need to resort to look-at-me colors like crimson and scarlet."

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