Friday, December 2, 2011

Helen Van Pelt Wilson

"Trivial annoyances slough off in a garden and problems often solve themselves there as you weed and plant."--Helen Van Pelt Wilson

One of the first gardening books that I read back in the day and that I really loved was Helen Van Pelt Wilson's Own Garden and Landscape Book, published in 1973. I think I first found it in the library in the 1980s and later ordered it from Alibris or some other online used bookstore. (We had no online then, so how did I get it? I have no idea.) I was absolutely fascinated with her account of how she acquired and planned and planted her property in Westport, Connecticut and I just loved it. I wanted to have a garden exactly like hers. I pored over her diagrams and photos, examining the paths she made, the edging on her garden beds, loving how she planted different gardens and named them-- the Look-Into Garden, the Apple-Tree Garden, the Fern Garden,  the Dooryard Garden. I wanted a Look-Into Garden. I think it was from her that I first started thinking about perennials, as she wrote mostly about the permanent plants in a garden, the trees and shrubs first, then the perennials and bulbs,  and she gave me a lot of ideas for the best perennials to plant.

 I also liked how she created gardens thinking about the views from her house. She would place flowering trees where she could see them easily from the windows inside her house. She liked to plant special little gardens around doorways (Dooryard Gardens) with her favorite flowering and fragrant plants that she could admire every time she entered the house. She wrote from a very personal perspective, so that I felt like I was following her around her property. I felt like I knew her. And best of all, she has a chapter at the end titled, "My What To Do When List," with monthly tasks for the garden. Right up my alley.  Here is what she says for December:

This is a time to be complacent. With all possible outdoor tasks completed--or forget them if they aren't--let's enjoy the winter views from our windows, the silhouettes of trees, the dark hues of evergreens, the nice property design we've worked on. 

Many of the perennials I have today were recommended by HVPW--hellebores, anemones, coral bells, candytuft-- and several  of my shrubs/trees were recommended by her--mahonia, snowbell, serviceberry, fringetree. Foliage was more important to her than the flowers. Of course some of the book is kind of dated--she used a lot of pesticides back then, but much of it remains true.  I googled her the other day and found that she died several years ago at the age of 102. She was one of those people I sometimes wish I had written to, thanking her for her writing which had such a big influence on me, and really inspired me to be a gardener.

She also wrote The Joy of Geraniums, The New Perennials Preferred, Fragrant Year: Scented Plants for Your Garden and You,  Houseplants Are For Pleasure, and a few others. All are out of print, except maybe the Perennials Preferred, but you can still find the old ones from used book dealers. I have several of her books.

I love all my old gardening books, but this one is my fav.

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