Barbara Blossom Ashmun,
Married to My Garden
(William, James & Co., 2007)

Barbara Ashmun may be best known to gardening hobbyists as the author of five how-to books: Garden Retreats: Creating an Outdoor Sanctuary (Chronicle Books, 2000), 200 Tips for Growing Beautiful Perennials (Chicago Review Press, 1998), 200 Tips for Growing Beautiful Roses (Chicago Review Press, 1998), 200 Tips for Growing Flowers in the Pacific Northwest (Chicago Review Press, 1996) and The Garden Design Primer (Lyons & Burford, 1993). With this latest release, she takes a break from the gritty specifics and writes about what it's like to be an avid gardener.

Correction: an obsessed gardener. Born in the Bronx, Ashmun eventually "transplanted" herself to Portland, Oregon, where she soon found herself spending a lot of time in her new backyard. One plant led to another, and now she's grown into an expert who speaks and writes about varieties of flowers and how to take care of them.

Most natural essay books follow the predictable pattern set by the seasons. The text traditionally starts with spring or summer, so it can progress through fall and winter and return, gratefully, once again to spring. Ashmun breaks this habit by instead organizing her thoughts into the stages of a relationship: "Obsession," "Getting in the Mood," "Falling in Love," "The Honeymoon is Over," "Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder" and "Wedding Bells." Quaint line drawings by Kaye Synoground aptly introduce the sections of the book.

Each one of the 35 essays is just a few pages long, which makes for perfect leisure reading or browsing, especially for those compatriots who would rather spend most of their daylight hours crouched next to a flower bed, using soil-soaked fingers to eradicate alien invaders. Ashmun shares much of herself as the pieces progress. Anyone who has plopped a bulb into a hole in the earth will recognize her experiences. Among the author's identifiable enemies are leaf-munching slugs and insistent morning-glory vines. The inconvenience caused by both pests -- mentioned often in the text -- seems unstoppable. Flower-growers will also no doubt understand Ashmun's dilemma about cutting blooms and bringing them into the house, knowing their beauty won't last nearly as long as they would outside. And readers will also nod in agreement at the addiction to buy more plants or swap cuttings with friends, always improving upon a garden that will never truly be finished.

Ironically, Ashmun's green-thumb expertise now leads her away from her beloved landscaping, as she's called upon to speak at local or national conferences or to travel even farther distances. We feel her pain as she tours some of the most remarkable and most manicured gardens of the world; for even as she visits these marquee exhibits to horticulture, she thinks of her own modest plot and grows heartsick at being so far from it. Once home, however, the love affair resumes. The author's garden requires that much more attention upon her return.

Married to My Garden is a slim and entertaining volume that would make a great gift for anyone who gardens or who has made a valiant attempt to do so.

review by
Corinne H. Smith

5 January 2008

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