Hildegarde’s Gardening Book

The granddaughter of Nathaniel Hawthorne, Hildegarde Hawthorne (Oskinson) followed in the family business and published a wide variety of works over her lifetime (1871-1952), including children’s books, travel books, poetry, and biographies. I posted previously on one of her “rambles” books, Old Seaports of New England, because it features Salem prominently, but it is not my favorite of her titles: that preference is her garden book, The Lure of the Garden (1911). Gardening books by society ladies such as Hildegarde are a dime a dozen in this era, but The Lure of the Garden is different: it’s not a practical tome or simply an appreciation of the botanical beauty, but rather a series of essays on different cultural aspects of the garden, in her time and over time: from “Our Grandmother’s Garden” to “Childhood in the Garden” to “The Social Side of Gardens” to “Gardens in Literature”. It’s beautifully written (I think shorter-form essays are her strong suit) and beautifully illustrated, by Maxfield Parrish, Jules Guérin, Sigismond de Ivanowski, Anna Whelan Betts, and others, with plates in both color and black and white, paintings, drawings, and photographs. Throughout the book, the theme of the garden as a private refuge and true reflection of one’s inner self emerges, both very literally in considerations of enclosure and garden gates as well as through textual and visual illustration, as she shows off her connections and takes us into the “Gardens of Well-Known People” such as Parrish, Augustus Saint-Gaudens, Cecilia Beaux, Edith Wharton, and Stephen Parrish. For all this (and because I am dealing with the menace of powdery mildew right now), I think my favorite chapter is “Some Garden Vices”, in which the garden is portrayed as an autonomous entity, showering “pity and love to its ugliest weed” to a touching though infuriating extent: it will spare no pains to convey to this voracious plant all the delicately prepared food destined for your lilies or your phlox, will discover the utmost art in draining its water toward the thick roots of its favorite, give it sun and shadow, sweat and labor for it. If you snatch the hateful progeny from its arms, leave only the slightest portion of root behind, that patient, devoted garden will nurse the battered and wounded thing back again to life and health, to flaunt triumphantly in bed and border. As this is Hildegarde’s extravagant prose in reference to weeds, you can imagine her descriptions of more covetous cultivations.

Lure of the Garden Cover

Lure 21

Lure 18

Lure 8

Lure 17

Lure 16

Lure 15

Lure 14

Lure 13

Lure 12

Lure 11

Lure 6

Lure 9

Lure 10

Lure 1

Hildegarde Hawthorne’s The Lure of the Garden is available here.


4 responses to “Hildegarde’s Gardening Book

  • Athena Morris

    “a dime a dozen” is quite an insult.

    Sent from my iPhone

    Like

  • Helen Breen

    Hi Donna,

    Although I am not gardener, I enjoyed your review of Hildegarde Hawthorne’s THE LURE OF THE GARDEN. Indeed, she does write well from your short excerpt. Certainly, she has the genes for it, eh?

    I have visited the garden of Augustus Saint-Gaudens in Cornish, NH and of Edith Wharton in Lenox, MA. I love Wharton’s work and her life story. Gardening was such a large part of her existence.

    Great selection of dreamy, idealized illustrations of gardens and their privileged owners of yore.

    Like

  • Lou Sirianni

    I just ordered this delightful book

    Like

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