Thoughtful Gardening
Thoughtful Gardening
Robin Lane Fox
Basic Books, 2010
384 pp., $29.95

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Julie Lane-Gay

Thoughtful Gardening

Essays by an accomplished historian, gardener, and provocateur.

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With or without any agenda, the practical tips—gleaned from years of trial and error—make for worthy reading. Did you know you could cut a tall, gawky winter-flowering Mahonia back very hard in April and it will reshoot to look shapelier than before? Did you know Pawlonia trees could be used in dry gardens to pull water up to the surface, and then provide water to their neighbors? There are wonderful essays on various genuses: Early-flowering cherries, Fritillarias, Rhododendrons, Iris, Kniphofias, Deutzias, Buddlejas, Salvias and others. There are numerous pearls of travel information—we're directed to little known public gardens in France, Italy, the United States, and of course, Great Britain, often complete with public transit information. There is literary trivia, drawing on sources ranging from Mansfield Park to Lady Chatterley's Lover. And the index—an increasingly endangered species—is superb.

While the new homeowner or gardener might prefer The Backyard Homestead, those who stay up late reading about Delphiniums or designing borders will love Thoughtful Gardening. If his agenda can be a bit pushy, Lane Fox is easy to like, and easy to forgive. He cares about beauty. He delights in plants. He's genuine. When Lane Fox suggests you visit his favorite garden in Ireland, he not only tells you how to get there but when to go and what to make sure you to notice. He cares that you like it, that it blesses you like it blessed him. Such qualities make for fine gardening, and for a very fine book.

Julie Lane-Gay is a writer in Vancouver, B.C.

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