Garden Bloggers' Book Club November Meeting

Welcome to the first meeting of the Garden Bloggers’ Book Club. You will want to make yourself a nice hot cup of tea, or pour a steaming mug of coffee, or top off your wine glass at this time. You’re at a club meeting now, so don’t expect this to be a five minute drive-by session. There is much to read and discuss about our 1st book, The Essential Earthman by Henry Mitchell and many links to click on. You will want to go to each blog post about Henry and his book, to read, savor, ponder, and if you haven’t done so already, comment on it, so plan to spend some time.

But first, to set the stage. I’ve prepared some snacks and desserts for us to enjoy while we discuss the book. Normally, I’m not much of a cook, but I’ve gone all out for our 1st meeting. Our menu includes… okay at this point I was going to put in some links to some delicious appetizers and snacks, but this is a “link-y” enough post, so just imagine that you have come to my house and I’ve prepared all your favorites, because I am a good hostess.

And by doing some “googling” before you all got here, I have found this background information on Henry Mitchell, which you may find interesting and helpful to know before we begin the discussion (and which will lead you to many more links on information about Henry and his books), and these many posts from The Bookish Gardener, who has been reading Henry’s books for several years.

So, are you ready to begin discussing the book? Wait, just one more thing, remember that whenever and wherever gardeners meet, everyone always ends up outside for just a few minutes to see what the host gardener is up to. And because this is a virtual meeting, I can show you my garden in any season I want and in multiple seasons at the same time. It doesn’t have to be November in zone 5 today. We’ll go around by the side of the house and through the gate to the back gardens. We’ll wander further back to see the vegetable garden, (in May and August, no less) and pass by the lilacs along the way. Don’t those lilacs just smell heavenly? And guess what? Just in time for the meeting, the night bloomer has bloomed.

Enough of the greetings, background information, small talk, and garden tour, I think everyone is here, and has their drink in hand and a plate of snacks and desserts, so let’s all gather around and share our thoughts on The Essential Earthman. Who would like to go first?

Genie? One of our newer gardeners with a particular interest in growing tomatoes. I would guess if she hadn’t moved to Iowa, started a garden, and started a blog, she wouldn’t have had occasion to read this book. She is planning to heed Henry’s advice on leaving fruit grower to the professionals and found common ground in how Henry budgeted for his garden.
Genie went through the library to get her book, but Old Roses had quite an experience buying her copy. She was sure before she read the book that she wasn't going to like it, but none the less, she read the book and... well, go to her blog to see what she thought of it!

The Earth Girl (has she a name?) is one of my fellow Hoosier gardener-bloggers. I am now waiting for her to figure out how to grow delphiniums in Indiana, so she can teach me all the tricks. For as she quotes from Henry: "Whenever humans garden magnificently, there are magnificent heartbreaks." And trying to grow delphiniums can lead to heartbreak! The other heartbreak she discusses is the Hooker’s Orchids which have vanished from the gardens at the Gene Stratton-Porter State Historic Site in northwest Indiana where Earth Girl tends the gardens. So sad to hear of the extinction of another wildflower.

Yes, we are all nodding our heads up and down in agreement, I can see.

Now we’ll move on to Colleen in Michigan. She reflects on the cycle of life and posted this quote for us: “It soon becomes clear to the gardener, who has probably started out to achieve a certain bloom, that the cycle of life in the plant is a good bit more enjoyable than the bloom itself." And like many of us, she had not read any of Henry Mitchell until joining this book club, and provided these first impressions.

Okay, now it is my turn. I’ve had The Essential Earthman in my own personal library for several years, but had not yet read it. While I generally don’t keep track of where and when I purchase books, I found a receipt in my copy of the book which indicates I may have purchased it in 1999 while on vacation in North Carolina. To now know that such a treasure was on my shelf, and I was not aware… well, it is just a bit embarrassing.

So, I started reading, in the fall, when I thought I would have plenty of time. And the first thing I read was this:

“… but fall--not spring—is the great planting season for woody things. If, in other words, you had thought of lolling in the warm weekends admiring the chrysanthemums and the dogwoods turning red, congratulating yourself perhaps that the weeds are losing heart, let me cheerfully remind you that you should be exhausted (not lolling) since this is the busiest of all the garden seasons. When you are not planting bulbs, digging up bindweed roots, rooting out pokeweed, soaking bamboo, there are still other tasks. Thousands of them. You are terribly behind. The very idea of just sitting about in the sun!”

What a timely lecture, and I was hooked and I knew I had to read more. Then I got lost in all the plants he wrote about, and expressed some disagreements on Henry recommending Lombardy Poplars. Then I was convinced after reading about his adventures with growing iris from seed that I must do the same.

