Instead of a roundup of “gardening books,” maybe we should just refer to this category of publication as Dirty Books. Anything to do with soil falls under our new rubric. That way, writers who farm wouldn’t feel the need to elbow aside rosarians who write, who in turn wouldn’t jostle rudely past backyard gardeners concerned with mundane raised beds of veggies, bruising thin-skinned egos along with the tomatoes. Anyone insane enough to dig holes, pour money into the ground, wait to see what happens and then sit down at a computer to tell us about it has earned the right to a little respect.
While it’s true that we can’t live without food, it’s equally certain that we need beauty to live well. Anna Pavord, a gardener who plants sweet peas with her cabbage, understands this very well. The author of “Bulb” and “The Tulip” has collected in THE CURIOUS GARDENER (Bloomsbury, $35) selections from 20-odd years’ worth of essays published in the British newspaper The Independent. Let me lay my seed packets on the table: I am a Pavord groupie. Anyone who can look at a vase of tulips and offer a cogent explanation of world economic history has my devoted attention. She is intelligent, perceptive and well informed, writes gracefully and has a dry, sly wit.