Praise for Oh Garden!
Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities! Boston Globe Best
For those of you who have eagerly received new seed catalogs in the mail and are paging through with visions of tulips in your head, Carol Stocker at the Boston Globe has gathered up her favorite gardening books to pass away the remaining snowy days — including Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities! She writes “[it] captures the rapture of a gardener’s journey through her own evolving quarter acre by integrating Smith’s personal essays, hand’s-on advice, and paintings.”
Spring has Sprung! What a gift to read Kim Smith’s Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities! Notes From A Gloucester Garden. Using her own small garden as a backdrop, Smith deftly guides her reader along every stage of cultivation — from quiet observation, through planning and planting, and finally among the blooms — sharing successes, failures, and surprises along the way. Bursting with information, yet much more than a how-to guide, Oh Garden reads like a meditation. Smith envelops the senses with lyrical prose and exquisite watercolor illustrations, infusing poetry and wisdom from across the ages to tap into the soul of the gardener — which insists that the garden’s beauty stems not from finished product, but from the cultivation itself.
Oh Garden will arm novice gardeners with all the information and inspiration needed to get started. Smith’s gentle guidance makes those early days in the garden — with their seemingly endless array of choices — less overwhelming. As I read her accounts of her own decisions of what and where to plant, I was reminded that there is no single “right way” to create a garden space — that gardening is equal parts art and science. More experienced gardeners also will enjoy this book, feeling refreshed by new ideas and affirmed by Smith’s shared and obvious love for the hobby they already enjoy.
As I finished reading this book, and I expect as a result, winter’s last days seemed slightly less gray. Smith’s appreciation of nature’s details surely informed my noticing of an early-returning bird’s morning song, the faint smell of earth beyond the melting snow, and brave bulbs just pressing from the soil. The book inspired me to begin planning some much-needed reformations to my own garden, and, following Smith’s instructions, coaxed my first winter blooms, which proved a wonderful reminder that spring was just around the corner. -Jennifer Dowd (March 2010)
* * *
Butterfly Gardener — Is the idea of the “butterfly garden” obsolete? No, I don’t mean we should stop our efforts to attract butterflies with nectar and food plants. But perhaps the concept of an isolated butterfly garden, separate from the rest of the landscape, should be revisited. Kim Smith’s excellent book helped me realize how the history of a garden site affects our choice of plants. Our yards are caches of stored memories: geological, cultural, and personal.
In the first chapter, for example, Ms. Smith writes of the plants and trees on her property inherited from the previous owners, including heirloom lemon-scented yellow bearded iris and two pear trees. The author beautifully conjures up not only the vision of the trees, an old garden variety with the Romantic-sounding name ‘Beurre Bosc’, but delicious descriptions of other pear varieties, as well as a history of pear trees in the United States and tips on cultivation. Now I wanted a pair of pear trees, so I, too, could enjoy “the dancing interludes of sunlight glittering through their leaf-net canopy, fragrant blossoms and fresh fruit, the lilting songbirds attracted to their sheltering boughs.”
With the chapters following the flow of the seasons, Ms. Smith’s book is not only a fine introduction to gardening in New England; it is a compendium of plant lore in art, literature and cuisine. Each chapter begins with a poem; the book’s title is taken from “Floating Bridges” , by Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca. If you crave a sensory garden, read “The Fragrant Path”: in addition to finding sweetly scented plants for every time of year, you will learn why the intoxicatingly fragrant ‘Blue Lotus of the Nile’ (Nymphaea stellata coerulea) symbolized creation and rebirth in the art of ancient Egypt.
One chapter, “Flowers of the Air” is dedicated exclusively to butterflies and includes a list of butterflies, food plants, and nectar plants. The appendix offers a helpful column of nectar plants organized by season, and food plants listed alphabetically by common name. Tidbits of information on how to attract butterflies, however, are strewn throughout the book. In the chapter “Planting in Harmony with Nature,” for example, I discovered that summersweet (Clethra alnifolia) is a favorite of the Silver Spotted Skipper, and that mock orange (Philadelphus ‘Innocence’) is visited by Red Spotted Purples.
So I will keep my graceful daylilies for their fragrance, and I will dream of one day planting pear trees. But next year I am also going to plant heaps of asters for Pearl Crescents! I recommend you brew a cup of chrysanthemum tea (recipe on page 163) and settle in your favorite chair to read this delightful book. –Karen Hillson, Butterfly Gardener (Summer 2009)
* * *
Fresh Possibilities are just what I am looking for at this time of the year, so it is no surprise that I have been spending happy evenings with Kim Smith’s beautiful book that includes so many of her own delicate paintings of flowers, birds and butterflies.
Kim Smith gardens, and paints, in Gloucester. Over the years her garden has grown, as has her concern about conservation and her delight in the roads to literature and art that her garden has opened to her. Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities: Notes from a Gloucester Garden (David R. Godine Publisher) combines all these aspects of her life in the garden in the most beautiful way.
