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The Living Garden: A Place that Works with Nature

Today's review of The Living Garden is a guest post by award-winning garden writer and photographer judywhite. I also enthused about it myself in an earlier post.

Living Garden, A Place that Works with Nature,Jane Powers,review. Image: ©Frances Lincoln (all rights reserved) Perhaps it is the Irish influence that makes Dublin-based garden writer Jane Powers so quotable, for The Living Garden (published by Frances Lincoln) is full of sentences to admire. But it is just as likely to be her capacity for close-up observation, combined with the literary sensibility you might expect from a child of America’s National Book Award winner, J.F. Powers.

For a garden book that contains virtually no information about plant zones or hardiness – rather more geared for Irish or British gardeners than for Americans – it’s still surprisingly useful no matter your locale, because of Powers’ ability to present the big, integrated picture of what it means to save the planet, one garden at a time. This might sound tiresome, and in other hands it often is. But in this first-person account from her 1/6 of an acre town garden, the tone is accessible, opinionated, sometimes downright funny. This is a good book for beginners in particular, because it teaches you how to see what really goes on in a garden.

In ten chapters, only one is devoted to plants; as much detail as is spent on compost, “creatures”, soil and cycles. You have to love a book with a section on “Plants That Look Good Dead,” and a sidebar pleading for a return to clotheslines in the garden. Full of wonderful bits of natural lore (did you know honeybees have shorter tongues than bumblebees?), there are also classier-than-usual chapter header quotes that range from 500BC to present day, from philosophers and poets to physicists and novelists.

The subtitle, “A Place that Works with Nature”, is truly what Powers is after – essentially organic, sort of sustainable, with a lot of debris, none of it overly aggressive. It seems doable. “Were I to stop, this miniature world would slow down, and grind to a more sedate rotation, with far fewer living things on the wheel.” Makes you want to take up her rallying cry for gardens that live more broadly than most.