Gardeners who open My Garden (Book) looking for descriptions of the proper way to cultivate tomatoes or to propagate roses are doomed to disappointment; instead, Kincaid offers readers a rambling history of her relationship with her own gardens. Along the way, she comments on other gardeners, seed companies, travels to garden shows, and expeditions to find new plants. The resulting picture is of Kincaid herself, by turns generous and bad tempered, willful and openhearted, helpful and demanding, and always a truthful if eccentric voice.
Transplanted first from Antigua to New York and then to Vermont, Kincaid had little interest in gardening until her children were born, although she had a keen awareness of the botany of Antigua, which she had studied as a child. Kincaid’s early ventures in gardening were marked by her lack of basic information about what will grow in Vermont, the varying needs of the plants that she has chosen, and how to make a plan that will produce the garden she sees in her imagination. They are issues that most gardeners face, and Kincaid is disarming as she describes her naïve expectations, her frustrations with plants that behave differently from their descriptions in the catalogs, and her encounters with nurserymen (some helpful, some quite the opposite). The book’s organization suggests a ramble through a garden; although it is roughly chronological in its history of Kincaid’s gardening, it offers a number of detours through other topics as well, including the story of how she and her husband obtained their house and the solace that she finds in studying the catalogs and speculating on their promises during the long months of snow in Vermont (it is not surprising that Kincaid has no love for winter).
Several chapters concern Kincaid’s horticultural travels. In England, she attends the Chelsea Garden Show and visits famous gardens, such as Vita Sackville-West’s garden at Sissinghurst. In France, she visits the painter Claude Monet’s garden at Giverny. These visits lead her to consider the role that colonial rule (starting with Christopher Columbus) has played in the importing of plant species, the fact that no garden can truly outlive its creator, and the eternal contrast between the ideal garden and what one has actually produced.
The last chapter records a plant-hunting trip to China that Kincaid made with a number of botanists and nurserypeople looking for new species, foreshadowing a similar trip later to the Himalayas. China is fraught with discomforts, and Kincaid is frank about her bad temper during much of the...
(The entire section contains 605 words.)
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