Air Date: Week of December 26, 1997
In this installment of the Green Garden Spot with Evelyn Tully Costa, Evelyn provides a winter reading list on gardening.
CURWOOD: "Summer fading. Winter comes. Frosty mornings, tingling thumbs. Window robins. Winter rooks. And the picture storybooks." That from the beginning of Robert Lewis Stevenson's children's poem, "Picture Books in Winter," that bodes a time for all of us living in colder climates. A time when spending time indoors is an opportunity to reflect on the summer's past and the garden's future. To think, to really imagine greener, warmer days, is what many gardeners do when the ground is frozen over and sunlight is scarce. And here with a winter reading list is Brooklyn based gardening guru, Evelyn Tully Costa. Hi, Evelyn, so nice of you to visit.
TULLY COSTA: The better to see you with, Steve.
CURWOOD: So, you're not only digging all spring, summer, and fall, but reading about gardens all winter?
TULLY COSTA: Yeah, well, what could be nicer than getting a pile of books, curling up in a comfy chair and actually absorbing some material? I can only fantasize about during the crazy growing season.
CURWOOD: So, what kind of books do you read?
TULLY COSTA: Mm, mostly during the growing season I read how-to books. But the best thing for me is to read about garden literature. I mean it's romantic, it's passionate, and I can sort of get into the heads of other people who share my own passion.
CURWOOD: So, Evelyn, what's on your list for listeners this winter?
TULLY COSTA: Well, I have 3 books. And the first book on my wish list is called Some Flowers by the novelist, poet, and plants woman Vita Sackville-West. She was one of the most controversial and talented gardeners of our century. She was famous, not only for gardens that she created in Sissinghurst Castle in England, but her connections with the Bloomsbury literary crowd. She had a rather well-known affair within certain circles with Virginia Woolf, and this inspired Virginia Woolf to model her character Orlando on Vita Sackville-West.
CURWOOD: Boy, what a fascinating character.
TULLY COSTA: Right. And guess what? The book is gorgeous, too.
CURWOOD: Oh yeah, I see.
TULLY COSTA: It's a reprint, and it was written, first written in 1937, and it's called Some Flowers. It features the watercolors of Graham Rust, and the beauty of this book is its simplicity. What she did was she chose 25 of her favorite flowers. She described their appearance, where they're from and their characteristics. She then gave instructions on their care in a really elegant and readable fashion, and there's nothing outdated about this book. It's really a perfect marriage between words and images.
CURWOOD: So it's a beautiful how-to from a pretty spicy gardener, huh?
TULLY COSTA: Yeah.
CURWOOD: What other gardening books have you got with you?
TULLY COSTA: Okay. Well, the next book that attracted my attention was because of its cover. It was this luminescent picture depicting a sort of a lush forest in silhouette against the dusk.
CURWOOD: Ooh, yeah, look at this.
TULLY COSTA: And the title, yeah, the title is Heaven's Embroidered Cloth. And it's a really wonderful blend of poems and paintings by the Irish poet W.B. Yeats. And a few landscape artists, including his own brother Jack Butler Yeats. And here's one I thought you might find interesting. It's called The Wheel. "Through winter time we call on spring and though the spring and summer call, and when abounding hedges ring declare that winter's best of all. And after that there's nothing good because the spring time has not come, nor know that what disturbs our blood is but its longing for the tomb."
CURWOOD: Oh, dear, it's kind of depressing. I guess it's in keeping with winter, but --
TULLY COSTA: Yeah, well, okay. But (laughs) Yeats might be a little depressing, but he's very heartfelt and connected to the landscape, you know, like a lot of gardeners.
CURWOOD: Um, let's see, what else is in this book? Aah, "The Cap and the Bells."
The jester walked in the garden. The garden had fallen still. He bade his soul rise upward and stand on her window sill. It rose in a straight blue garment when owls began to call. It had grown wise-tongued by thinking of a quiet and light footfall. So, this is all about landscape and gardens?
TULLY COSTA: Well, it really blurs those lines, so I mean, Yeats was really rapped up by the forces of nature and the paintings also express this by using gardens that have grown out of the wild.
CURWOOD: There's a wonderful painting of The Heath by Charles Thomas Burt walking up, and then this Intimate Garden Path by Mildred Ann Butler. A bypass, she calls it.
TULLY COSTA: Right. And it's got daffodils in it. It's obviously spring time, and very evocative. I mean, the paintings and the poems really do go very beautifully together.
CURWOOD: And where do I get this book?
TULLY COSTA: Well, both the Vita Sackville-West book and the Yeats books are distributed by Trafalgar Publishing, and they can be obtained at your local bookstore. Even at your library.
CURWOOD: So we've got poets, we've got Orlando's inspiration. What about, you know, the nitty gritty of gardening?
TULLY COSTA: Well, I also have a very beautiful reference book.
TULLY COSTA: A just gorgeously illustrated and written primer on native plants, Carol Oddison's Native Plant Primer, which is put out by Harmony Books. And what makes this book so readable and such a pleasure to look at is that it's color coded and it's broken down by region. Anybody living in the southwest, the northeast, the Pacific northwest, the mountain regions, have plants that are very special to that region that have been there for thousands of years. What Carol Oddison has done has broken down in very clear and easy and beautifully photographed ways these regions and what grows in them.
CURWOOD: So it's regionally divided. What if I just want to look up an annual?
TULLY COSTA: Well, after the regional divisions, then she breaks the book down into chapters on perennials, annuals, grasses, ferns, water plants, vines, shrubs, and trees. I mean, all reference books should be this easy and exciting to get through.
CURWOOD: Ooh, this is really beautiful.
TULLY COSTA: Right? And I don't want people to forget the index, which has fantastic resources of nurseries, gardens, and botanical institutions, all of which deal with native plants. And I think we should all find space in our gardens for these plants and bring the wild back into our gardens.
CURWOOD: So this would help people distinguish between what is and what isn't an indigenous plant?
TULLY COSTA: Yeah. And it also gets us to focus on what might actually do better in our gardens. And it also encourages our friends, the birds and the insects, to come back into our gardens. And I just found the gardens in this book so beautifully presented that it actually changed my mind about what I use in my own designs, and so far none of my clients have complained about this. So I hope that these 3 books can get you started, Steve.
CURWOOD: Evelyn Tully Costa is a gardening specialist based in Brooklyn, New York. If you want to contact us for our resource list and how to get the books we talked about today, check out our web page at www.loe.org. That's www.loe.org. and just click on the watering can. Or send us a self-addressed stamped envelope to Living on Earth, 8 Story Street, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138. That's Living on Earth, 8 Story Street, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138.
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