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Old Herbaceous: A Novel of the Garden [Paperback]

Reginald Arkell , Penelope Hobhouse
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

April 15 2003 0812967380 978-0812967388 New edition
Back in print after fifty years

Old Herbaceous is a classic British novel of the garden, with a title character as outsized and unforgettable as P. G. Wodehouse’s immortal butler, Jeeves. Born at the dusk of the Victorian era, Bert Pinnegar, an awkward orphan child with one leg a tad longer than the other, rises from inauspicious schoolboy days spent picking wildflowers and dodging angry farmers to become the legendary head gardener “Old Herbaceous,” the most esteemed flower-show judge in the county and a famed horticultural wizard capable of producing dazzling April strawberries from the greenhouse and the exact morning glories his Lady spies on the French Riviera, “so blue, so blue it positively hurts.” Sprinkled with nuggets of gardening wisdom, Old Herbaceous is a witty comic portrait of the most archetypal—and crotchety—head gardener ever to plant a row of bulbs at a British country house.

This Modern Library edition is published with a new Introduction by
Penelope Hobhouse, a renowned garden designer and lecturer and the author of numerous gardening books.

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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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Most helpful customer reviews
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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Amazon.com: 4.6 out of 5 stars  13 reviews
39 of 40 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 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.
33 of 34 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars 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.
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 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
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 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!!!
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars enjoyable read! March 15 2011
By elliepinksneaker - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I found this book to be an enjoyable and easy read. Would recommend to anyone who loves gardening and good storytelling!
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