Book Review: The Roots of My Obsession

Continuing my book reviews, I turn from one single man's year-long view of a tiny piece of a single "garden" to a book that involves 30 gardeners and at least that many gardens.

The first book I reviewed was historical with little to no narrative or personal touch, the second book was personal but focused on observation, but this book is all personal. The Roots of My Obsession (Timber Press) is the subject of today's review.


About a year old now, it includes essays by thirty of today's talented gardener-writers who "reveal why they garden" as the book's subtitle explains. It's quite an easy read, with each chapter just four or five pages long, so you can nibble a chapter away when you have a few minutes during your day, or plow through big sections when you have a bit more time.

Having so many different writing styles together is perfect for me, as I really enjoy reading collections of short stories -- it's the type of book I read most often these days. The only problem with this is sometimes four or five pages is not enough, and you want more: more details, more explanation, more words!

There were certainly a few of these essays that I wanted to see doubled or tripled in length.

Besides the brevity, there's one other minor problem with this book. The title suggests to me that each of the essays would be a look into why the author gardens now -- in other words, why they started gardening. Stories of a childhood spent amongst the plants of a relative or neighbor, tales of growing up with a family of gardeners, accounts of discovering nature after moving away from the big city -- that sort of thing.

While there are a few of these root-discovery essays, many of them describe what they love about gardening now. It's not why they started gardening, but why they continue today. As enjoyable as those particular essays are, I would have preferred them to be more reminiscent and introspective.

It's like when I have visitors to my garden. Nobody asks me "why do you do this?" What they usually ask is "how did you get into this?" or "why do you love bamboo so much?" Since I don't have great answers to either of these questions, I guess I shouldn't be surprised that other gardeners don't have them either -- it certainly is much easier to talk about why I continue to do it than how I started.

That being said, I'm actually quite glad that some of the stories are more modern, for instance how their current garden started, what challenges they've faced along the way (deer, walnut trees, and floods are three that stand out). It gives me reassurance that some of the best gardens (and gardeners) did not have easy births or storybook childhoods.

Although if an account of your garden's beginnings ends up in a book, doesn't that make it a storybook childhood?

In summary, this is an enjoyable book filled with personal, varied writing. It's not a book that will teach you anything except maybe how to inspire somebody else to garden, or how gardeners who persevere will eventually do great things with plants. It's also a sampler of garden writers, each of which has written other things -- a nice little reference for that fact alone.

To close, here are my four book review questions:

Am I glad to have it on my bookshelf?    Yes.
Would I be disappointed if I misplaced it it?   Maybe.
Will I read it again?    Probably. Parts of it at least.
Would I give it as a gift?   Yes.


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Gerhard Bock (Succulents and More)  – (December 3, 2013 at 8:44 AM)  

This is a book I have on my wish list. Thank you for reviewing it. I definitely want to read it. I'm actually more interested in gardeners' current motivations, not so much their history.

Salty Pumpkin Studio  – (December 3, 2013 at 9:30 PM)  

Good review. Thank you
Sounds like a nice easy winter indoors read

danger garden  – (December 4, 2013 at 12:32 AM)  

I looked at this book on my shelf just the other day and thought I'd like to read it again. Sadly that won't be happening anytime soon. Maybe January...

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