February 19, 2007

Deep in the Green

Deep in the Green: An Exploration of Country Pleasures by Anne Raver
Finished on 2/13/07
Rating: 3.5/5 (Good)

The best way to get real enjoyment out of the garden is
to put on a wide straw hat, hold a little trowel in one hand
and a cool drink in the other, and tell the man where to dig.
Charles Barr

My name is Lesley and I’m a horticultural fraud. As much as I admire beautiful gardens, overflowing with colorful plants and decorative yard ornaments, I’ve come to realize that I don’t enjoy gardening nearly as much as cooking or reading. I don’t pore over seed catalogs during the dreary, dark, cold winter nights. I’ve never ordered ladybugs, praying mantis eggs, Japanese beetle traps, or cricket manure. (Cricket manure? Who knew?!) The closest I get to manure is when I come across a lovely little pile of poop left behind by a stray cat (or maybe it’s courtesy of the neighborhood possum). I don’t have a compost pile (shame on me) and I’ve only made one attempt (a complete failure) at germinating seeds. Other than an occasional effort to fertilize with a Miracle Grow canister attached to a garden hose, I’m really quite clueless when it comes to nitrogen, phosphorus, and potash. Who can keep all those numbers straight? Was it 10-20-10 or 30-30-30? Oh, wait, isn’t that for motor oil? My garden philosophy is this: Dig a hole (or better yet, get strong, burly husband to dig a hole), dump some amended dirt from bag purchased from nursery (don't get me started on paying for dirt) in freshly dug hole, transplant healthy-looking plant, water, mulch. Open a cold beer (preferably a Shiner Bock) and hope for the best. If it doesn’t survive the elements (it gets very hot and windy here during the summer months) in spite of my watering and weeding regime, it simply wasn’t meant to be. I’m not going to spend a lot of time or energy (or money) on something that goes into seclusion for almost half the year.

All of that said, I was thrilled to receive Deep in the Green for my birthday this past year from a dear friend (and superb gardener). The cover is quite lovely, with a photograph of a rather fluffy feline perched on a stone wall. He looks rather regal, as though he’s admiring the beautiful perennial garden pictured.

From the author’s introduction:

This book isn’t so much about gardening as it is about making connections – to all the plants and creatures that populate the earth. It’s about noticing things, from the fish in a neighbor’s pond lying belly up after some pesticide truck sprayed the trees, to a line of lifeless sycamore on a street that was showered with salt to melt the ice of an endless winter.

It’s about the joy of obsession. Of gardeners who speak in loving tones to giant squashes and melons, and demand that their newspaper’s garden columnist ride from one end of the kingdom to the other to identify some mysterious weed. It’s about friends – who drive hundreds of miles to pull weeds and dig up bushes on the old family farm, and joyfully take over the kitchen to bake pies and make pesto and sit around the table drinking wine long after a proper farmer would be in bed.

And this is why I enjoyed the essays as much as I did. They aren’t all about gardening. Several are devoted to the author’s love and affection toward her father (Growing Old), her mother (One Life to Live), her dog, Molly (The Love of a Dog and My Old Dog), and her cat, Mr. Grey (Game for a Cat).

All 59 essays (each approximately four to five pages in length) were originally published in The New York Times and Newsday between 1985 and 1994. Rather than falling asleep mid-sentence while reading my current novel, I savored a few of Raver’s essays every night before turning out the light. I also enjoyed reading one or two before starting in on a new novel. A sort of palate cleanser, if you will.

A favorite passage:

It’s important to have a sense of place. To feel that you belong somewhere, to feel committed. For some people, place begins with another person and everything – from friends to the Japanese maple in the yard – grows from that. But sometimes, it works the other way. You find a place where you belong. And the people find you. Gathering mussels, picking beans, eating blackberry pie.

While not quite as good as Dominique Browning's Around the House and in the Garden, Deep in the Green is a delightful book that demands little from its reader and calls for future re-reads. Until such time, I’ll add it to the stack of reading material on our guest room nightstand. It’s perfect for a random perusal and I even have a fluffy feline to help set the mood.


  1. Cricket manure. I had no idea. I knew about worm manure, though. Sounds like a nice book.

  2. Anonymous4:49 AM

    Hah! I can totally relate, being a wannabe-but-not-really gardener myself. I'd love to be one of those people that was happiest when they're out digging in their gardens. I've made some attempts - herbs and a bleeding heart - but I've since determined that I've more of a black thumb than a green one, and I'd be happier watching someone else play in the dirt while I read a book. :)

  3. Well, "fraud" must be the operative word here because you sure have the routine and/or practices of a horticulturist down pat! Although, anyone could fool me because I know dittily about planting anything. :)

    I don't think I'll be reading this book anytime soon, but I'll be back for your next review. I really enjoyed reading this...well done.

    BTW ~ Check out my post on THE THINGS THEY CARRIED. :)

  4. Interesting. I'll have to look into both of these. I have a book blog also.

  5. Bybee - I haven't even heard of worm manure! Wonder how one collects something like that?? ;)

    Lesley - The funny thing is, when I do get out in the yard and start puttering around, dead heading spent blooms, watering or pulling weeds, I lose myself into the chore in almost a Zen-like fashion and the hours just slip away. There's also something pleasant about feeling a bit sore after an afternoon in the garden. And, of course, it's always easier to justify a couple of ice cold beers!

    Barb - Thank you for stopping by! I'll have to come visit your book blog.

  6. Joy - Sorry for the delay in posting your comment. I thought I clicked publish the other day when it appeared in my inbox, but I guess Blogger ignored my approval. Glad you enjoyed the review and thanks for the citation on your post for The Things They Carried. :)

  7. I wondered where that went. And...you are cited again! :)


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