I was happy to discover the Modern Library Gardening Series, edited by Michael Pollan, and am making my way through all of them. I couldn’t resist picking up Reginald Arklell’s garden novel Old Herbaceous as my starting point as the title intrigued me. It tells the story of Bert Pinnegar, a shy orphan with one leg longer than the other who nonetheless works his way up from nothing to become the head gardener known as “Old Herbaceous” on a sprawling British country estate. The novel brings us from the Victorian era into the Edwardian, and covers two World Wars, and yet, with few exceptions, we rarely leave the garden. Bert brings it slowly to life and in return, like every garden, it gives him one. This is a simple and beautiful book, with moments of sly humor. Pull a chair up under your favorite tree and read it slowly. If you have ever loved, or dreamed of, a garden you’ll be glad you did. I promise, as you turn the pages you can even smell the soft country earth and the light scent of garden roses.
“Are you old enough, or wise enough to remember and appreciate those country gardens of the early ‘eighties? The moss rose under the kitchen window; the sweet williams, all of one homely pattern; the great cabbage roses and the musk that had not yet lost its scent. Mignonette flourished in the poor, gravelly soil under the holly tree; maidenhair fern carpeted the gray steps of the old summer house and lilies of the valley grew like weeds.”
Reginald Arkell — Old Herbaceous