Mid May. The smell of freshly cut grass wafts in through an open window. Looking out, I see a doe nudging at the wire cage surrounding a newly planted Japanese Maple. I think she knows that anything I’m trying to keep away from her must taste delicious. I should probably go outside and get down to some actual work but instead, I’m on the couch delighting once again in the essays of garden writer Henry Mitchell.
I first started reading Mitchell when he was the garden columnist for the Washington Post. Writing as The Essential Earthman, Mitchell was my kind of gardener. He loved plants, loved getting his hands dirty, but he was never precious. And he certainly suffered no fussy prima donna plants and their temperamental ways. If it couldn’t hack the conditions, let natural selection have its way. Mitchell’s way was finding what plant worked where and finding pleasure in the simple joy of tasting a home-grown tomato still warm with sunshine. Or in the sight of the first spring crocus.
And his love of the garden and of gardening was highlighted by simply great writing.
Wherever humans garden magnificently, there are magnificent heartbreaks. It may be forty heifers break through the hedge after a spring shower and (undiscovered for many hours) trample the labor of many years into uniform mire. It may be the gardener has nursed along his camellias for twenty-five years, and in one night of February they are dead. How can that be? Well, it can be.
Newport Library owns three of Henry Mitchell’s books on gardening:
Give them a try. But not on a sunny summer day when you really should be outside getting your hands dirty.