Rhapsody in Green


Review of Rhapsody in Green by Charlotte Mendelson

The only limit to your garden lies at the boundaries of your imagination, according to the American landscape designer Thomas D Church, and if you’re an author and a novelist, as Charlotte Mendelson is, then you probably have a pretty expansive imagination.

Rhapsody in Green is about how dreaming, planting, planning and sowing are all part of gardening, and in the case of Charlotte Mendelson, this cerebral element to gardening is an important element that can illuminate and bring a small space to life, even if it is in her words, ‘a laughably small excuse for a vegetable garden’.

Being something of a small-space cultivator myself I could completely relate to her words about a lot of gardening books, ‘the moment they refer to the lower orchard, to stone benches, or barns, or fields, or tills, or curses or manure heaps, my empathy dies. It isn’t a world I recognise.’ I would also add that the same goes to writers who refer to their ‘tiny plot’, when I then discover that the writer and I differ enormously about our definition of tiny.

This is why I tend to enjoy gorging on books like this, we genuinely tiny plotters needs to stick together and spread the word about what is achievable space wise.

However, for those of you lucky enough to have plenty of growing space don’t think that this book offers nothing for you; the author’s mishaps and mistakes and her desire for plants that aren’t necessarily appropriate for her garden, are something that any gardener can nod in acknowledgement with. This informative and funny book deals with universals that apply to gardens big or small. When it comes to our gardens don’t we all let our gardens outstrip our restrictions and practicalities?

I enjoyed the way that this book took a meandering garden path through the seasons in small chapters, prettily illustrated, and the author’s way with language was highly entertaining. Her description of birds of prey with their ‘psychopathic insouciance’ and talking of her gardening books piled on a shelf towering like a ‘Damoclean accordion’ were very funny as were her chapters on night-time forays into the garden and dealing with slugs and snails.

This funny, erudite and wittily written book demonstrates that whatever your size of garden you can extrapolate knowledge and wisdom, and share the love of growing things that ties us all together whatever our space.

If you are wanting a how-to manual then this isn’t the book for you, but if you want to engage with one women’s personal relationship to her green space and laugh at crossovers with your own, as well as meditate on the way a garden is a very personal expression of our relationship to the soil and what grows in it, then you’ll find, as I did, that you don’t want the book to end.

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