Saturday Snippet: The Winter Aconite Fairy

I am half English and when I was a child, my English relatives often sent me and my siblings classic English storybooks as gifts. So I grew up on Arthur Rackham, C.S. Lewis, Elizabeth Goudge, Beatrix Potter, Enid Blyton. J.M. Barrie — and Cicely Mary Barker, author and illustrator of the Flower Fairies series of little books. They helped inspire and sustain my love of flowers and gardening, as I could imagine the fairies while my parents taught me how to plant perennials, weed flowerbeds and pot up bulbs.

Today, I will be planting winter aconite tubers, as well as various narcissus, and ajuga reptans to fill in among the flagstones of a new, small patio and pathway. Today’s Saturday Snippet:

The Winter Aconite Fairy

Deep in the Earth
I woke, I stirred.
I said: “Was that Spring I heard?
For something called!”
“No, no,” they said:
“Go back to sleep. Go back to bed.”
“You’re far too soon;
The world’s too cold
For you, so small.” So I was told.
But how could I
Go back to sleep?
I could not wait; I had to peep!

Up, up, I climbed,
And here am I.
How wide the earth! How great the sky!
O wintry world,
See me, awake!
Spring calls, and comes; ’tis no mistake.

Cicely Mary Barker


Illustration: Cicely Mary Barker (copyright The Estate of Cicely Mary Barker).

Saturday Snippet: Think Like a Plant

I love Barbara Damrosch’s book The Garden Primer. It may have been the very first gardening book I got as an adult, with my own small patch of earth to cultivate, trying to remember the lessons my parents had taught me when I helped out with their gardening tasks.  One of my favorite quotes: “Good gardening is very simple, really. You just have to learn to think like a plant.” Given that fall is the best planting season for most plants here in Zone 7, this week’s Saturday Snippet is about giving plants a good start:

If you are a Freudian you believe that birth traumas and subsequent experiences in people’s early lives can mark them for life. If you are a non-Freudian you consider this hogwash, holding that everyone is born with a certain personality, and beyond that your life is what you make of it.

I’m not entirely sure which theory is true where humans are concerned, but with plants I’m a Freudian all the way. Yes, a rhododendron is born a rhododendron and will always curl up its leaves self-protectively on cold winter days, only to become an extroverted mound of bright-flowered joy when it gets sufficiently warm in spring. But how large that mound is, and how glorious its display, depends on you, its parent, who can start it off by cramming its little roots into a stingy hole filled with meager soil, or give it a wonderful environment rich in love, care and compost.

The Garden Primer 2nd Ed

Photo: Berkshire Botanical Garden

Outstanding American Gardens: A Celebration

The Garden Conservancy has announced the coming publication of its 25th anniversary book: Outstanding American Gardens: A Celebration — 25 Years of the Garden Conservancy. Outstanding American Gardens.

The Garden Conservancy was founded in 1989. Its mission is to “save and share outstanding American gardens for the education and inspiration of the public.” It sponsors Open Days, offers consulting services to gardens, and works to preserve significant endangered gardens. What a wonderful organization! Can’t wait to buy the book, which features 50 American gardens of all kinds, from across the country: coast-to-coast and in-between.

Saturday Snippets

I’m going to add a posting feature to this blog and call it “Saturday Snippets.” As I began with the idea of rediscovering gardening and my many garden-related books, and named the blog after one of my favorites, “Old Herbaceous” by Reginald Arkell, I thought it would be fun to share weekly snippets of garden literature from my collection.

Here’s my first snippet:

“Gardening was a whole-time job, like the cows or the sheep. Cows had to be milked, whatever happened; and who thought of stopping in bed when the sheep were lambing? In a garden, you had to work with the seasons. There were slack times, when you could take an easy with a pipe behind the tool shed, but when the grass started growing and the weeds were getting on top of you, there was an end to all that nonsense….Hours he’d spent watering….But these young fellows….”

Old Herbaceous, Reginald Arkell.



I am recapturing my love of gardening by re-reading some favorite garden books and following several garden blogs. One of my favorite books about gardening is “Old Herbaceous”, by Reginald Arkell. I first read it when I was twelve years old. The story of a shy child who loves plants and flowers, and makes them his vocation throughout a long life, spoke to me then and still speaks to me now.

Old Herbaceous, by Reginald Arkell (Modern Library 2003)
Old Herbaceous, by Reginald Arkell (Modern Library 2003)