Thursday, December 20, 2012
December Book Review: Elizabeth and her German Garden
When you work beside someone for so many years, I suppose they get to know you pretty well. Recently a former colleague and his sweet wife stopped by bearing gifts that they thought I might enjoy for a little winter cheer. (They are also kind sensitive friends.)
I have no idea how he knew that I had been wanting to read Elizabeth and her German Garden, a charming little gardening memoir written in 1898 by Elizabeth von Armin, which was her pseudonym. In some editions the author was simply "Elizabeth." Her real name was Marie Annette Beauchamp, and apparently the book is semi autobiographical. Click here for a link to Amazon: Elizabeth and her German Garden available at Amazon
I have read many favorable reviews of this book on various blogs over the years, but since the book was not available from my library system or local book stores, I wasn't certain I would ever find a copy.
My friend was able to find "The Echo Library" edition. I'm so glad he did, and I know it will become one of my treasured books.
The book is perfect to read on the sad gray days of winter. I have been savoring every page, all 83 of them! And it's a book I know I will read again and again, simply for the beautiful writing, as Elizabeth describes the changes in her garden through the year. And I especially enjoyed reading about the joy that her garden provides her.
Here is a passage describing her joy in the May garden:
What a happy woman I am living in a garden, with books, babies, birds, and flowers, and plenty of leisure to enjoy them! Yet my town acquaintances look upon it as imprisonment, and burying, and I don't know what besides, and would rend the air with their shrieks if condemned to such a life. Sometimes I feel as if I were blest above all my fellows in being able to find my happiness so easily. I believe I should always be good if the sun always shone, and could enjoy myself very well in Siberia on a fine day. And what can life in town offer in the way of pleasure to equal the delight of any one of the calm evenings I have had this month sitting alone at the foot of the verandah steps, with the perfume of young larches all about, and the May moon hanging low over the beeches, and the beautiful silence made only more profound in its peace by the croaking of distant frogs and hooting of owls?
It's not a book to hurry through. I love "Elizabeth's" humor and wit and her descriptions of the garden that she is trying to create on the neglected country estate in Germany where she and her stern Baron husband have recently moved. Throughout the book she refers to him as "The Man of Wrath," never by his name. His disapproval is evident as he criticizes her desire to learn to garden. Elizabeth does seem to be a loving mother, although she refers to her three adorable daughters as The May Baby, The April Baby, and The June Baby, never by their given names.
Elizabeth is English, from a wealthy family and longs to be allowed to get her hands dirty and dig in her German garden. (She especially loves roses.) But there are servants for that, and for the children, and for the housekeeping. Women of that time, or at least in her husband's opinion, were thought of as children or idiots. I realize that there is a large element of satire in the book, but I believe there is also a large element of truth about the treatment of women of that era. And also in the treatment of servants, who were considered to be on the same level as animals. That part was more than a little disturbing.
My friends also brought a bouquet of beautiful tulips and delicious homemade cookies including gingerbread boys, among other good things.
People have been so wonderful and caring during my recent illness. I completed my final treatment today and feel great, and I think it's mainly due to all the love, prayers, and positive thoughts from family and friends...and I consider my fellow garden bloggers to be friends as well. Thank you for your good wishes! There is still a long way to go to recovery, but I am getting there.
Well, I ate the gingerbread boys before I had a chance to take a picture, but here is a photo of the gorgeous tulips. Thank you Y & MD!
Elizabeth also loved tulips and she wrote:
I love tulips better than any other spring flower; they are the embodiment of alert cheerfulness and tidy grace, and next to a hyacinth look like a wholesome freshly tubbed young girl beside a stout lady whose every movement weighs down the air with patchouli.
I will never think of hyacinths in the same way again!
I am linking this review to Holley's monthly garden book reviews at Roses and Other Gardening Joys. I hope you will find some time to read Elizabeth and her German Garden.
It is a satirical, yet sweet, witty little book and a joy to read!
Oh yes, and if you ever saw the 1991 movie, The Enchanted April, she wrote that book too...a delightful movie!