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Old Herbaceous: A Novel of the Garden Paperback – Apr 15 2003


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Modern Library; New edition edition (April 15 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0812967380
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812967388
  • Product Dimensions: 13.2 x 1 x 20.3 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 136 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #741,676 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

“A delightful story . . . its seriousness dispelled by Arkell’s mischievous sense of humor.” —from the Introduction by Penelope Hobhouse

From the Back Cover

“A delightful story . . . its seriousness dispelled by Arkell’s mischievous sense of humor.” —from the Introduction by Penelope Hobhouse

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Format: Paperback
Reginald Arkell's lovely book OLD HERBACEOUS is unusual as it is a novel about gardening with a gardener protagonist. Michael Pollen and company have added this book to their ever expanding collection of gardening gems-The Modern Library Garden Series. OH was first published in 1950.
At the opening of the book, Pinnegar the protagonist has retired and is living in a cottage on the estate where he gardened for over 60 years. He reflects on how he began his gardening career when Mrs Charteris instructed her head gardener, a Mr. Addis, to hire him after he won a wild flower arrangment contest she judged. Sixty years later, Pinnegar has replaced Addis and acquired his nickname 'Old Herbaceous' from the younger gardeners who view him as a relic of a bygone era.
The book provides a different perspective on the "new" gardens promoted by the garden designers and owners such as Jeckell, Bowles, and Robinson who became prominent at the end of the 19th century and in the early 20th century. In their books and correspondence, these individuals often write "I did this" and "I did that" but in reality they mostly instructed head gardeners who supervised a crew of under gardeners and carried out their instructions. Frequently, these designers and their gardeners were at odds with each other. As anyone who has ever gardened knows, to really understand gardening you must get your hands dirty. Learning to garden is an acquired skill gained via trial and error and cannot be learned by observation alone.
Furthermore, the "new" gardens designed by Jeckell, Bowles and others which superceded "bedding out" (the hallmark of Victoria's reign) and formal 19th century gardens drew their inspiration from the cottage gardens of the working class.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 14 reviews
40 of 41 people found the following review helpful
A Nice Old Story About A Nice Old Time Aug. 30 2004
By John D. Cofield - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Old Herbaceous was first published in about 1950. It is the fictional chronicle of the life of Old Herbaceous, the head gardener at an English manor house. He begins life as a foundling child, early develops a love for flowers which grow along an abandoned canal, and then becomes a gardener at the manor house after impressing the Lady of the Manor at a garden show. Gradually he rises through the ranks of gardeners to eventually become head gardener.

This book is pleasing for several reasons. First, it helps us understand what a complex thing an English manor house must have been, with its ranks of servants and underlings. Secondly, it has beautiful descriptions of flowers, shrubs, trees, and other elements of the English countryside. Finally, its a great social history in microcosm of the changes England underwent from the 1870s through the World War II era.

In many ways Old Herbaceous is another Goodbye Mr. Chips: a short quiet book about a seemingly unimportant individual who turns out to be much more than he appears.
37 of 38 people found the following review helpful
Unique perspective on gardening and the "grand manor".... Dec 27 2003
By Dianne Foster - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Reginald Arkell's lovely book OLD HERBACEOUS is unusual as it is a novel about gardening with a gardener protagonist. Michael Pollen and company have added this book to their ever expanding collection of gardening gems-The Modern Library Garden Series. OH was first published in 1950.
At the opening of the book, Pinnegar the protagonist has retired and is living in a cottage on the estate where he gardened for over 60 years. He reflects on how he began his gardening career when Mrs Charteris instructed her head gardener, a Mr. Addis, to hire him after he won a wild flower arrangment contest she judged. Sixty years later, Pinnegar has replaced Addis and acquired his nickname `Old Herbaceous' from the younger gardeners who view him as a relic of a bygone era.
The book provides a different perspective on the "new" gardens promoted by the garden designers and owners such as Jeckell, Bowles, and Robinson who became prominent at the end of the 19th century and in the early 20th century. In their books and correspondence, these individuals often write "I did this" and "I did that" but in reality they mostly instructed head gardeners who supervised a crew of under gardeners and carried out their instructions. Frequently, these designers and their gardeners were at odds with each other. As anyone who has ever gardened knows, to really understand gardening you must get your hands dirty. Learning to garden is an acquired skill gained via trial and error and cannot be learned by observation alone.
Furthermore, the "new" gardens designed by Jeckell, Bowles and others which superceded "bedding out" (the hallmark of Victoria's reign) and formal 19th century gardens drew their inspiration from the cottage gardens of the working class. Cottage gardens consisted of a mix of herbs and perennials growing informally side by side. Sometimes, the `new' gardens incorporated plants from exotic locales. The tender nature of these plants led to the invention and promotion of glass houses, cold frames, and bell jars. In OLD HERBACEOUS, Pinnegar acquires Ipomoea (morning glory) seeds and grows them in the main green house to please his mistress.
The book covers a period from the end of Victoria's reign until just after WWII. While Arkell has a good deal to say about the business of gardening on a large estate, his book is also a study of the relationship between a family retainer his overseer. Pinnegar presents the workers view, or the view Arkin, himself a member of the middle class, believed a man like Pinnegar would hold. OH is a fascinating study.
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
Husband loves book Jan. 11 2007
By M. J. Sexton - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I bought this book for my husband, the real gardner in the family, who has an penchant for doing things the "old fashioned way" or "old school" way. He loves the main character and has picked up some great ideas for the garden this spring.

