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review 2018-08-20 04:39
The Solitary Summer
The Solitary Summer - Elizabeth von Arnim

 

This was a buddy read with Themis Athena.

 

The Solitary Summer is a follow up to Elizabeth and Her German Gardenthey don't have to be read in any order, but Solitary Summer takes place in the same garden, about three years later.

 

I went into this book naively assuming that the "Solitary" in the title mean Elizabeth at home, alone, in her garden, for the entire summer.  While I made allowances for servants, I figured she'd sent Man of Wrath and her three children off somewhere for the summer, either together or separately. 

 

Shows what I know; the Solitary in the title means nothing of the sort.  It simply means Elizabeth and her husband agree that for one summer, May through August, there will be no guests descending on the house, expecting Elizabeth to perform hostess duties.  100 years ago, I suppose that would feel like a kind of solitude, but personally, if I were being subjected to the daily demands of husband and three daughters, I'd have long before whipped out my Sharpie pen and blacked out the entry for 'solitude' in all my dictionaries and been done with the concept.

 

Moving on from my luxurious pre-conceived notions, the book is ostensibly about Elizabeth spending the summer in her garden, free from hostessing duties, and therefore free to loll about in her garden all day, book in hand, alternately reading and soaking in the paradise surrounding anyone in a garden, wood, and field.  When she's not feeding her family, or handing out food to the servants, or entertaining her daughters.  The solitary moments do happen, in May and most of June, but after a spate of gales whip through, the tone of the book alters perceptibly; less garden, more musings on philosophy, reading, morality, class and village life.  

 

In my opinion, even though I picked this up in eager anticipation of the garden-geek-fest, it's the second half that should not be missed.  Elizabeth is a rare breed; she's able to stand apart from herself, to see herself and events around her with objectivity, brutal honesty, and wry wit.  She does not rationalise, she does not excuse or defend, she simply observes:  this is they way things/I should be, this is the way things/I are(am).  It's refreshing to hear this kind of voice, and if it doesn't make you think one way or the other, ... well, never mind.  But the issues she addresses in her musings are at least as relevant today as they were 100 years ago, with the exception of enforced quartering of troops and servant housing. 

 

From what little I know so far about Elizabeth von Arnim's background, her husband isn't what anyone today would call a gem; she calls him Man of Wrath for heaven's sake, and I doubt she's using the term ironically.  But there are moments of accord between the two, as well as many scenes of shared humour and witty banter that lead me to suspect their relationship was far more complex than history will likely remember it being, and I'm eager to find out more about them both to see if my suspicions stand up to available facts.

 

Either way, I like her.  I suspect, were we contemporaries and life brought us into each other's orbit, we'd be friends - or at least appreciate each other's love of nature, sarcasm, and our disdain for too many guests.

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review 2018-07-31 05:03
The Wayward Lemon & the Garrulous Gnome by Lynton Johnson
The Wayward Lemon and the Garrulous Gnome - Lynton Johnson

TITLE: The Wayward Lemon & the Garrulous Gnome: A Good Old-Fashioned Gardening Manual

AUTHOR: Lynton Johnson

PUBLICATION DATE: 1996

FORMAT: Paperback


ISBN-13: 9781868700264
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DESCRIPTION:

"Join well-known horticulturist and radio personality Lynton Johnston as he rambles through his garden and those of others. Enjoy the anecdotes, share in his thoughts, and discover the fasination of gardening and gardening lore. Learn about knock-rocks, herbies, ballerinas and wayward lemons. Find out more about making compost (and how not to make it), growing your own fruit and beggies, and building ponds or other garden structures. Learn what to do in your brand-new garden-to-be once the builders have left (and left you all their rubble), or how to turn an inherited garden into your own creation. And read about green means to get rid of bugs, beasties and other farden nasties (excluding garrulous or silent gnomes)."

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A rather rambling, if amusing and informative, book containing gardening advice for the novice. 

 

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review 2018-07-20 06:40
The Italian Garden: Restoring a Renaissance Garden in Tuscany
Italian Garden: Restoring a Renaissance Garden in Tuscany - Paul Bangay,Cecilia Hewlett,Narelle McAuliffe

In 1967, while doing some shoring up of the outer walls surrounding the Pallazo Vaj, gorgeous frescoes from the 1400's were found hidden inside the wall (one assumes it was a double wall sort of thing).  This became the later inspiration for Monash University's restoration of the Pallazo's car park, back to the Renaissance garden it originally was.  This book is a chronicle, of sorts, of that "restoration".  Explanation of the quotes later.

