Book Review: Cutting Garden

Cutting Garden:  Growing And Arranging Garden Flowers, by Sarah Raven

I borrowed this book from a friend of mine who deeply loves cuttings and flowers, and as someone with at least a passing interest in gardening myself [1], I figured it would be an enjoyable book to read.  As it happens, this book, which was published by Reader’s Digest, is not quite as amusing as one would hope.  It is also pretty demanding on the reader, assuming that the reader has enough time and enough skill to work on very complicated garden plots as well as to master all kinds of techniques for preserving the life and beauty of cuttings.  Having had a few relatives of mine who enjoyed puttering around in the garden to good effect, like my maternal grandfather and stepfather, I am familiar with the high demands of time that gardening makes on those who want to do it well.  To be an accomplished gardener is by no means an easy task, and this book does not in any way sugarcoat that difficulty or seek to minimize it.  On the contrary, it appears to be directed to those who already know and like gardening and are willing to put forth the effort to do it very well, with the aim of creating beautiful floral arrangements.

The structure of the book makes it plain that the author has practical aims in mind with this book and not aesthetic aims as far as literary flair is concerned.  The slightly more than 150 pages of this beautifully illustrated book are divided into several sections.  After a foreword and introduction, the author discusses how to plan and stock a garden, looking at designs for a cutting garden, a cutting patch in a larger garden, and a mixed garden that includes some areas for cutting and others that are designed to be more attractive.  The author then looks at various plants that blossom and flower during all four seasons, in order from spring to winter.  After this the author spends some time on flower arranging, looking at issues like cutting, conditioning, aftercare, selection of a proper vase, as well as the art of creating arrangements in all four seasons.  The rest of the book, which takes up a significant portion of the overall material contained here, is devoted to looking at flowers and foliage through the seasons.  This is the sort of place where readers might expect more humor, but the author appears keen on keeping up a dry sort of understatement, commenting on plants that spread and self-seed and on how to best care for plants in ways that are most aesthetically pleasing, which is what most people would look for from a book like this.

It is ironic that a book that is devoted to something so aesthetically pleasing as flower arrangements would be written in such a workmanlike fashion.  Yet ironies abound in this book.  This is the sort of book one could easily imagine being the subject of interest for people in Regency England, or the sort of book that would prompt one to recognize the persistent influence of ideas about the picturesque, seeking harmony but not rigid symmetry, and a balance among various potential pitfalls when it comes to taking care of plants in gardens as well as in arrangements.  If this book, for example, is far too demanding in its skill for gardening to be of use to someone like myself, it is at least a very practical book that I can see many people using profitably, especially those who enjoy arranging and cutting flowers for their own gardens or for floral arrangements.  And far be it from me to disparage a book that does its job so well, even if its ambitions as far as how books are written are perhaps more modest than I would wish for my own reading pleasure.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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