Fully Booked: Two New Volumes on Gardening in Zone 5
The weather outside is frightful, but these books will sustain us 'til spring.
When it’s too cold to garden, gardeners dream. Sitting by the fire, they hatch schemes for the growing season ahead—new beds they hope to add, unsatisfactory ones they plan to remedy or abolish. And just as the fire requires constant refueling, so does the gardener’s imagination. Seed and plant catalogs are one reliable source of inspiration. But when it comes to setting a gardener’s mind ablaze, nothing compares with a big, glossy picture book.
The one snag: like politics, all gardening is local. Thrilling as it can be to see what the best gardens in, say, Provence, look like, in the end, they tell us nothing about what works or would look suitable around here. The books published by Down East, headquartered, as its name suggests, in Maine, on the other hand, all deal with our own dear zone 5. Their titles may sound geographically diverse—the two shown here are Great Gardens of the Berkshires and Gardens Maine Style, Act II—but horticulturally they speak the same language. Many of the gardens in Great Gardens are familiar favorites; the ones in Maine Style are more likely to come as a surprise. All the information and inspiration in both applies to thee and me.
These books are to be admired for other reasons as well. Properly photographing a garden is not the work of a day; it takes an entire season and constant vigilance to capture a garden in all its fleeting nuances. Down East’s books benefit from this kind of attention. Clearly their photographers live in the regions they photographed and so are available throughout the growing season, and, in certain instances, well beyond. Some of the most arresting photographs in the Berkshires book were taken when the formal gardens at The Mount, the Edith Wharton historic house in Lenox, were covered with snow.
Another point on which these books stand out is the quality of their text. Too often, the presumed “author” of a coffee table book is an expert on something other than writing so is forced to work with a ghost, who may or may not have special knowledge of the subject. A lot can get lost in the translation. Down East’s gardening books are written by gardening experts who also happen to be professional writers. They bring high standards of reporting to their text, which is clear and loaded with concrete, trustworthy information.
Great Gardens of the Berkshires
by Virginia Small; photographs by Rich Pomerantz; $35
The Gardens of Maine, Act II
written by Rebecca Sawyer-Fay; photographs by Lynn Karlin; $35
Down East Books are available at or can be ordered by independent bookstores throughout the region.