Book Review: A New Leaf

A New Leaf: Growing with My Garden

Merilyn Simonds, 2011

This is my very favourite kind of gardening book—a gardener who loves plants talking about her garden, each chapter a little insight into some particular episode or season or type of plant. Even better, this gardener is an accomplished writer who has published several well regarded books completed unrelated to gardening. And, to put the cherry on top of the ice cream sundae, the garden of which she writes is located in Kingston, Ontario. I enjoy gardening books about the US and other corners of the world, but it’s really delightful to read about something nearby.
I was actually surprised that this was a Canadian book. I thought I kept pretty close tabs on new popular gardening related books, but perhaps I slept through reviews of it in our Canadian gardening publications and blogs, or maybe it wasn’t featured prominently. When I saw the title come up on the Toronto Public Library’s online catalogue, I figured it was another U.S. gardening book, probably from the south, judging by the pretty white flowered tree and expanse of blue sky that make up the cover, but figured hey, it might be interesting, and clicked to place a hold. I’m very glad I did!
Simonds starts out the book with these lines: “I am not what some would call a serious gardener. I don’t know the Latin names of plants, except those that sound subversive or whimsical or mysterious…in the end I will do what looks good to me, because let’s face it, no bus tour will ever traipse across my white-clover lawn. I will never show my delphiniums at the fair.”  Well, after reading this book I’d say that if Simonds doesn’t warrant the title of serious gardener then neither does anyone else on the planet. She’s hard core—to the point that just about everything on her thanksgiving table (including the roast chickens) came from her garden—and I am sure that there will be quite a few garden tours from Kingston and beyond looking to traipse across her lawn and ogle the twenty six (yes, 26) garden beds on her property. In fact, sign me up for one of them!
I had to pace myself through this book. Both so that it wouldn’t be finished too quickly (it’s so disappointing when you find a book you enjoy and then it’s all done and you’re left with nothing nearly so exciting to read or do or think), and because my budget couldn’t afford it. You see, Simonds descriptions of the wonders of certain plants are so genuinely enthusiastic, and so captivating, that I found myself making a sudden trip out to the garden centre to buy a package of seeds I had to have, IMMEDIATELY. 
The book is a delightful read for any gardener, and especially one living in Ontario. There’s enough technical information to appeal to those who want to know the how to’s, but the book is bursting with lovely stories, perfect for whiling away a chilly afternoon. One caveat, the book should come with a warning: may inspire uncontrollable plant and seed shopping. And for Toronto gardeners coping with “pocket gardens” in the city, an additional warning: this book describes a gardener with enough land to grow twenty six large garden beds; hide your realtor’s phone number before reading!

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