Tuesday, 23 October 2012

A pleasant, bookish, Interlude...

This week my life is taken up with some important work commitments. It makes me wish I were still on holiday... 

Today however, something rather special arrived in the post.  

A little purchase I made on e-bay.

Here it is:
This Photograph was taken by Kirk Dale.
It looks fairly ordinary doesn't it?  

An ordinary, brown, leather covered book.  

Ordinary size.  

Ordinary shape. 

No illustrations . . .

But wait!

Once you open the cover and begin to read, then you are 'transported', because this is no ordinary book my friends.  This is in fact the 2nd edition (1836) of "The Manse Garden" by The Rev. Nathaniel Paterson.

This Photograph was taken by Kirk Dale.
And what a book it is!

On the surface it is a book about gardening on a smaller scale, to counteract the many books written about gardening that were aimed at the wealthy, landed gentry: people with a small army of gardeners to attend to their desires.  
Dr. Paterson's audience are those members of the upper and affluent middle classes, who have a smaller plot to work with and a 'man or two' or perhaps even a 'gardener's boy' to assist them.

But it is the writing, the poetry of words, that makes this book a thing to treasure.

The first part of the books speaks of trees.  Here I have transcribed the first paragraph for you:

"Of all the trees of the forest, the native holly is the most interesting and beautiful.  Whether young, as a shrub in the garden, or old, as a lonely tree of the mountain, its glowing fruit and glossy leaves, gleaming in the winter sun, prove the delight of all eyes.  It allures to its own hurt the mischievous schoolboy; it is the laurel of Burns, and the sanctuary of the singing birds.  Shielding its songsters from the hawk, it shelters them in the storm, and feeds them with its fruit when other trees are bare.  It does one's heart good to see the humble blackbird picking a red berry amidst the falling snow."

Already you, the humble gardener, are falling in love with this tree, and he hasn't even got to the technicalities of planting it yet!

The book covers all aspects of gardening, written in a style that is at once both informative and poetic.

And then there are the unusual and sometimes exotic lists of the various varieties of plants - some of them sounding like the stuff of fairy tales.  Take this list of fruit trees that can be grown against a wall:
This Photograph was taken by Kirk Dale.
Some of course we know such as the May-duke Cherry, but I can find no record of the 'Green Pear of Yair'.
I have even consulted my 1788 copy of 'Every Man His Own Gardener', where all sorts of unusual varieties can be found - but it isn't there. 
I wonder what it looked like and if it still exists! (Perhaps you know?)

I do love a book that raises questions and tantalises with possibilities. . .

I have read only the first few pages of this book as I am saving it to take with me on my journey to Budapest on Thursday (I must attend a working conference on school libraries). I want something to look forward to at the end of the day as well as to while away the journey.
I have of course dipped here and there and I know I am going to enjoy listening to Dr. Paterson although his views on cucumbers are interesting to say the least!

I love books.  

I really love old books.  

And I have a feeling that particular one is going to be among my favourites.

You can read a short biography of Dr. Paterson here.  He sounds like an interesting chap.


  1. Hello Kirk, What a wonderful book. I hope that I may get a chance to read it if I can locate a copy. The way you describe it, it reminds me somewhat of Karel Capek's A Gardener's Year, in that it is more the writing quality than the specific advice that is prized.

    Enjoy finishing reading your new treasure.
    --Road to Parnassus

    1. Dear Parnassus,
      How right you are. Sometimes the advice in these old gardening books is 'interesting' but when the writing quality is so wonderful you can forgive it, smile to yourself, and carry on reading.

      I don't know that book that you speak of. I have just looked up Karel Capek on the Internet. Another interesting person! I shall investigate further.

      Bye for now

  2. Hello Kirk

    What a treasure you have here in The Garden Manse. The Rev. Nathaniel Patterson is so beautifully described "He was a man of great geniality and courtesy" A very special quality.

    I have a few old books in my library which hold special memories.

    A great post

    Enjoy you visit to Budapest. Be on the look-out for a beautiful couple named Jane and Lance Hattatt.


    1. Dear Helen,
      I couldn't agree more and when I read that part of his biography I found that I liked Dr. Paterson even more.
      Yes I am going to the City of Hattatt and I am hoping to meet up for a drink or two provided the schedule allows. The only spanner in the works is that these conferences can be rather full on with very little rest time.
      It is a lovely thing to collect old books.

  3. Hello Kirk:
    What an absolute gem. For years we were interested in collecting 'gardening' books, mainly of the early twentieth century although some much earlier, and Dr. Paterson's little tome is something which we have not come across before. A meeting in Budapest becomes imperative as we should love to see it first hand!!!

    1. I think that is a good idea and what's more, I have it with me!

    2. And how thoughtless of us not to have asked to see it. For now we almost certainly think that it was in your bag which was left in the hall. We do so hope that there will be another opportunity.

