09 November 2009

Book Review: The Fragrant Path by Louise Beebe Wilder

I'm a huge Louise Beebe Wilder fan, so when I saw her The Fragrant Path in a used book store recently, I eagerly snatched it up.
If you've never read Louise Beebe Wilder, you should. She wrote back in the 20s and 30s, and though that makes her work nearly a hundred years old, her writing remains utterly fresh and relevant. She is, I think, my favorite gardener writer of all time.

The Fragrant Path is (duh) about fragrance in the garden. Like most gardeners, I've not given scent in the garden much thought. I like fragrant plants, but I've never designed with fragrance in mind like I do with color. As Wilder puts it: "We plan meticulously for color harmony and sequence of bloom, but who goes deliberately about planning for a succession of sweet scents during every week of the growing year?" ("...succession of sweet scents..." Love it!)

The answer to that rhetorical question soon becomes clear. Who plans the details of fragrance in the garden? Louise Beebe Wilder does. Throughout the book she describes groupings of fragrant plants she enjoys: "Honeysuckle and loose white rugosa rose make a delicious combination and possess a delicate poetic beauty." And those she feels clash: "I made the mistake once of putting a lily-of-the-valley bed beneath some lilac bushes. The season of the two strong scented flowers over-lapped and the result was unfortunate for they did not blend happily."

Describing scent in words is always difficult, but some of her passages recreate sensations of fragrance so vividly you almost can smell it as you read: "To sleep in a room beyond whose casement honeysuckle scrambles and to awake in the night to the exquisite fragrance that inspires the darkness is an experience of rare quality. Such things invade life's commonplace routine with an ecstatic pleasure."

But don't think this book is all purple prose and poetry -- she backs up that passage on honeysuckle with detailed descriptions of no less than 24 different species of honeysuckles. Inspiration for the garden, and the information you need to actually execute the ideas she gives you all in one book. 

I'm excited now to start exploring fragrance in a new way. I'm not sure I'm ready to start designing fragrance combinations, but I'm going to track down some of the plants she mentions, and spend next summer sniffing and thinking. I'm used to thinking about combining color and texture in my garden. From now on, I want my designs are going to be about color, texture, and aroma.

2 comments:

Veronica Segura said...

First of all I want to thank you for sharing this wonderful review here. Actually I don’t like to comment on every post I read. If I like any of the posts I read, then will definitely share my opinion. I believe that posting comments is worth and it encourages the blogger to do more. I never read this book before. When I saw your posts was very happy. This is one of my favorite category gardening. I love gardening a lot. If one visits my home they can experience it. Even my husband and kids also love gardening. They support me from their full heart. Flowers are my favorite and also love for gardening vegetables. We do not buy vegetables or fruits from outside. We cultivate most of them our own. Also do not use any chemicals, love to do organic.

After reading your blog I purchase this book from online. And started reading when I get free hours. I must like to say that I really adore this garden book. It really inspired me personally to make my own fragrance gardens. I have variety of flowers but still missing many of them. Last day I gifted copy of this book to one of my friend. She is really interesting in gardening. Who love to do more fragrance garden. She called me last night and thanked me for gifting such a wonderful book. This book was originally written in 1932. The writings in this book are really beautiful. And so much of the information is still very valuable. The 1996 version, titled The Fragrant Path like the original edition is updated more.

If you are the type gardener then you will surely love this book. If you read this book at least once in your life time then, you will definitely make use of in planning or adding to your garden.


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