Spades, Trowels, and Books

BY right of seniority, if for no other reason, any book of Dr. L. H. Bailey’s demands first consideration. As the editor of the Cyclopedia of American Horticulture of over thirty years ago and of the more recent six-volume Standard Cyclopedia (which has just been reissued in two volumes), it would be audacious impertinence to furnish him with further credentials.
Those two great works provide not only the pattern for many of the lesser works which have come subsequently, but also the firm ground of knowledge on which both author and gardener have learned to depend.
Nor is their fame confined to America. In England both the Standard Cyclopedia and the Hortus were recommended to me as the best comprehensive works of their kind on gardening. My surprise at finding that these books were not English can only have been equaled by Naaman’s when he was told to go and bathe in the River Jordan. What, I wondered, was wrong with Abanah and Pharpar?
The new and revised edition of the Hortits, by L. H. Bailey and Ethel Zoo Bailey (Alaemillan, $5.00), is neither epitome nor abridgment of the earlier works. It is a new work. It is a reference book pure and simple—primarily botanical — and an inventory of plants now under cultivation in the United States.
For this reason, and because it is unquestionably authoritative, its usefulness is very wide. For the expert the ordinary garden dictionary has only limited value. He knows, or thinks he knows, as much as the editors themselves. If he wants information on one of the larger subjects — such as pruning — he is likely to refer to one of the standard works devoted to the subject. In the Hortus he has a book unpretentious in intention and as useful as a good lexical dictionary
The Garden Dictionary, edited by Norman Taylor (Houghton Mifflin, $16.25), although designed ‘to be an indispensable work of reference for all gardeners,’ seems to be aimed primarily at that very large body who are something less than very gifted and something more than plain ignorant. The latter, however, might be expected to graduate into the ranks of potential readers at a very early stage. They could, in fact, do little better than use the Dictionary as a starting point. They as well as more experienced gardeners will find it as entertaining as instructive.
For the in-betweeners, in fact the great majority of gardeners, it constitutes a very convenient work of ready reference for everyday use. it is excellently arranged with an admirable system of unlimited cross-references. In fact, it is made almost too tempting and easy to pause by the wayside rather than to proceed grimly with the subject in hand.
It is said that at the publication dinner one of the contributors announced that, no matter how much one doubted the correctness of the statements contained in the book, ‘you may be sure that, like your bank statement, the Dictionary is always right.’ This must be a very happy state of mind for a contributor to be in. But one would like to see some mention of sources on the more specialized subjects, for one of the important uses of an encyclopædia is not as an instrument of absolute knowledge but as an indication of what there is to be known in any given direction and where that knowledge may be found. Even that most available source of knowledge, the Department of Agriculture, is hardly mentioned as a possibility.
The Garden Encyclopedia, edited by E. L. D. Seymour (Wise and Company, $4.00), does make a polite bow in this direction. The bulletins of the Department of Agriculture are recommended for further study, and rightly, for they offer an economical foundation For an extensive garden library. Perhaps it is because they are given away free that they are not more widely used.
But for economical gardening information The Garden Encyclopedia is hard to beat. At four dollars for thirteen hundred pages — a rate of about two thousand words for a cent, to say nothing of the pictures — the value is amazing. There has long been a need for a good and really cheap garden reference book, and this work supplies it. It covers the field of horticulture adequately. Avoiding frills, it has the same economy of phrase and the same practicality as the government publications. For the amateur, for whom price is a consideration, it would be hard to find a better single volume.
Clare Leighton’sFour Hedges (Macmillan, $3.00) is practice rather than precept. ‘A Gardener’s Chronicle,’ she calls it, for it covers a year of gardening life. It is also a work of art which deserves a high place in the literature of gardening.
Mrs. Leighton yields to neither of the two grave temptations which seem to beset the author on gardening. She does not treat it as a remote art, nor does she give way to lush sentimentality. She knows too well that seeds are germinated in putrefaction, that plants feed grossly on the stinking products of slaughterhouse and midden, and that sweat must run before the earth will yield. She writes of her garden with the practicality of one who does the hard work herself and with a robust if sensitive perception which makes the preciosity of a Beverley Nichols seem anæmic and ladylike.
And there are her pictures. I wish that I knew the secret of them. In woodcuts she has chosen what I should imagine must be a most difficult medium. How is it that by using apparently conventional forms and confining herself to the severest black and white she is able to reproduce a sense of light in all its seasonal changes? Without departure from an austerity imposed partly by her medium and partly by her own style she can match the ethereal translucency of a March day, the still slumberous heat of July, and the damp gray gales of November. Her mower moves forward froglike, a pace at a time, to the peculiar rasping swish of the scythe. Her apple picker leans to the weight of the full basket before the pattern of a laden tree. Both have freedom and yet the formality of design.
Mrs. Leighton is to be congratulated. Her Four Hedges is an achievement.