The Once & Future Gardener:

Garden Writing from the Golden Age of Magazines, 1900-1940

The first four decades of this century provided the average American not only with the best magazines ever published in this country, but also — in journals like House Beautiful, House and Garden, Ladies’ Home Journal, and The Garden Magazine — our most distinguished garden writing. These early magazines were the first national medium of mass communication and had a formative influence on American culture. Many of their garden articles were by authors we recognize today as singularly enchanting and competent voices: Louis Beebe Wilder, Grace Tabor, Fletcher Steele, Wilhelm Miller, and Mrs. Francis King. But some of the best were by amateur gardeners, skilled and articulate devotees who earned their livings as artists, drama critics, fiction writers, clergymen, architects, and dietitians.

Virginia Clayton has selected over fifty of these marvels of garden prose and arranged them in chapters covering everything from “Wild Gardens” and “Formal Gardens” to “Gardening through the Seasons” and “The Philosophical Gardener.” The book is enhanced with photographs from the articles themselves, including a color plate section reproducing sixteen glorious magazine covers.

These articles are still wonderfully fresh, pungent, and pertinent. They were written by people who had their hands in the dirt and plenty of practical experience. Moreover, the actual quality of the writing is uniformly excellent; these were men and women who knew how to construct a sentence as well as a perennial bed. Their gardening preoccupations and predilections were remarkably the same as our own, making this truly a book for the “once and future gardener,” a delightful and authoritative reference work that no serious gardener, or gardener historian, should be without.

Virginia Tuttle Clayton is associate curator of old master prints at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.