Compilations of newspaper garden columns make enjoyable books. After a garden writer has generated weekly garden columns for several years, he or she often realizes that those columns could be redefined as essays and republished in book form.
Newspaper garden columns usually are time-relevant, and books based on them are almost always organized with reference to the four seasons.
Another characteristic of such compilations is their breadth of topics, ranging throughout the multi-faceted world of gardening, with each essay only seasonably related to those that come before or after.
Thirdly, books of garden essays present the author’s personality or attitudes more clearly than garden books that focus on a single genus (e.g., the rose) or a select group of garden-worthy plants (plants for shade), or a gardening technique (pruning).
Some compilations of essays are not organized seasonally, but have some other structure. One example is Green Thoughts (1981) by Eleanor Perenyi, and reprinted in 2002 for the Modern Library Gardening Series. Her book includes seventy-two essays listed alphabetically, from Annuals to Woman’s Place, an eloquent and impatient perspective on women in the history of gardening.
Compilations based on newspaper writing occasionally achieve the status of classics of the genre. Examples include Vita Sackville-West’s series of four books: In Your Garden (columns from 1946–1950); In Your Garden Again (1951-53); More For Your Garden (1953-55); and Even More For Your Garden (1955-58). Her columns, written for England’s The Observer, are marked by her extensive knowledge, deep enthusiasm and lively writing style.
Another classic of this type is Washington Post columnist Henry Mitchell’s The Essential Earthman (1981), which was followed by One Man’s Garden, and Henry Mitchell on Gardening. His works are beloved for sharp observations, humorous adventures and shrewd horticultural advice.
A new book of newspaper columns on gardening is Carolyn Singer’s The Seasoned Gardener: Five Decades of Sustainable and Practical Garden Wisdom (Garden Wisdom Press, 2012). Her essays, which are organized by month, bounce through an extraordinary range of gardening topics. Indeed, many essays touch on several related topics. A thorough index supports searches for topics of current interest.
Ms. Singer’s essays were written originally for The Union, the newspaper for Grass Valley, California. She is also the author of the award-winning Deer in My Garden series. Her writing style conveys her personal love and deep knowledge of gardening, and presents solid facts with a light and readable tone.
The Seasoned Gardener serves well as both a practical reference and a satisfying wander through many aspects of home gardening. Reading a randomly chosen chapter for pleasure could very well inspire the reader to pursue a new idea in the garden. That provides a reliable measure of quality for a gardening book.