Tracy didn’t get lost in all the plants as she was thinking about garden design as she read the book. "Plan with severe formality, then plant informally within these formal bounds, and nature will tend to the rest, provided you correct your errors as you notice them.” Tracy says she is still going to follow her own heart and ideas when it comes to garden design. I agree when she says that Henry would like that she is going to approach it that way, her own way.

So many good quotes in this book! Where to stop? Kathy from New York discusses how “eminently quotable” Henry is. Kathy loves a good quote (as you can see from her blog) and she tries to explain what makes a quote “quotable”. With The Essential Earthman, where does ones stop quoting? And it is interesting that different club members were struck by different quotes or passages from the book.

Gloria in Chicago found herself nodding in agreement on much of what she read. Like many of us, she had not read the book, and found out about a new plant she would like to try to grow that she didn’t think she could grow in Chicago. She leaves us with this quote from Henry: "because there is no such thing as dullness when the gardener is going full steam ahead and damn the torpedoes, as it were."

Kasmira had the opportunity to read The Essential Earthman while on vacation. Kasmira, see the quote above about how busy fall is in the garden and we wonder how you had time for a vacation! But at least reading this book has helped you think about how to balance out all that red in your garden.

Speaking of changing some things in their garden as a result of reading this book, Windy added some thoughts on the forum at LibraryThing, including that she will be planting more irises as a result of reading the book.

And, remember when we all had quite a discussion over at Garden Rant on the relevance of Henry Mitchell? And their earlier post about Henry? Regarding his writing about too many specific plants, he had this to say: "A fellow reproaches me for mentioning too many plants he's never heard of and not enough of the ones he has. Marigold, marigold, marigold. So much for that."

Finally, we are going to give Annie in Austin the last word, to wrap up our meeting. After all, when she wrote a comment somewhere along the way that she used Henry Michell’s books as a way to reward herself for getting her laundry done (“If I do two more loads of laundry, I can read two chapters of Henry Mitchell.”), it convinced at least me that this would be a good book to start out the Garden Bloggers’ Book Club. She wrote about hoping that Henry’s words would “be like oxygen for those who still want genuine, experimental, personal, overreaching, messy, ridiculous gardens”.

That is just the kind of quote a publisher would put on the back cover of a book to convince all of us to buy that book, isn’t it? Thanks, Annie, for that insight and for reminding us that today (November 24) was Henry Mitchell’s birthday, making this the perfect day to have this first “meeting”.

I hope all enjoyed reading this book, and reading what other garden bloggers had to say about it. I am just happy to have finally discovered Henry Mitchell, and am delighted to know there are more of his books to read. I’ve already got them on order!

So with that, our first meeting is over. For December our book is My Favorite Plant: Writers and Gardeners on the Plants They Love edited by Jamaica Kincaid. I know December is a busy month, so if you can’t find time to read the book, you can still participate by posting about your favorite plant sometime between now and December 24th and sending me a link to it. Then we’ll have another “virtual meeting” sometime after Christmas.

Now it is time for all to leave, as this is a beautiful day in central Indiana, and I want to go outside to do some more garden clean up and put up holiday decorations.

Thanks for participating! (And if you weren't able to "join us" with a post of your own, feel free to add your thoughts in the comments, or post something on your blog and leave us a comment on how to get to it.)


  1. Carol, what a great round-up and a terrific set of discussions of the book! I've been working my way slowly through everyone's posts, and am looking forward to reading everyone's thoughts on Henry. Thanks so much for organizing this and making it happen, and I'm really looking forward to the December book club selection!

    The Inadvertent Gardener

  2. You didn't notice but I was the little fly who sat on the wall during your club meeting. Very interesting

  3. Carol: What a great post! Thanks so much for taking the time to put this together - it's a lot of fun.

    For those looking for next month's selection - My Favorite Plant, edited by Jamaica Kincaid - check out the used selection on Amazon. I managed to find a brand new book for $1.97 plus $3.49 shipping.

  4. What fun to sit in on your book discussion. Thanks to M. at Zanthan, I now have my own copy of Earthman to read. But no sitting around to read right now. It's fall, and I'd better get out in the garden and get busy.

  5. Carol, great meeting! Sorry, I'm a little late, but I finally posted my review on my blog.

  6. Carol, I have read then reread all the contributions to the first book club meeting.Excellent stuff,I'm hoping others that have mentioned reading the book may add still more.See you all again next month, I'm off to procure the December selection...

  7. I finally got around to reading some Henry Mitchell, after hearing about him for years.

    Bill/prairie point

  8. Hello Carol

    It's the last day of the month and yes indeedy I have finally posted my own review of The Essential Earthman. I figure it's probably too late, but hey, it's been a busy month, especially with this warm weather!!


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