    3. Dear Jane and Lance,
      Yes I did have the book in my bag to show but it didn't really matter because I had such a lovely time with you and your other guests. Next time I am in your beautiful city I shall most decidedly bring the book with me and you shall have a good long look through it as I intend to come to Budapest with AGA for a little 'vacance' in the not too distant future.

  4. A charming little book Kirk - how lovely it would also be to see illustrations of the heritage fruits mentioned that are no longer with us.
    Do hope that you get a chance to meet with Jane and Lance.

    1. I hope so too Rosemary.
      I am a bit behind on my replies but I must say that I was reading the book on the plane en route to Budapest and it is great. Dr Paterson is quite scathing of things at times and it makes me smile. He says that no 'man' should grow garlic who wishes to move in society, judging fitting only for hermits. He doesn't even tell you how to grow it because I guess his audience would be those very people moving in the social circles he speaks of!

  5. Dear Kirk - your photograph of the tree list evokes the wonderful texture of every old book I've handled. Aside from the charming text, there's something very special about the clothlike feel of a page, the impression of handset type, and perhaps a slightly musty scent to remind one that the relic has lived a life of its own. Congratulations on your purchase, and enjoy your visit with the Hattatta (perhaps it will include champagne!).

    1. Dear Mark,
      I agree with you my friend.
      Clothlike. That is the exact word for describing the pages in old books isn't it. All the senses are in use when you read it. The slight smell to the pages and the feel of the type on the paper is almost a reverse braille, with its indentations. The pages of old books are tactile and more 'alive' than the ones of today.

  6. Dear Kirk,
    Thank you for this lovely post-- I love old books, too! I know exactly the feeling of finding a treasured title on the internet and then eagerly awaiting delivery of said treasure...Such fun! (Not to mention the joy of a used bookstore... brings "84 Charing Cross Road" to mind...) I agree with Mark about old books: when I read them, I have the happy habit of running my fingers over the paper to feel words "in" the paper. Manse Garden sounds like a delight-- I'll have to keep an eye our for a copy to add to my own nature library. I've been pondering writing a post on two of my favorite writers on nature/gardening: Beverley Nichols and Donald Culross Peattie--perhaps I'll do one sooner rather than later to join the party with your wonderful post! Enjoy Budapest...
    Best regards,

    1. Dear Erika,
      I had a feeling you would like old books. I love old book shops. My father used to take my sister and I 'booking' when we were children. The particular old book shop he would go to was owned by a grumpy old man who looked a little like Alfred Hitchcock and smoked big cigars. I always associate that smell with books even though I myself have never smoked.
      Manse Garden is a delight and the author is rather irascible at times which I also like.
      Budapest appears from first glance to be a beautiful city.

  7. Hello Kirk,
    I'm going to have to find out more about the Rev'd. Nathaniel Paterson now you've brought him into the light. I like that someone serious about his work but not perhaps hugely eminent, with much to say to a wider public, was able to deliver his message.
    There's nothing like a particular feeling that certain books have, as here, this book seems to have for you.
    I've only just discovered Jocelyn Brooke's 'The Military Orchid', an amazing, botanical autobiography.
    What made you search for this particular title, I wonder? And how much gardening have you time for yourself? Will 'The Manse Garden' provide you with inspiration?
    Finding a book like this can help you feel you are always on holiday.

    1. Hello Faisal,
      I am half way through Dr Paterson's book and I must say it really is interesting. He is very opinionated and seems not to like cut flowers, cucumbers, garlic, and Greeks for some reason I am yet to discover.
      He wrote a lot on the potato and is quite outspoken on it and argues against the practice in England and Ireland of relying solely upon it for cropping when it is so susceptible to certain diseases. I bet he was saddened to see his warning come true when the Irish famine took place.
      I found this book on e-bay which is a place I often hunt around in my search for books because old books here are all in German a language I don't read that well (at least not pleasurably). I have no time for gardening because alas we have no garden - living in an apartment. We have a garden back in Melbourne though and AGA and I are already making our plans for the future when we return. I am already marking spots int his book that will prove helpful.
      You are right my friend, reading a good book really is like being on a wonderful holiday!

  8. Lovely post Kirk. I'm always on the hunt for treasures. In new locales I use my precious free time to visit a used book store or two. Have you visited Hay on Wye in England? Thirty bookstores in one small town! Perhaps you would consider joining the book review which can be accessed from my blog.

    1. Me too Susan. I love treasure hunting. Hay-on-Wye? I think I bought half there stock when we were last there. At least it felt that way when AGA had to pay extra money for our luggage when we flew back to Dusseldorf. It was there that I found Dr Shirley's two volumes of Letters of King Henry III. I will never forget that moment!
      When I get back home I will look at joining the book review you speak of.