Thought for today - Blog Post 12.6.2020 Old Books
As a collector of many things, books consistently bring me the most joy. I have no idea how many books I have, but on the subjects of plants, gardens, landscape, garden design, gardening and horticulture, it is definitely in the ’several’ to ‘many‘ hundreds category. I’ve been collecting for over 20 years and while I have sold or given away many over the years, I have more than enough to occupy my downtime.
I like to think of myself as an eternal student with every day very much being a school day. While the sources of online information (like, I hope this website) are invaluable in an ever-changing world, the physicality of a printed book, just like a CD in a case hold appeal for me.
As various subjects interest me, I dip into and out of my books for further reading, inspiration and explanation. As a result of this disrupted year, I have found myself growing more and more plants from seed than ever before. Ordinarily I produce most of my plants from cuttings, or buy them from specialist growers, but I have fallen back in love again with seed raising plants over the last few years.
With this interest in mind, I picked up my well thumbed copy of Christopher Lloyd & Graham Rice’s 1991 book ‘Garden Flowers From Seed’ to read yesterday. What a great read it is too! Funny - yes, a genuinely funny book about raising plants from seed. The obvious rapport and respect both great writers had for one another is apparent. The two introductions are great fun and Christopher (famously the owner of the magical Great Dixter house and Garden and a writer of many excellent books) knowingly plays with the reader teasing them hilariously. A lot of what is said here resonates strongly. The two main observations that I draw from this book and it has been worth reminding myself of are as follows;
Write about what you know. A knowledgable commentary is infinitely better than a dull and knowingly under-confident attempt to explain a subject that you Lack expertise in. Both authors in this book are experts and talk about personal experience gained from years of application. Something to continually aspire to in my writing. I tend to stay away from areas that I lack knowledge or work on building that knowledge to later be comfortable writing about it.
Good writers can make the mundane and prosaic informative subjects exciting, funny, packed with wit and charm.
The second observation has lead me to reflect on the wealth of books out there and my feelings towards them. There were a great many books written in the late 90’s and early 00’s that are frankly only fit for compost. Written to respond to the interest in gardens and gardening that boomed then through tv makeover shows. While there were, of course, many great books published during this time, there was a sea of garbage as well that have little or no merit and do nothing for our understanding or value of the discipline.
This is true as well of books written before and since though I find this period particularly heavy with poor quality writings. Good writers like Christopher, Graham, the legendary Beth Chatto and John Brookes to name just a few all wrote/write from experience and through experiments. It is so much more valuable and enjoyable to read. The reader is taken on a journey, supported by anecdote and experienced commentary that enrich the read.
If you haven't already, you would be well-advised to read Graham’s blog The Transatlantic Plantsman Click here to visit it, or check out Graham’s website for his book and other media information. Click Here. He also writes a New Plants Blog on the RHS website. Click here to visit that.
Some books will fall out of print and be resigned to the second hand book shop. Their content may age slightly, but well-written material is timeless and a pleasure to immerse oneself in.
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