Book Review and Giveaway!!!: Fearless Gardening by Loree Bohl (aka Danger Garden)

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(UPDATE: @thebeeskneesheart on Instagram is the winner. Congratulations!)

If you missed the other giveaways! There’s still one more!!!!!

When Loree announced to her friends that she was writing a book we were thrilled about it and for months we went through the process with her. Being part of a large online gardening community, many of us were already familiar with her garden and many creative talents. Loree has always written great posts and content. She is a big part of our local gardening community, she contributes her time to organizations, and all because she genuinely cares about gardening, design with plants, and supporting small businesses and nurseries.

Of course we asked her what her book would be about, but we were also left in a bit of suspense. I’m so glad it arrived in my hands around Christmas and what a fun surprise to open up the text and see how she handled such an exciting writing challenge! The book turns out to be an encapsulation of what Danger Garden is all about and it’s not just her, it’s about the community she grew in, the community she’s part of, the plants she’s both bought and seen in gardens along the way, as well as the people who’ve influenced her vision.

Fearless Gardening is about being inspired and it’s inspiring. It’s also a testament to a garden, a very popular garden in the city of Portland, Oregon one that I often hear about on social media or while I’m at work. Unlike many gardening texts, this one is very practical, personal, and dare I say it, fearless!

As a fellow garden blogger, one who met Loree years ago through that world, I very much enjoyed seeing the tenor of a book on gardening change. Tenor is the relationship between the voice of the author and the reader, and very often, too often, garden books have been written from a position of authority. This is fine if the writer is someone I already admire for their professional accomplishments, but it’s not something I get excited about reading. In the changing world we’re in, one where readers are more challenging to grab, the tone Loree takes is fantastic! I felt like I knew her, I mean I do, but I feel that even those who don’t will feel like they’re talking to, and receiving tips, from a really good friend who has them in mind. She’s genuine in her advice, and honest in how she got to the point where she’s at, and that to me is excellent garden writing.

During the pandemic it’s been a challenge to wait for the book’s release, but what a refreshing and great surprise when it finally arrived. To my mind, it’s the book that needed to be written after having seen so many visitors remark while visiting Loree’s garden, “How did you do this? I’d like to have a garden like yours.” As I read the book, I kept thinking, this is the answer to that question. If you want a garden like this, you really do have to be fearless… and reading this book will help to better understand her design process too. It’s loaded with great photos, fantastic quotes, rules to break, and it reads like a memoir. I really enjoyed reading it.

So for the next 3 days I’m going to be ripping up my garden—as we do—after we’ve been pumped up and inspired by a great gardening romp on the page.

Felix looking out the car window at Danger Garden. I’m one of only two or three people who’s ever “garden sat” and watered Danger Garden and Felix very much enjoyed driving over with me on those warm summer evenings.

NOW FOR THE GIVEAWAY!!!!

It’s an honor to participate in a giveaway for Fearless Gardening generously sponsored by Timber Press. One lucky reader will receive a copy of Loree’s book along with The Art of Gardening by R. William Thomas. (It’s one of the many great texts mentioned in Fearless Gardening.) This giveaway is open to residents with a valid United States mailing address and a winner will be announced here in 7 days on January 22, 2021. To enter, please leave a comment below telling us all about a plant, small garden, or plant person who inspires you. Give us the details!

I’d love to hear some stories.

And good luck!

Be Bold! Break the Rules! Grow What You Love!

Book Review: Into the Garden with Charles (by Clyde Phillip Wachsberger)

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Into the Garden with Charles by Clyde Phillip Wachsberger, 2012, First Farrar, Straus and Giroux Edition, 209 pages.

Into the Garden with Charles is a love story written by a man who finds love during the middle of his life after having given up his decades-long search. Resigned to spend his life alone, he purchases a small three-hundred-year-old house in Orient, Long Island after having fallen in love with the area and the community he finds there. He continues to commute between his apartment in New York City (where he still works) and his small country home on 1/3 of an acre until he gives up the apartment and moves permanently to Orient.

He begins to grow the garden he’d dreamed of having since he was a boy and works as a landscaper. He’s clearly happy to have reached this point, but he still longs to share his life with someone and is lonely.

“I began to grow around my loneliness the way a tree limb can grow through a chain-link fence, incorporating the sharp metal into its fiber without showing any outward signs of distress. I gardened my way into middle age, dog-earing nursery catalogues, circling seed packets I wanted to order, lusting after rare plants.” 

Then—as if by chance—he meets Charles. He’s a dining room captain and assistant maître d’ at the Carlyle Hotel who also just so happens to be an art collector with an interest in horticulture. Their touching story most certainly does not end there though, and as they grow together, their garden flourishes.

Wachsberger’s writing draws the reader in and you’re left feeling as if you’re part of his life as you watch anecdotes and their actions unfold into the overall narrative. He is a generous writer and it’s clear that he tenderly cared for every word in his memoir as I can only imagine he must have cared for every plant in his garden.

The story is also made brighter by how he tends to those he loves in his own life, but the memoir also hinges on his own self-care.

“…if I’d been going for regular checkups. I had never wanted to disappoint Charles. I had never wanted to bring any sadness into his life. My fear of doctors had resulted in this.”

I know that I for one felt as if I was right there during all of the life events he recounts. I rarely feel that way unless I’m experiencing the effects of a well-written memoir. When this book was over I put it down and felt an immense sense of loss. It wasn’t just because the story was over, but let’s just say that Wachsberger skillfully puts the garden to bed for us and as I shut the cover I felt as though the garden gate was permanently closed to me too.

“This moment: these tiny bits of white tossed this way and that by fate, or defying it; Charles’s rapt attention; his profile in shadow against sun-drenched salvia and verbenas; his lips parted in amazement; Rover curled sleeping at his feet—that will forever be the garden for me.”

Throughout the book we meet many characters in his life: family members, an opera singer, a varied cast of other fun people I wish I could have known, small town folks, NYC folks, and Rover the Dog. There is a long list of plants too, but I’ve left them out of this because in the end what the garden is about is people. That’s what Wachsberger so beautifully captures in Into the Garden with Charles. Gardens contain the unseen networks of memory we create over time between our relationships to the past, the present, and the future, but most of all, they’re very often an expression of our love for the lifecycle and beauty of the plant world, and for our own shared human experience.

This is a book I will recommend for many years with the hope that it will inspire others to live as Clyde lived and loved.

Clyde Phillip Wachsberger was an artist, gardener, writer, and retired professional set-designer (later becoming a landscaper in his retirement), but he was more importantly a man who clearly loved life and beauty a great deal and hoped to communicate this to us as humorously and as lovingly as he could in his memoir Into the Garden with Charles.

(A free copy of this book was provided to me by Farrar, Straus and Giroux not long after it was first published.)