This Cicero quote, THIS is my truth. I'd add my family and dearest people, but otherwise I am all set with my garden and my shelves filled with books. And in that spirit, I thought I'd share some of the books on my shelf that inspire (or guide) me in the garden each day.
I'd love to make this a regular feature on The Tree Diaries as I have lots of great books that I'd like to share, but let's not get ahead of ourselves here! I'd also love to hear what you are reading (gardening or otherwise) and what books you would recommend... Do people still leave comments on blogs? If so, please share!
First up is A Year of Slow Food by David and Gerda Foster. The book loosely documents a year in the Foster's Bundanoon garden, and I picked up a copy whilst pottering through the very garden it is written about. Seeing the garden before reading the book made it even more fascinating to read (and, to be honest, has made me wonder how incorrectly I have visualised other gardens I have only read about before!).
Before I start, a few things that I found infinitely interesting but that are of absolutely no relevance to the book or garden: (a) David is a celebrated author of whom I had ashamedly never heard, and (b) these are Zoë Foster Blake's parents. She being the absolutely hilarious woman behind various written words and the wife of equally hilarious Hamish Blake. Honestly, reading this book, meeting her parents and learning how and where she grew up explains her wicked sense of humour (it was either be seriously funny or seriously weird I think).
Anyhoo, none of that is particularly relevant to the book or garden in which it takes place. When I first walked into the garden I was totally overwhelmed by the apparent chaos of it. Having spent the whole afternoon in manicured, ornamental spaces, it was a shock to see one that paid basically no regard to form over function. The Foster's garden is unashamedly productive!!!
In exploring the garden more, and subsequently reading A Year of Slow Food, I realised that this is a garden that provides almost all of the food for the family living here (which was, at one time, a lot of mouths to feed). And whilst it is a seemingly chaotic space at first glance, it is actually highly organised chaos and very beautiful to boot. After an hour or so here I was completely in love with this garden.
A Year of Slow Food is about trying to be self-sufficient on a smallish semi-urban block. Self-sufficiency is a lofty and unrealistic goal for many of us, and sometimes I get annoyed about the militancy of people's approach - it's do it ALL or you're doing it wrong. But this book isn't militant - in fact I think the overall take-home message from this book is best summarised by a quote from EF Schumaker, shared by David:
"Should I try to grow all the food my family and I require? If I tried to do so, I could probably do little else ... But to grow or make some things by myself, for myself: what fun, what exhilaration, what an education of the real person!"
I really appreciate this moderated approach. I wonder how many people are put off growing any food because they can't grow it all? On our property, we realistically have the space to be entirely self-sufficient - we have room for a house cow and the like - but that is not where we are at at this stage in our lives. We have little people and work and honestly, I just don't have the drive to grow all our own food at this point. A Year of Slow Food has inspired me to try to grow more of our food, but it hasn't made me feel bad about where I am at with that process.
I also love that Gerda has a love for ornamental gardening as well as purely "productive" gardening - she is a self-confessed "flower junkie"...
"There are always vases filled with flowers in my house at any time of year, and I'm always searching for winter-flowering plants, It's such a pleasure to be able to produce a bunch of brightly coloured flowers all year. Like honey, flowers are acceptable as gifts, and rural folk are notoriously reluctant, I have found, to accept cash in payment."
I too am a flower-junkie! And, in much the same way that many of us prefer to grow our own food or know exactly where it has come from (whether it was sprayed, treated kindly, etc etc), I like to know where my flowers have come from. Unfair labour practices and intense, environmentally-devastating spraying are rife in the flower-growing industry. I like to know that my flowers are not decorating my house at the expense of other people's health or happiness or the health of bees and the ecosystem. The easiest way to ensure this is to grow them myself. I think that, for the flower junkies amongst us, this is perhaps just as important as food production. (And now I shall climb off my soapbox!)
But flowers aside, this book is about good, slow food. Food grown slowly, prepared slowly and enjoyed slowly. If you are a grower of food, be it some of your food or all of your food (more power to you!), or if you wish to grow food some day, I highly recommend reading A Year of Slow Food. It is inspiring but realistic and will set you up with good goals and ideas of how to reach them.
PS. I never realised quite how "conventional" I am until I read the laissez faire attitude Gerda has to David's (seemingly prolific) extramarital sex life. Goodness I could not get my head around being so relaxed with that scenario! As I mentioned above, I think as their daughter you would have no choice but to be funny or deeply traumatised knowing this of your parents!!!