Book Review: The Gardener’s Year

“Can you imagine the silence if everyone only said what he knows!” (K. Čapek)

My mother recently bought me a copy of The Gardener’s Year written in 1929 by Karel Capek. It was a combined birthday and house-warming gift since we recently acquired a tiny bungalow in a coop in the Catskills of New York. I grew up spending summers in a similar coop in the Catskills just a few minutes away and have desperately missed the shared coop garden bursting with corn, lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, herbs and more. August always ended with a harvest party and BBQ and there is not much to match the satisfaction of growing your own food. As the years went on, and people became distracted, the shared garden died away into a deliciously aromatic field of 4 foot tall wild mint. My Father however continued to maintain a large garden by our house in the coop. He was a nut of a city mouse gardener who often resorted to strange but always highly efficient methods of fending off pests and yielding a beautiful crop. These ran the gamut from the tried and true: beer in jar tops to ward of slugs, to the highly logical, yet unseemly: peeing on the corn plants to keep deer away, to the vaguely disgusting and questionable: grinding up of Japanese Beetles in a blender to spray on the tomatoes. He seemed to think the stench of death would ward off comrade Beetles fortunate enough to have escaped him the first time (this did not work, and still creeps me out a bit).

The Gardener’s Year is a romping good read and ties together the love of gardening while humorously poking fun at the cult of gardening and the litany of differing opinions a novice gardener may find in researching their first garden plot.

Filled with fantastic illustrations, this book is a must have and a fantastic read.

“Let no one think that real gardening is a bucolic and meditative occupation,” he writes. “It is an insatiable passion, like everything else to which a man gives his heart.” Real gardeners, it turns out, are oblivious to the pretty things that ordinary people admire; they concentrate instead on controlling the earth. A gardener in Eden would probably “forget to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil; he would rather look round to see how he could manage to take away from the Lord some barrowloads of the paradisaic soil.” – Karel Capek, The Gardener’s Year, 1929

Karel Capek and his brother Joseph who illustrated The Gardener’s Year are now most famous for coining the phrase “Robot” in their 1920 play R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots). Capek is considered one of the most influential Czech writers of the 20th century and wrote on a varied number of subjects, politics, fairy tales, children’s stories and plays.

– Corinna Mantlo

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