I had seen the title Rhapsody in Green crop up on social media a couple times, so on one of my many bookshop visits I decided to bring it home. Published in 2016 by Kyle Books, Charlotte Mendelson’s collection of garden essays has become one of my favourite garden writing books.
Following the seasons
The books is divided into 12 chapters, taking us through the different seasons and subseasons. Within each chapter there are a number of essays of up to 2 pages long; these discuss topics, plants or thoughts pertaining to each season. She already stipulates in the prologue that the book is not for those who enjoy or have neat gardens;. those who have it all figured out. It might, however, resonate with those who have an unrealistic view of their garden; surely you can grow raspberries, apples, veg and also have plants in an urban back garden that is practically paved over?
As much as I enjoy visiting gardens and “ooohh” and “aaahh” at the capabilities of skilled gardeners, more often than not, I tend to buy only one plant of any given variety – maybe two if they are small or particularly pretty. I am aware it is best to plant in groups of, say, 3; but then I won’t have room for that other lovely plant that I like the look of. There were many instances while reading the book where I thought “me too!” So much so that I would poke my husband and read passages to him and waited for him to say “that is you”. He didn’t. He doesn’t indulge me in that way.
Bitten by the gardening bug
I made copious notes while reading Mendelson’s book to refer back to in this review, but it all boils down to this: once you have been bitten by the gardening bug there is no going back. I can never have enough plants. We know the laws of nature, but maybe this time we might just get away with sowing seeds early. We have an eschewed vision of our own space.
Mendelson is a writer by trade, so the use of language is beautiful. What made me love this book, however, was the humour, how matter-of-fact she is, and how she encapsulates delusion so well. The likelihood of one being self-sufficient in an urban setting is non-existent, yet we all spend money on seeds and equipment so we can have that one meal from the garden.
The book has the ability to show you just how peculiar you look when you go out into the garden in the height of summer, during a downpour, in the early hours of the morning with your head torch. This is a scene that was described to me by a former colleague before I became garden-obsessed. Now I know that man was simply gathering all the slugs and snails that had come out of hiding to gorge on his precious plants.
I finished this book shortly before the New Year, which felt fitting. When November comes around, I go out to the garden less. When I do, I amble around stopping at the different pots, checking for signs of new growth and damage in tow. December floats on by, giving time to reflect on what the year has been like as a whole, egging us on through the last few weeks at work before Christmas season. It is at this point, in between family meals, when I update my gardening journal and think about next year. The bug has been hibernating and is starting to stir: I have bought new seeds, and I have grand ideas for the cold frame. The eternal optimism is back and, realistically, how early can I start sowing?
It’s going to be a great gardening year.