With its delicate paintings of individual flowers, and butterflies, the book does not look like a how-to book, yet it includes plant lists to attract butterflies, of fragrant flowers and plants through the seasons, seasonal blooms and useful annuals. I can hardly decide which I enjoy more, the charming prose of chapters titled The Narrative of the Garden, Flowers of the Air and The Memorable Garden, the exquisite paintings, or the poetry that ranges from our own Emily Dickinson and Dorothy Parker to Li Bai (701-762 CE), a famous Chinese poet of the Tang Dynasty. I enjoy knowing that Kim has found the same delight in the connections to history and the arts that I find in the garden.
One of the two chapters I particularly found useful as well as beautiful right now is Flowers of the Air which includes information about a variety of butterflies, and the plants that they need for their life cycle. We have to remember that butterflies are not only lovely, they are important pollinators.
It is no surprise that I also enjoy Roses for the Intimate Garden. Kim’s climate is a bit more gentle than mine and she can grow more tender roses that I can, but we are both devoted to the fragrance that roses bring to our gardens and to the uncorseted exuberance of old fashioned roses.
If you want information, but also want the kind of delicious prose you find in evocative essays, an aesthetic sensibility, and beautiful illustrations, this is the book for you. Kim is an inspired gardener and writer, but she isn’t stopping there. Watch for more news about Kim and her latest project soon.–Pat Leuchtman, Greenfield Recorder (March 2011)
* * *
Boston Globe Recommended Garden Gift Books—Here are some of the best 2009 garden books that I would recommend for holiday giving: “Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities! Notes from a Gloucester Garden,” written and illustrated by Kim Smith, (David R. Godine, $35) is a treasure, and perhaps the best garden book of the season. Why? Both dream-like and practical, it captures the rapture of the gardener’s journey through her own evolving quarter acre by integrating Smith’s personal essays, hand’s-on advice, and paintings. I was charmed by her listing of specific scents of favorite peony varieties accompanied by a painted sample of their petal colors. –Carol Stocker, Boston Globe (December 2009)
* * *
Patriot Ledger ~ In the Garden: Book Captures Love Affair with Gardening
When we all search for ideas to make a better garden, those ideas come from many sources. Artist Kim Smith has written and illustrated a new book, “Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities.” In it she traces the history of her seaside garden in Gloucester.
This book is a joy to read for anyone looking for inspiration for a garden, small or large. This book would make a wonderful holiday gift. Plant lists, plant habits, plant history, plant care, all find space within these pages. The color and the fragrance of the plant’s flower most captivates the author. She chooses certain plants because of their colors, mostly white, and then shades of rose and light blue. A flower’s fragrance welcomes a visitor to the garden during any season.
Developing a garden creates many memories for its owner. This book certainly does that for Smith. She describes in detail the choice of the house, the spacing of the pathways, and, of course, the location of the plants. She recommends that the gardener use the landscape painter’s model when siting plants, which means keep in mind the background, the middle ground, and the foreground. Small trees and shrubs fit the background; taller perennials are ideal in the middle ground while low perennials and annuals lie in the foreground.
Smith’s expressions show the care she has taken in writing this book. At one point she writes, “Paths choreograph the way you wish people to move about.”
There are certain plants she mentions several times, like the fruit trees, nasturtiums, and the climbing rose ‘New Dawn.’ The reader senses that these are among her favorites.
What impressed me was the history of many of the plants she mentions. She also discusses Chinese philosophy and the garden. In one case, she describes the difference between American wisteria and Chinese wisteria along with the Chinese use of rocks and water as symbolic in the garden.
Smith’s garden today is her treasure, as in clear from this book. She has loved every moment, and every mistake she made, as she composed it over the years. Her use of organic materials in the garden to preserve the environment and provide for sustainability comes through as well.
Garden maintenance is frequently a subject. Fish emulsion, compost, cut-up seaweed, chicken manure, deadheading, staking, eggshells around certain plants, and bulb food all receive mention. The reader needs to keep in mind that Smith is summing up her work in the garden over many years.
