Great big garden coffee table books are a marvelous thing, but I still think I prefer a different genre in my garden library: memoir.

If gardens are as particular as their makers, then every garden has a personal story best told through memoir.

Here are a few of my favorites:

Skymeadow: Notes from an English Gardener (2018): A charming story of one man’s escape from noisy London to make a garden called Peverels. In making a garden, Charlie Hart finds healing for grief and depression.


The Morville Hours (2008): Memoir and history rolled into one, Katherine Swift’s book follows the form of a medieval Book of Hours, as it reflects on one woman’s place through the seasons.


The $64 Tomato: How One Man Nearly Lost His Sanity, Spent a Fortune, and Endured an Existential Crisis in the Quest for the Perfect Garden (2007): William Alexander’s memoir is hilarious and honest about the hard work, and frequent setbacks, of gardening. A fun book that will only inspire readers to keep on growing.


Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life (2007): Barbara Kingsolver’s memoir of a year spent eating only what she and her family can grow themselves or source locally was the book that first made me dream of a vegetable garden. A passionate, informative story that is part memoir, part journalism. This book could change your life (or, at least your diet).


Posted on

March 25, 2020


  1. Katie

    I’ve just finished reading Mrs. Whaley and Her Charleston Garden by Emily Whaley (in conversation with William Baldwin). 1997, Algonquin Books
    It was absolutely delightful! Here is a bit of the text from the flyleaf: ” Emily Whaley’s garden measures only 30 feet by 110 feet. Mrs. Whaley’s tiny, walled garden is said to be the most visited private garden in America. And no wonder. It is the life’s work of a forceful, vibrant, sociable, opinionated, determined woman who has spent the last 85 years cultivating whatever life offered. Each year since 1940, Mrs. Whaley has made her garden new again and herself through it. She yanks out annuals and perennials alike. She prunes with a vengeance. William Baldwin captures and preserves in these pages an intuitive gardener’s wisdom. And thanks to this gardener’s bracing, positive attitude, we see how a practical personal philosophy might indeed grow out of one’s beloved garden.” As Mrs. Whaley says, ” A warning: Life is full of decisions and you better not waver and quaver over each one or you will stress yourself. You will die young and miss your seventies and eighties, which are two decades that can be a delight.”
    Truly an enthralling memoir by an amazing lady! I soaked up insights from the three sections: Gardening, Remembering, and Living. Also, I learned much from her Appendix of Garden Do’s and Don’ts.

  2. Christie Purifoy

    Katie, this books sounds so wonderful! And I’ve never heard of it. I’m so glad you shared. I’d love to find my own second-hand copy.


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