JS
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Undiscovered Gem! May 9 2008
By Julie A. Smith - Published on Amazon.com
Verified Purchase
Anglophiles and gardeners unite! IF you have read any of Beverly Nichols and/or Miss Read's works, then you will absolutely adore Reginal Arkell's fictional biography of a gardener in the Cotswolds, England. There is a perfect mix of "green thumb info.", country humor, and an array of memorable characters. IF you are planning to become stranded on a dessert island, make sure that you pack OLD HERBACEOUS!!!
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
One of England's Great Gardening Classics Jan. 13 2014
By The Garden Interior - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
You know, one of the really great things about gardeners is how wonderfully generous they are with advice, most of it rubbish of course and rarely is it advice they themselves follow in anything like a systematic way, as I have noticed. But every so often you pick up a nugget of great value from a gardening acquaintance, and experienced gardeners are always on the lookout for that. So here is something along the line of a pearl of rare price. If you have never read Old Herbaceous by Reginald Arkell, go out and buy this fine book immediately. It was written in 1950, near the end of the author's long life, and it is a novel about a crusty old English gardener near the end of his own long life, looking back on what made him the gardener - and the man - he is now. You can just hear the lilting sing-song of the rural accents of the village characters; Arkell has captured them with perfect pitch. What a lovely and humane book this is, a gentle comedy enriched with sober observation on the practice and philosophy of gardening. It has the broad comedy of Beverley Nichols' great gardening books but also their depth and perhaps a bit more gravitas. It is truly a gem and, though far too brief, something you will take to heart and cherish.

But don't just take my word for it. It is a standard-bearer of the Modern Library's gardening series, edited by the best-selling writer Michael Pollan. He writes in his introduction to the series that these are all books for literate gardeners: "And so I read to garden, and gardened to read, counting myself lucky for having stumbled on a sideline with such a lively and lasting literature. For what other pastime has spawned so many fine books?" And that is followed by enthusiastic comments on Old Herbaceous itself by gardening great Penelope Hobhouse.

The narrator's tone is elegiac and heavily nostalgic, as is not surprising in a gardener whose life and career began as a foundling and gardener's boy in the Victorian era, saw the great-house golden era of Edwardian times, the economic dislocations of World War I, the roaring twenties and then World War II and the post-war era of shortages and rationing. It plugs directly into the enlivening current that makes the television series "Downton Abbey" so popular: nostalgic, beautifully observed and humane, while history washes over and changes fully realized characters that we love and care about. Officially this is a book about gardening, but really it is a book about saying goodbye, letting go, having your life in its proper perspective at all times, living quietly and with beauty and dignity. All things gardeners are working out in their own gardens the world over.

You would have to have a heart of stone not to feel Old Herbaceous' pain in the scene when he has to part with his beloved but now frail Mrs. Charteris, who owned the manor home for many years and has to move into smaller quarters; or when he is cruelly given the sack late in life by the new owners (though this is later rescinded). Here is the likable and sunny Old Herbaceous himself, philosophizing about the good things that come to a man with age: "If you could peel the years from a man's life, as you do the leaves from a globe artichoke, you would find him having his happiest time between the ages of fifty and sixty-five...A golden, mellowing period which brings out all that is best in a man. Kindliness creeps in; cheerfulness spreads its warming rays, even a little humor..."

The warming rays and gentle humor of this book are certainly charming. It is a short, nostalgic and deeply humane novel that has earned its place as one of England's great gardening classics.


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