Weeding greased piglets in the rain, Angela Sears

Unfolding Seasons: Leaves from the Listener Garden Diary
Kerry Carman,
Random Century, 1992, $24.95

Kerry Carman shares her vast knowledge of plants and gardening with ease and charm. She is a Fellow of the Royal Horticultural Society, a founder-member of the London-based Society of Botanical Artists, and a commissioned contributor to the British joumal ‘Hortus’. But reading this latest book, as with her earlier works, is like strolling around a garden with a well-informed friend.

Her breadth of interest, depth of knowledge and chatty style provide the same sort of pleasure as the gardening writing of Christopher Lloyd or food writing of Elizabeth David or David Burton. You may turn to them for instructions on a specific topic but unless your resolve is firm, many minutes later you have wandered off into fascinating detours of folk-lore, history, and anecdotes of animals, family and other cooks and gardeners.

Unfolding Seasons offers tantalising snippets from a wide range of poets and writers, the recipe for hypertufa pots, the intricacies of plant scents, speculation on whether damsons were Virgil’s waxen plums, and much more.

A compact paperback of pleasing chunky format, it has an attractive cover with lettering by an unacknowledged designer. The elegant initial letters and leaf scrolls of headings are appropriately delicate. It is illustrated with Kerry Carman’s own fine black and white drawings and colour photos, but the absence of her water colours was a disappointment. The photographs are interesting but far less memorable. However, the method of their inclusion was technically impressive – full-page colour photos on the reverse of a page of text, rather than back-to-back photos accompanying text. This means that photos are always near the accompanying text.

I have one criticism about the index. When a text covers so many elusive little topics the index needs to be all-inclusive, but this itemising and cross-referencing seems inadequate. For example, Cedrela is listed but not under its common name of Chinese Toon, and Magnolia is indexed without sub-headings of species or varieties to help in what would be a lengthy search through many page references.

It is a personal pleasure to welcome Unfolding Seasons for two reasons. First for its use as a practical gardening guide. Kerry Carman’s Wylde Green is in Masterton. As a Wairarapa gardener with much to learn I value her information and wisdom. However, her scope is so broad that no doubt every reader can find identification with some aspect of her guidance. Secondly, the ‘Garden Diary’ is one of the three columns for which I continue to buy the Listener. Now on some wet, non-gardening day I might pore over my box of unmounted ‘Garden Diary’ cuttings and thin them out, to retain only the special extras not in this book. On the other hand I may leave them to yellow, and follow Kerry Carman’s appealing advice to weed in the rain: ‘A thoroughly satisfying, cheek-pinking activity … the usually stubborn roots of plants like dandelions slide rapidly out … like little greased piglets’.

 

Unfolding Seasons is an attractive and affordable new book for anyone who enjoys gardens and their seasonal unfolding

 

Angela Sears is a lecturer in Social Policy at Wellington Polytechnic.

 

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