Gorgeous Reading:
Everything for the Garden

This is a weird book – but I like it! And you might, too, especially if you enjoy the antique illustrations in our print catalogs.

That’s because Everything for the Garden is essentially a picture book for adults who like gardens and history. Although it includes five essays by noted scholars, none is longer than three pages, and together with the preface, index, and so on, only 27 of its 145 pages are filled with text. The rest are packed with a dizzying abundance of glorious, full-color, antique images drawn from books, magazines, catalogs, and other ephemera in the collections of Historic New England.

The book’s title was once the tagline on the catalogs of mail-order nurseryman Peter Henderson, so it’s only fitting that the book’s longest chapter is devoted to catalogs. In it you’ll find sumptuous images of flowers, fruit, and vegetables (one shows a huge potato being hauled home from “the Insect Fair” on a wagon drawn by ladybugs), as well as hand tools, lawn mowers, hoses (America’s first hose-making machine, I learned, came from England in 1865), and garden furniture. Substantial captions provide context throughout the book, including one at the end of this chapter that notes that heirloom varieties “now have great appeal.”

The book’s four other chapters cover garden books and magazines; garden structures and furnishings such as pergolas, fountains, birdhouses, and flower pots; portraits of older gardens, including five that survive today under the care of Historic New England; and “Social Revolution and the Garden Club.” In all of them the illustrations are gorgeous, diverse, and fascinating.

Although it’s not a traditional “beach read,” Everything for the Garden does offer a summery, entertaining escape into another world – even if you don’t read a single word of it.