Winter blooms include a book Garden lit: "The Transplanted Gardener" turns a frustrating hobby into enthralling reading.

January 07, 1996|By Carol McCabe | Carol McCabe,PROVIDENCE JOURNAL Knight-Ridder/Tribune

For the next couple of months, gardens hereabouts will offer few pleasures except the satisfaction of knowing that if the roses are gone, so are the aphids. Thanks to sympathetic publishing houses, good books are arriving to get us through the sere.

The best of these carry few instructions for double digging, soil testing or gazebo building. These are garden books to read for pleasure -- garden lit, if you will.

My favorite is "The Transplanted Gardener: An American in England Looks at Hedges, Ha-Ha's, History, and More," by Charles Elliott (Lyons & Burford, $22.95), a collection of Mr. Elliott's columns for Horticulture magazine. Mr. Elliott is an American, an editor in the London publishing office of Alfred A. Knopf, who now lives and gardens near the Welsh border in the English village of Skenfirth.

His writing has more than enough wit and style to make the curious and frustrating hobby of gardening enthralling reading.

In this book's funniest chapter, titled "The Booby Trapped Carrot," Mr. Elliott discusses the crimes against nature that constitute a major problem in Britain, and measures being taken to thwart the perpetrators.

Tons of mowers, tillers, chain saws and such vanish from English garden sheds, but that's not the end of it. Thefts of garden furniture constitute half of all art theft in Britain. At certain stately homes, "Thieves have been known to bridge a ha-ha [sunken wall] with planks and drive away the owner's tractor towing a trailerful of loot."

English thieves steal the very plants from the ground. Endsleigh Garden Center near Plymouth, for instance, lost more than 50,000 pounds of plants before the owners banned 200 suspect customers and distributed their mug shots to the staff. Private gardens at stately and not-so-stately homes, parks and botanical gardens are being stripped like cornfields, to hear Mr. Elliott tell it, often by sweet little old ladies climbing off tour buses with secateurs in their Miss Marple-ish handbags.

In response, British gardeners are forming neighborhood watches, buying loud dogs, pouring noisy gravel onto their walkways, installing sensor-controlled floodlights and loading shotguns.

"The Transplanted Gardener" has layers and layers of such good stuff. Like one of those 12-pound onions the English like to grow, really, but it won't make you cry. Unless you laugh that hard.

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