Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Book Report/Tottering in My Garden

Tottering in My Garden
A Gardener's Memoir
by Midge Ellis Keeble
nonfiction, 1989, 1994
finished, 8/11/08
Second reading in the Canadian Book Challenge

Have I read a gardening book I enjoyed more? I don't think so. I so admire Midge Ellis Keeble. She is funny, informative, and best of all, real. I just love her, and I cannot recommend her book highly enough. It is a book for all of us.

If you think gardening books are too erudite or threatening, read this one. She is a joy. She writes of the gardens in her life, from young years to older years. There is information here that will help everyone who loves to garden, whether a beginner, or someone who has gardened for 35 years as I have.

The author moved quite a few times and each new home presented a different gardening situation. She freely admits that if the first place hadn't been so perfect she might never have continued when she encountered less ideal conditions.

I had been working in a gardener's paradise. Apart from the deep compost, we were on top of a hill with superlative drainage, in full sun and facing south. The weather had alternated between misty rains and sunny days - a fool's paradise where one could do no wrong.

From there, she has gardens that are more like the "real world." And she names the chapters after each one such as "the clay garden, the sand garden, the shade garden, the tired garden." She talks honestly of her successes and failures, her trials and her joys. Every once in a while she offers, "notes for the novice" which I learned from even though I've had a garden for a long time. One of my favorites was near the end of the book, when she is an older woman:

A bench: You can weed and plant from a firm, non-tippable bench. Knees wide apart, toes turned out, bend forward from the big hinges where legs meet torso (you do not have a hinge below the small of your back). Let your chin drop and rest on your chest. When reaching for a tool beside you sit up and walk yourself around, still seated, then bend again keeping the back straight. Don't lift your chin when reaching - it's straining and twisting that get us into trouble. Try it. You'll be surprised to find out how much you can do and how much better you feel when you keep your weight off your feet and your knees.

I wish someone had told me that when I was 25!

She doesn't separate gardening from the rest of life, and spends a fair bit of time talking about the various houses, and particularly about the last country house they built. It is that dream we all have of building the exact place we want down to every detail; a joy, yes, but also a tremendous hassle. Her humor and fortitude in the situations that come up are inspirational.

Midge Ellis Keeble's introduction serves well as a description of the book, and also expresses how I feel about my own gardening life:

Every young gardener should know that gardening is an adventure, liberally laced with misadventure. ... We should know there will be time for other things. A garden is not the main theme of life. It weaves in and out, waits, disappears and reappears, providing a counterpoint to family, home and friends, giving colour and balance to life, challenges unending, and often a dash of the comic.


  1. Nan, I saw this book on your reading list and ordered it along with 3 others. Maybe it will arrive today.
    Gave me an idea. Since I have been alone I have created gardens at 4 different homes. I am going to write about each one and add pictures.
    Maybe a grandchild would find it interesting. If not it is another project for this lady in her new city cottage with the smallest garden ever.

  2. What a great, great idea! Will you do it via your blog, or a print version? Maybe you could get it published!

  3. I read this book many a year ago, but now I just think I will borrow it again and enjoy another good read of it. It is because of Ms. Keeble that I have so many heuchera in my garden! I always think of her when I see them. I, too, moved 23 times and never really knew how large a perennial would grow, as I never stuck around long enough. I have been with this current garden 13+ years, and now I must learn about pruning and clearing out!!

  4. Peg, how wonderful to hear from you! Do you know that I just today went over to your old blog because I was thinking about you?!

  5. Today during lunch, my dear girlfriend Dunn confessed that she might love her garden more than she loves her beau.

    She and her beau have recently bought a new home and before the boxes arrived from the shippers she had already ordered topsoil. It arrived at the same time as the moving van! And this was not a coincidence.

    She had "stolen" perennials from her old house, lovingly wrapped them with old sheets, and stuffed them in boxes for the moving van.

    Their garden is now planned, many boxes remain piled up, and now she wonders when her beau will start hiding in the peonies so that she'll notice him when she arrives home from work and strolls directly into the garden.

    With your review, you have given me a wonderful idea for a house warming gift. I will slip this little book into her gardening clogs.

    Kathleen Molloy, author - Dining with Death


  6. Sounds like a marvelous read! Another title to add to my ever-growing Wish List. :)

  7. Sounds like a lovely book, Nan. Did you enjoy it as much as Deep in the Green? I just re-read my review for that book and think I'd like to get it out to read again. That and Around the House and In the Garden!

  8. I love the additions you bring to the Book Challenge.

  9. I'm going to add this one to my list. Thanks, Nan.

  10. I often read your blog, Nan, and since I am Canadian I find your book list interesting. I am from Nova Scotia and lived on PEI, so I must try to get copies of both those books.
    Through your blog, I found Ernestine and Tabor - nice to see how other women of my age think about everyday life!
    Having moved about 23 times, it has been difficult to make long-term friends to settle down with, but I have found some gardening friends here and also my new friends on the internet.


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