Thursday, May 10, 2012

Beautiful May

"The world's favorite season is the spring.  All things seem possible in May."  --  Edwin Way Teale

My daughter gave me a wonderful book on gardening.  It is the classic "First Garden" by C.Z. Guest.  C.Z. Guest was a renowned socialite and lifelong gardener who decided in 1976, while recovering from a riding accident, to write a clear and concise garden primer that would allow any beginner to learn the satisfaction of working in the garden. Published by G.P. Putnam's Sons in 1976,  it was long out of print and demand from the collector's market prompted C.Z. to reprint the book in 2003.  That is the copy that I have.

Introduced by Truman Capote and illustrated by Cecil Beaton, this book has impressive collaborators.  Here is some of what Truman Capote wrote in the introduction about C.Z. Guest.  Reading his description of the first time he spotted her takes us back to a time of glittering New York nightlife:

"The first time I saw Mrs. Guest was during the entr'acte of 'My Fair Lady.'  Escorted by Cecil Beaton, the play's costume-designer, she was standing at a bar across from the theatre.  There were fifty-odd fashionable ladies crowded there, but one could not have overlooked this one.
As Raymond Chandler remarked of his femme fatale in 'The Long Goodbye,' 'There are blondes, and there are blondes.' Mrs. Guest, shimmering in the blue smoky light, was one of the latter.  Her hair, parted in the middle, and paler than Dom Perignon, was but a shade darker than the dress she was wearing, a Main Bocher column of white crepe de chine.  No jewelry, not much make-up; just blanc de blanc perfection.
Beaton introduced me to her, a gesture she acknowledged with ice-cream reserve.  Who could have imagined that lurking inside this cool vanilla lady was a madcap, laughing tomboy..."

And describing C.Z. in her garden, Capote wrote:

"...once she has stepped across the threshold that leads from the glass houses to the walled garden that contains her row upon row of edibles and lookables, the true CeeZie emerges, like a sun sliding from behind the clouds.  There with her baskets and spades and  clippers, and wearing her funny boyish shoes, and with the sunborne sweat soaking her eyes, she is part of the sky and the earth, possibly a not too significant part, but a part.  And that is what this little testimony of Mrs. Guest's is about; well, yes, it is about gardening -- but it's also about belonging, being a part of living things:  just, you might say, life itself." 

Truman Capote couldn't write a sentence that wasn't beautiful!

Here is what C.Z. Guest wrote about the value of gardening:

"There are so many fabulous things about gardening, and the best is that absolutely anyone can do it.  It's great fun, and for someone who is unhappy or lonely, having a garden is like having a good and loyal friend.  Gardening can also be a tremendous relaxation for someone who is nervous.  I find that being outside and using my hands to care for each flower is very soothing.  In addition, once you plant your garden you'll feel such a thrill to see your things growing. Each day you'll find it's different -- a new surprise!  After a good rain all the young flowers and vegetables seem to sprout right out of the earth, as if to say, 'Here I am!'  Your garden will help you discover a whole new world...
And best of all, your garden is never finished.  You must keep up with it and tend to it every day.  It's like watching your children grow.  It will give back to you all the love and care you put into it.  Your garden is a good friend -- a true friend.  And if you help it grow, it will never disappoint you."

This book is a gem and I hope you can find a copy for yourself or to give as a gift to a gardening friend.  And for the Persephone Book lovers out there, these endpapers will make you very happy!

Have a wonderful weekend and Happy Mother's Day!


  1. You always find the most wonderful books. It seems your daughter has inherited you gift. What a thoughtful and personalized gift she has bestowed. Truman Capote had a wonderful way with words. Thanks for sharing. Bonnie

  2. Happy Mother's Day to you as well! Such a gorgeous book, Sunday, I would buy it for the sketches alone.

  3. I can think of at least ten reasons why I want this book, Sunday. Your recommendation of it would be number one. Cecil Beaton's illustrations, Capote's prose, and, of course, Guest's gardening words. What a wonderful gift from your daughter. Happy Mother's Day!

  4. I am sitting here experiencing a beautiful touch to my soul with happy tears at the words describing Mrs. Guest and the words she shared regarding gardening. I must find this book and relish it. I have been a rather haphazard gardener as I do not have much land and have many other duties to attend to during the week. But what I have I do enjoy planting every beautiful thing I can find to enjoy on the weekends. Thank you for sharing this extraordinary book with us! I cannot wait to find it for my library.

  5. Very pretty post, Sunday. And that pitcher stuffed with flowers looks like my very first water pitcher purchased at Tiffany's while shopping with my darling Mom on our first trip to New York ages ago. Lovely.

  6. Happy Mother's Day Sunday. Beautiful book and gift.

  7. Another lovely post Sunday, Happy Mother's Day!

  8. Oooh, another book for my list!
    I can always count on you for an excellent recommendation!