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From the Ground Up by Amy Stewart (thoughts)

January 16, 2013

From the Ground Up

I very much enjoyed Amy Stewart’s book about earthworms (The Earth Moved) and happen to be in the middle of planning my own first garden, so when I saw her memoir From the Ground Up in my library’s e-catalogue I couldn’t resist. This is an exuberant memoir of her first year of gardening, told in an informal, conversational style that’s easy to connect with. Stewart is more than willing to laugh at her own novice mistakes and offers up some helpful tips that I’ll be sure to put into action. Moreover, her love for gardening and her new little house in Santa Cruz shine through on every page.

That being said, while I enjoyed her enthusiasm, I was ultimately left wishing for a slightly deeper book: this was far more memoir than popular science, and I prefer the latter. I also suspect The Morville Hours has ruined me for other gardening books, which isn’t Stewart’s fault! Also, I hesitate to mention this, but her chapter on her cats disturbed me. I’ve no interest in getting into an indoor/outdoor cat debate, but since I happen to know both that native North American birds evolved in a cat-free environment and are thus deeply vulnerable to predation by domestic cats and that many native songbird species are declining at a precipitous rate, I felt aghast at her simultaneous sadness over her cat hunting/killing birds and persistence at allowing him free run in the garden.

In the end, while this was a (mostly) fun read, I’m not sure much of it will stick with me. If you’re looking for a light, effortless read that will make you smile and inspire you to give gardening a go yourself, definitely give this one a try (I gave it four stars after all and still intend to read her later books, which are about plants). But if you’re craving a book you can sink your intellectual teeth into, it’s probably not the best fit. I also have a request: now that I’m planning a garden, I’d love to read more gardening books. Any suggestions?

Suggested Companion Reads

  • The Morville Hours by Kate Morton : a stunning meditation on Morton’s experience bringing the garden in a National Trust property to life.
  • The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett : um, is it possible to talk about gardening without referencing this novel? A mainstay of my childhood, which I last reread in 2008, although I didn’t blog about it, it’s likely the reason behind my desire that my own garden be a cottage/kitchen hybrid.
  • Suburban Safari by Hannah Holmes : in a combination of memoir and science, Holmes examines the ecosystem of her Maine backyard for a year. It also has a light, readable style but contains a bit more information.
17 Comments leave one →
  1. January 16, 2013 8:18 am

    I own a copy of Gardens: An Essay on the Human Condition by Robert Pogue Harrison. I haven’t read it yet but it looks to be really good!

  2. January 16, 2013 8:55 am

    I haven’t heard of this one before, but it’s a book I’d definitely like to try. I am planning to embark upon my first gardening experience this year, and I’m also in the mood for light reading, so this one sounds like it’d fit the bill. :)

    • January 18, 2013 7:46 pm

      Ohhh, we’ll have to compare Texas gardening resource books!

  3. January 16, 2013 10:32 am

    I used to work for a prominent bird-focused environmental organization, and the indoor/outdoor cat issue (as well as what should be done regarding feral cat colonies) is an unbelievably touchy subject! However, I commend you for doing your research about North American songbirds, and for not being afraid to wonder about Stewart’s choice. This sounds like an ultimately pleasant read, however, and I’m glad you enjoyed it! Good luck with your garden! :)

    • January 18, 2013 7:47 pm

      I’m not surprised it’s touchy, but maybe that’s because I’ve been a vegetarian for 10 years so I’ve seen how quickly people can get defensive over ‘lifestyle’ choices!

  4. January 16, 2013 10:43 am

    I was planning on reading this in March for my food/gardening theme. (I’m glad to be forewarned about the cat issue though, as I know that will not sit well with me either.) Anyway, I want to read all her books–she always seems to pick subjects that really interest me. :)

  5. January 16, 2013 12:20 pm

    hmmm I’ve heard of From the Ground Up and am interested but I think her book The Earth Moved would be more up my alley to start with. I’m glad you enjoyed The Morville Hours- I’v been meaning to read it for forever. I also enjoyed Suburban Safari immensely. As for gardening books the most recent one I’ve read is called A Paradise Under Glass. It’s about a woman who creates her own conservatory after the death of her sister. There is a some memoir in the book, such as when she talks of her sister’s death and how it prompted her to create the conservatory but there’s lots of fascinating stuff in there: she meets some of the top gardening experts in the country, raises her own butterflies, and introduces beneficial bugs into her conservatory to help deal with pests. It is all about a conservatory garden so it may not be pertinent to your interest but I thought it was very enjoyable.

    • January 18, 2013 7:48 pm

      Oh thank you! Your rec actually sounds perfect for me: I happen to love books about sister relationships.

  6. aartichapati permalink
    January 16, 2013 5:26 pm

    Fun fact about earthworms – did you know that they were NOT IN AMERICA until 1493?! They came over with the Europeans. Well, they were here and then they were gone in the Ice Age and then they came back. I was floored by that fact. FLOORED. Read 1493 by Charles C. Mann for more fun facts :-)

    • January 18, 2013 7:48 pm

      It’s like a drive-by book rec! :p 1491 AND 1493 have been on my tbr list for ages. Need to get in gear!

  7. January 16, 2013 8:13 pm

    I liked it, but I do agree- it is more of a light gardening-themed memoir than a solid scientific-based book. I have some gardening book recommendations! Garden Anywhere by Alys Fowler, Plant Life by Susan Berry, This Organic Life by Joan Gussow, Digging Deep by Fran Sorin, New Kitchen Garden by Adam Caplin, The Self-Taught Gardener by Eddison. My favorite has got to be Making Things Grow Outdoors by Thalassa Cruso. Also her book To Everything There is a Season. There are a lot more on my blog, but these are the best ones I’ve read in the past few years.

    • January 18, 2013 7:49 pm

      Thnx so much for taking the time to list your favourites Jeane! I really appreciate it, since I know it’s a optic you’ve read widely in.

  8. January 17, 2013 1:39 am

    Alas, I have decidedly NOT inherited my mother’s green thumb (I once killed a cactus!), but I wish you all the best in your gardening endeavor! And I hope you’ll post about your progress as you begin to get it up and out of the earth so that we can enjoy the fruits of your labor! ;)

    • January 18, 2013 7:49 pm

      I’m terrible w house plants (unlike my mother), so I’m hoping outdoor plants are a completely different beast. *crosses fingers*

  9. boardinginmyforties permalink
    January 29, 2013 3:03 pm

    I am just starting to think about how I want to design my new outdoor space so am not ready to get into too many of the intellectual details. This one might have the right amount of inspiration for me without being too much for me to handle.

Thank you for commenting! For a long while, my health precluded me replying to everyone. Yet I missed the conversation, so I'm now making an effort to reply again. It might take a few days though, and there will be times when I simply can't. Regardless, I always read and value what you say.

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