 

First, let me say this book is gorgeous.  Beautiful in its construction, photography - all of it.   The writing was ... adequate.  Mostly written like University professors submitting committee reports, but on a subject so rich and interesting that, with the exception of one section, it's still easy reading.  (Not sure who Luke Morgan is, and I'm willing to bet he's a delightful, engaging person when he's at home, but his writing is nothing but pretentious gibberish.  I've read articles about quantum physicals that were less opaque and obscure.)

 

So, this book would make a lovely gift - but maybe not for a gardener.  The thing is, and this is my biggest disappointment, that while the book is beautiful, the garden is most decidedly not.  I realise beauty is entirely subjective, and I realise too that this garden needed to serve as a public space.  

 

But 80% of it is GRAVEL.  Hand to god, 80%. According to the book, there were only 4 types of plants used in the entire space: box (so. much. box), jasmine, magnolia and lemon.  Lovely plants, beautifully scented, but nothing else and EVERYTHING clipped to within an inch of its life.  Even the magnolias are forced into a Christmas tree shape.

 

This is the "restored" garden:

 

I'm pretty sure you could still use that as a car park, just sayin'. 

 

So, thus my rating.  Great book, decent writing, horrific garden.  Sorry Monash Uni, that's not a garden.

Source: www.google.com/url?sa=i&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=images&cd=&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=2ahUKEwj59sKQ-azcAhVQ7mEKHSyOBWcQjB16BAgBEAQ&url=http%3A%2F%2Fartsonline.monash.edu.au%2Fexpectations-in-healthcare-testing%2Fevents%2F
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review 2018-06-28 01:07
The Weather Detective: Rediscovering Nature's Secret Signs
The Weather Detective: Rediscovering Nature's Secret Signs - Peter Wohlleben

NOT what it says on the tin.  Not really.  I read this title and its blurb and expected, not unreasonably, that it would be a collection of practically accurate ways to predict the weather by reading the nature of what's around you.  There's maybe 30% of the book that falls under that category.

 

I did learn a few things: a couple of flowers that act as barometers; which ones you can use to tell time.  But most of the information was general, basic getting-back-to-nature stuff.  Importance of rain.  A general overview of the skies; background on the importance of soil.  Definitely worthy subjects, and written on a practical level; he doesn't expect the reader to chuck it all and live amongst the forest creatures, but just points out what's in most of our gardens.  Sadly, there wasn't much here that I didn't already know, and I didn't learn half of what I'd hoped to.

 

The Weather Detective is an English translation of the original book titled Kranichflug und Blumenuhr, which roughly translates to "Crane Flight and Flower Clock"; probably not a title that's going to infer any immediate meaning to English readers, but probably more accurate in its vagueness than The Weather Detective.  This leads me to another issue I had with the book:  it's either poorly translated, or it's meant for a much younger audience.  Wohlleben is a well-known and well-respected writer, so I'm inclined to believe it's the translation.  I don't question its accuracy, but the tone of the original, I have to believe, has been lost, leaving a text that is overly simplistic and sometimes skates near condescending (something I'm positive was not intended by the author himself).  I feel like I could give this to my 8 year old niece, and with a few exceptions, she'd be able to read it and understand it without any problems.

 

It's not an unworthy book; given a stronger, more intuitive translation and a much more accurate title, the book would be perfect for any urbanite more interested in what's going on outside their doors.  I like Wohlleben's honest, but pragmatic and sympathetic view on human interaction with nature - his views are moderate, reasonable, and rational.  And I truly did gain a few nuggets of information here and there.  It's just not all it could be, and what I suspect it might be, in the original German.

 

Some additional notes for anyone considering reading it:

It's pretty German-centric, of course.  He tries to look further afield, but even that's confined to Europe and the UK.  All the measurements have been converted to US Customary Units/UK Imperial, so Canadians, Aussies, and any other English speaking readers not inclined to be flexible about USC/UK:Metric conversions are going to be irritated.  In the same vein, forget about it if you're in the Southern Hemisphere, unless you really like to flex your brain.  Wind direction and sun orientations will all need to be reversed.  Most of the wildlife mentioned will also be non-applicable, though the science, at least, is sound no matter what part of the globe you live on. 

 

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text 2018-06-27 08:27
Reading progress update: I've read 88 out of 208 pages.
The Weather Detective: Rediscovering Nature's Secret Signs - Peter Wohlleben

I think I might be too old for this.

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