Beth Chatto's GARDEN NOTEBOOK is a delightful and instructive read for advanced gardeners, nursery folks, landscape designers, and/or horticulture majors. Thomas Fischer, Executive Editor of Horticulture Magazine updated the Latin nomenclature for the 1998 edition. Amateur or new gardeners will probably enjoy the book, even if they stumble over many of the plant names. Chatto includes many interesting personal notes about herself, her family, and other folks-including the odd visitor to the nursery.
Chatto operates the Nursery for Unusual Plants at Elmstead Market, Essex, England. At the time she wrote her book she had been awarded the Royal Horticulture Society's Victoria Medal and had won many gold meadows at the annual Chelsea Flower Show (the largest in the world) held every May in London. Folks who have seen the film GREEN FINGERS with Clive Owen and Helen Mirran can appreciate the work involved with an exhibition at Chelsea.
GARDEN NOTEBOOK was based on Chatto's observations and activities over the course of one calendar year in the 1980s. Sooner or later, every garden writer uses the annual cycle as an organizing principle, but Chatto's book is quite original. Unlike many writers for whom gardening is a hobby, Chatto is the consummate professional nursery gardener-one who gardens herself and maintains stocks and seeds for others. Over the course of a year, she manages her nursery and prepares for her entry in the Chelsea flower show. She says she begins to think about the next show as far as a year ahead. Many plants must be prepared for a climax showing on a particular date, and as anyone who gardens knows timing is everything. Temperatures, light, and many other factors affect outcomes. Chatto uses all sorts of tricks to speed up and slow down the development of the plants she intends to show in May.
I enjoyed Chatto's narrative about the "running of a nursery for unusual plants" more than her discussion about the prep work for Chelsea, meeting the Queen, or visits by illustrious people like Elizabeth David (for whom Chatto prepared lunch and shares her menu and recipes with the reader). Nursery owners (not to be confused with the managers of solely profit-based garden center factories carrying only best-selling lines) have quite a challenge. In addition to the many ordinary tasks any gardener faces, the nursery owner must stay abreast of current developments in the seed and plant world; determine the suitability of various plants for the area served; train staff to recognize plants and learn about their proper care and feeding; as well as a miscellany of other chores. Chatto has been able to operate what is clearly a successful enterprise; participate in a seed bank; work for the preservation of endangered plant species; write several books; and enter Chelsea year after year and win medals. She says she is very reliant on her staff, but it takes talent to train and retain a good staff. She also maintains good connections with other nursery folks around the world. She deserves her medals for Chelsea and more. If you enjoy this book, I also recommend A YEAR IN OUR GARDENS by Nancy Goodwin and Allen Lacy.