Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Gardening Novel Review: Earthly Joys

I have to confess to using Amazon.com for purposes other than those intended by the company. I use the “Recommendations” page to plan my library check-outs. After I then read the book (for free), I check the “I own it” button, rate the book, and get updated recommendations! I also search the reviews to further guide my library choices. After finishing The Other Boleyn Girl and Wideacre (both from the public library), I used Amazon to find another Philippa Gregory novel to read. Earthly Joys was not highly recommended, because it lacks Gregory’s typical female lead. (I gather that most of her readers are female.) However, despite the protagonist’s gender, I noticed that he was a GARDENER. A historical novel about gardening combines two of my favorite subjects (or is that three?)! I put it on hold, picked it up a few days later, and read it backstage during our run of Fiddler.

I knew I was on the right track in the first chapter when John, the gardener, is walking with Cecil, his lord, through the gardens. As Cecil babbles on and on about political intrigue, John’s thoughts keep drifting to the garden around him and improvements to be made. John is daydreaming about “creamy tossing heads of gypsy lace and moon daisies encased by hawthorn hedging in its first haze of spring green,” when he realizes that he has neglected to attend to his master’s conversation. With a heavy heart, he returns to a discussion of the state of England’s monarchy. That moment captures my gardening mania perfectly. I often find myself drifting away from the conversation at hand to appreciate the flowers out the window or the virtual garden in my head. I suddenly snap to reality and realize that, while I’ve been in a dreamland of hot, summer sunshine and lazily droning bees, the person next to me is expecting a response, and I have no idea what was just said. Throughout the novel, John takes both mental and actual trips away from the political and military business of his lords to indulge in his love of plants. I suspect that Philippa Gregory is either a gardener herself, or married to one!

Besides the too accurate portrayal of a dedicated gardener, there are other aspects of the book to recommend it to the gardening crowd. The description of the tulip speculation in Holland is a great bit of background for all of us that can grab a 6-pack of red and white variegated tulips for $5.99 at Home Depot. I also enjoyed recognizing the “exotic” species that John and his son collect in Europe and America for introduction to the English garden. The greatest “aha” moment, though, was when I connected John’s last name (Tradescant), with the Latin name for spiderwort, Tradescantia. Our hero, John Tradescant, was an actual gardener and plant collector (hence “historical” novel?) and, buggery aside, I assume much of the book is based on the actual events of his life. He continually refused to name any of his discoveries after himself, but the genus Tradescantia was later named to honor him.

I recommend this book to all gardening junkies for the lush garden descriptions and fascinating plant histories. It’s definitely a book to add to your bookshelf between the gardening tomes and catalogs, to pull out when inclement whether keeps you indoors and away from the actual garden. It’s almost as good as daydreaming.

*I just discovered there is a sequel to Earthly Joys, Virgin Earth. I’m adding that to my reservation list now!

5 Comments:

Blogger Harvest said...

One of those cat people? Hmmm . . . I got four cats, I wonder if I qualify? LOL . . . I am writing this book down for my next trip to the library. Here is a link to a short book review I wrote on another novel I am sure you will love, Gardens in the Dunes by Leslie Marmon Silko:
http://harvestsgardeningsecrets.blogspot.com/2006/01/rainy-day-read-for-gardeners.html

10:16 PM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

That's neat, and a good idea!

Oh, speaking of spiderwort, if you want one let me know--I have many sprouts this year. And I have a line on some pink spiderwort to go with my purple. Yay! (I really like the plant. It's a good plant.)

5:03 PM  
Blogger Entangled said...

I'm trying to remember if I've read Earthy Joys. Early on, did his (first?) wife die (of plague?)? I think it must be the same book; how many historical novels about famous botanist/gardeners can there be? But I read it several years ago and my memory is hazy. I'll be on the lookout for a copy of Virgin Earth.

I just finished The Lady Chapel by Candace Robb. Not quite so botanical, but the main character is an apprentice apothecary to his wife, the master apothecary. I thought this one was better than the first in the series - The Apothecary Rose.

4:06 AM  
Blogger Kasmira said...

Thanks, Harvest, I reserved Gardens in the Dunes as soon as I read your comment. Looks good!

Not to spoil the plot, but, in Earthly Joys, the son's wife does die of the plague. I can't remember what happens to John Sr.'s wife. Guess I was more interested in the fate of the plants! :)

5:06 AM  
Anonymous Hartman Garden Furniture said...

This is a great read I read it in the garden, I often spend hours out in the garden and after I have done the gardeing chores I sit and read (weather permitting) it was a really good book and I would tell my friends to read it

3:51 AM  

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