THERE WILL always be an aphid and a gardener in densely distressed pursuit. For, as Anthony Huxley observes in this wonderful picture book, gardening is an immemorial trade with relatively few new wrinkles to it.
Of course, as he says in a text of clarity and grace, things are done on a smaller scale in gardens now. We miss that Chinese gardener (an eimperor) who in 2000 B.C. filled a pool with rice wine:
"Boats carried his guests on this alcoholic surface until, at the strokes of a gong, they jumped overboard and drank themselves silly."
Much is lost, but then much remains, in gardening-especially problems of economics, lack of labor, space, etc.
And these must be dealt with as stoically as possible.In the chins-up line, Huxley shows a London garden 17 feet square that contains a ginkgo, a fan palm, a mulberry and a starting collection of vines, to say nothing of a lily pool, fountain, etc.
This is the multum in parvo approach to town gardening, Huxley says, and the ultimate goal is to raise 4,000 distinct genera of plants on a fifth of an acre.
At the other extreme he cites those gardens composed largely of stone, gravel, tiles, furniture and five square feet of bugleweed, so to speak.
A stunning New York roof garden is shown, combining the best of both schools, in which about 50 tubs are stuffed with flowers around an umbrella-table.
Here the gardener sits. At the end of an eight foot vista be regards what is either a striking bird house or a scientifically engineered cooking stove on a post. And the whole thing is beautiful.
Before digressnng further on subsidiary enchantments, I will say that the book is mainly about the methods of gardening;that is, how gardeners have pruned, watered, propagated (plants), hedged, turved and glassed, over the centuries.
There are more than 1,000 illustrations and I do not mean postage stamps or ectoplasmic murks. They are brilliant, clear, bold, every one, and the color printing is fine.
You know, I hope, that Egyptian tomb painting of a garden of grape vines and pools with solemn ducks among the blue lotus. It is reproduced here. So is the garden fresco of the Roman empress Livia, in melting colors.
Garden tools, plans for city gardens from various continent and centuries, Wardian cases for orchids, engines for dipping up water, ingenious and not necessarily satisfactory gadgets for cutting grass-all are illustrated with an easy spaciousness rare in our stingy age.
For an English author, Huxley alludes surprisingly often to American gardening-from the Indian village of Secoton (1585) on.
The book is not intended to be a collection of pictures and reflections of handsome gardens, but in tracing what I may call the grubbery of our trade, a good many glorious results cannont help working their way in.
It is incumbent on any receiver of a fine book to hint that he himself could have done better, by raising questions of pedantry here and there. So I shall say that I am not sure Huxley is entirely right here about the "large" lemon tree pots found buried in the gardens of Pompeil. On the contrary, I rely on a leading authority in believing them to be quite small.
Furthermore, Huxley nowhere makes clear the English passion for mulberry trees-the major quirk of English gardening taste. Possibly it makes no difference, but one has always wondered.
Apart from these somewhat tangential objections, I found myself in the extraordinary positions of reading a gardening book I think was worth writing and worth owning.