I thought this was an incredibly charming read! A slim volume, but filled with the memoirs of Emily Whaley, who spent the first 20 years of her life in South Carolina's Low Country before marrying and moving to Charleston for the next 60+ years. She is the creator of the most visited garden in Charleston and while the book is peppered with gardening advice, it is really sketches of a life fully- and well-lived. She was born early in the 20th Century, so many of her memories are of a time that has now vanished. She skips from time period to time period, with a dash of gardening lore tossed in, but it is such an eminently readable book, that while you are left wanting more, you are also left a little in love with this remarkable woman. I highly recommend this book to anyone, gardener or not.
A sweet but slight bouquet: a gardening memoir told in a Southern drawl. Whaley, an 85-year-old South Carolina gentlewoman, sits down, as it were, in her Charleston garden to summon up memories of camellias past. Baldwin, a South Carolina architect and novelist (The Fennel Family Papers, 1996, etc.), observes that she ``moves with the imperial bearing of a grand Southern matron. But on the inside she's a knobby-kneed 14-year-old country girl.'' The matron's account of life and gardening can come across as regrettably mild. ``It's an awful lot of fun to live into your eighties,'' she declares. ``It helps to have some money, though.'' Likewise, she remarks, ``People are the greatest--the most fun that life offers.'' But Whaley also delivers some choice comments and vignettes: ``Dad said if everything Nan planted had taken, a rabbit couldn't have run across the yard.'' And she can be folksily tart: ``You have a muscle here between your ears. When you play tennis, when you do exercises, you use muscles. The muscle up top is the same. Unless it's used it is going to be flabby.'' Whaley devotes chapters to her rural childhood, her parents, and her lawyer husband; she also offers her thoughts on her dog, on self-esteem, and on her favorite recipes. Discussions of her Charleston garden, measuring 30 by 110 feet, takes up about a third of the book, and though her description of it is charming, one doesn't walk away with a convincing sense of place. Her gardening advice is pretty basic: ``DO water your plants in the morning so that the leaves are dry by nightfall. You'll have less trouble with fungal diseases.'' And too many of the non-gardening vignettes seem slender, unrevealing. It would have been better to drench those portions with details, which count for as much in life stories as they do in gardens