August 25 – Labor Day, 2017Vol. 19, No. 12

Onward and Upward in the Garden

by Martha F. Barkley

It is late August as I begin this report. The days, here in Maine, are noticeably shorter, and lovely summer slips through the hand like Edna Millay's silver fish. The swamp maple flashes in red danger signal, and it's time now for the gardener to make his plans for the house plants that will bring the garden indoors this winter and to order bulbs that must go into the ground in October and November if the outdoor garden is to come to life again next spring.

I am tempted to simply quote from this poetic, yet informative, garden book by Katharine S. White published long ago in 1958. Originally written as articles for The New Yorker, it is a compilation of this editor's only published book. That is surprising, since she hired E.B. White as a part time staff writer. We all know how prolific Katharine's husband was . . .

My friend loaned me this very special old book that was updated and edited in 1979 by E.B. White upon his wife's death. How odd to read that she plunged into her gardens at their saltwater coastal farm (now on the market), dressed as she would be around the house working on her New Yorker editing. No dressing down for her gardens.

Some of the names to remember when you put in your summer order for tulips, narcissi, daffodils, and other spring bulbs are Max Schling Seedsmen; P. de Jager & Sons, whose head offices are in Holland; and John Scheepers, Inc., another outlet for Dutch bulbs . . . For lily bulbs of all kinds, Romaine B. Ware, of Canby, Oregon, issues the most attractive catalogue I have seen, and Oregon's lilies are famous.

Travel the world with Katharine as she reviews seed and bulb catalogues. Her writing is just as mesmerizing as her well published husband, E.B. White. This special garden book was published in 1958, 1959, 1960, 1961, 1962, 1965, 1966, 1967, 1968, 1970, 1979. Very, very popular, indeed, and read by more than gardeners!

The New Yorker serialized Rachel Carson's Silent Spring as well, so when the book finally was published it was an immediate bestseller. Perhaps these writers are known today because they knew how to catch the eye of discerning readers who kept looking for more in the next issue of the magazine.

I understand Harriet Beecher Stowe did the same with each chapter for Uncle Tom's Cabin published on broadsheets in Brunswick, Maine. Stowe's husband taught at Bowdoin and evening readings of Uncle Tom's Cabin occurred regularly for his students at their home. Uncle Tom's Cabin became not just a national phenomena, but a world wide published work, like Carson's Silent Spring.

"Winter Reading, Winter Dreams" may be a chapter of interest in White's garden book, winter appearing all too soon. Enjoy August/September and those blooms until frost . . . perhaps reading other books by Rachel Carson and Harriet Beecher Stowe this winter as well? The Sea Around Us by Carson is my favorite. The Pearl of Orr's Island and others about Maine are just some of Stowe's many published works.

Her grand niece Robinson admitted to us in Charleston, SC that she refused to read her aunt's famed (infamous) novel. When she finally did read it rather late in life, Robinson realized what a gift Uncle Tom's Cabin was to the world at that time and even today. Good writing is good writing, no matter the subject . . . "The Million-Dollar Book" is another chapter in Katharine's garden book to pique your interest.