Her love of butterflies comes through as well. She plants several varieties to attract butterflies, but she enjoys most just seeing them appear throughout the season. A line that sums up Smith’s love of gardening, and testifies to the book’s value for any gardener is this: “Our garden has grown from plantings we consider to beautiful to live without.” –Thomas Mickey, Patriot Ledger (November, 2009)
* * *
Hawk and Whippoorwill—Author Kim Smith has filled Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities: Notes from a Gloucester Garden with “design ideas and plants that work well in this coastal region” (according to reviewer Viveka Neveln in The American Gardener). This is more a handbook for cultivating nature in one’s home yard, rather than a literary account of man’s relationship with nature, but Smith’s writing is lithe and clean and her experiences in conjuring beauty out of a quarter-acre plot in Gloucester make for excellent reading. Hawk and Whippoorwill (August 2009)
* * *
The American Gardener—Anyone who gardens along the Eastern Seaboard from Maine to South Carolina will appreciate Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities! This book is filled with design ideas and plants that work well in this coastal region, as author and garden designer Kim Smith relates her experiences with her quarter-acre garden in Gloucester, Massachusetts. The first part of the book, “Creating the Framework,” delves into trees, shrubs, and other elements for creating structure in the garden, while the second section addresses how to fill out the framework to create a harmonious living tapestry in your garden. –Viveka Neveln, The American Gardener (July/August 2009)
* * *
Pink Lemonade—Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities! is filled with Kim’s lovely illustrations, tips on how to create an enchanting garden, inspirational quotes as well as captivating poetry, and it is truly spectacular. Her cover caught my attention at the Book Expo in New York this past spring and I was completely enchanted as soon as I opened it! –Isabelle Lafleche, Pink Lemonade (August 2009)
* * *
The Avant Gardener—Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities! is a delight for both the author’s lyrical prose and her exquisite color drawings, but it deserves equal accolades for its array o day-to-day and season-by-season plant-design/how-to knowledge and ideas. April 2009
* * *
Bloomsbury Review—The Gloucester of Kim Smith’s garden is in Massachusetts. Smith writes a column on garden design and this is her first book. In musing on her garden and gardening in general, Smith draws upon many other arts and sciences. These include poetry, drawn from sources familiar (Emily Dickinson and Amy Lowell) and perhaps less familiar (the 17th century Chinese poet and painter Shiato), history, and more technical discussions of horticulture and plant etymology. She offers advice, thoughts, and asides on such topics as “Planting Trees Street Side.” There are no photographs, but the author’s own exquisite paintings abound. This is a book to dip into and come away refreshed. –Kay Ackerman (March-April 2009)
* * *
Cold Climate Gardening Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities! Notes from a Gloucester Garden Kim Smith made me aware of my garden book prejudices: What kind of title is that? You just don’t start a title with “oh” and end it with an exclamation point! And then I read the back cover: “Drawn by the tender magic of her brush, one feels somehow renewed under the spell of the author’s singular warmth as we stroll within these pages in the intimacy of the secret garden she reveals.” Uh-oh. This is going to be one of those hearts-and-flowers books, filled with overblown prose. How am I ever going to say something nice about it?
First Impression Misleading
But I was wrong. It’s true Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities is not your typical garden book. It’s not a reference book, it’s not an instruction manual, and it’s not a coffee-table eye candy number. It’s a collection of essays whose common thread is fresh ideas for your garden, so, ahem, I guess the title is actually pretty apt. And the flowery prose of the back cover blurb wasn’t written by the author, anyway.
Beauty in All Its Forms
Think of these essays as a series of conversations with a gardener who has not only learned by doing, but spent some time researching the topics dear to her heart. The essays are loosely arranged chronologically and often touch on fragrant plants, attracting butterflies, or Oriental garden philosophy–often all three in the same chapter. Every essay opens with poetry and often quotes more poetry further on, and every chapter, as well as the front cover, is liberally illustrated with the author’s watercolors. You get the impression that Kim Smith is sensitive to beauty in all its forms, and she wants to share them all with you.
You will surely learn something from this book. In a chapter on her outdoor shower, I learned that some sweet autumn clematis vines have no fragrance at all, which confirmed my own experience of this plant that others call wonderfully fragrant. In a chapter describing her first year in the garden, growing nothing but annuals as she observed what was already planted there, I learned she gets bloom from a second sowing of corn poppies. I suspect my growing season is a bit shorter, so that may not work for me, but it had never occurred to me to try. I love fragrant yellow daylilies, and now I know of a few I didn’t know before. Kim devotes a chapter to them, and is just as fond of good ol’ ‘Hyperion’ as I am. And I had no idea there was a lily-of-the-valley (Convallaria majuscula) native to North America until I read about it on page 172.
Prejudiced No Longer
By the time I was done, Kim’s infectious enthusiasm had won me over, and the conversation in my head had changed entirely: Really? I’ll have to try it in my garden. . . . Hmm, I never knew that. The thing is, this book moves at a more leisurely pace, reminiscent of the older time in which her house was built. For Smith, it’s not about the destination, but about enjoying the trip, which really, for a gardener, never ends. It’s a great book to read in the winter, when you want a book to inspire daydreams as you peruse through mail order catalogs. It’s a great book to give to a gardener, precisely because, since it’s not a reference book, how-to manual, or eye candy number, they might not think it’s for them. But if they’re anything like me, they’ll get over their prejudices. –Kathy Purdy Cold Climate Gardening (April 2009)
Gloucester Daily Times Monarch butterfly exhibit illuminates beauty on the wing
Boston Globe Monarchs in Massachusetts