Book review—Bulb by Anna Pavord

I have to admit when I first heard that British author Anna Pavord's new book was about bulbs I thought, "Oh well...". Ms. Pavord's most well known book is The Tulip, and its justly famous. However this time, I felt it might be a bit boring to run down this similar well-trodden path yet again. I already own a lot of books on bulbs, ranging from reference titles like Taylor's Guide to Bulbs to very personal books such as The Little Bulbs by Elizabeth Lawrence. This time I was wrong.

First off, Bulb is filled with Ms. Pavord's first-hand horticultural knowledge of all the bulbs that are presented in its pages. I was lucky to meet the author at a dinner last week and she told our small group that she had grown every one of the 600 varieties about which she writes so beautifully. Friends, in today's throwaway society this experience is rare and exceedingly valuable. True their will be growing differences between her British climate and all of the ones we have here but one of the nice things about buying bulbs is that they come programmed to thrive. Each is a little packet of success (at least for the first year).

Secondly, this book is gorgeous and I never use that word. But yes it is, thick and heavy and filled with evocative photographs by Andrew Lawson and Torie Chugg. It's nice to see a work where the passion of the text and the visuals are so successfully married by such elegant design and art direction.

Now you must also know that the book is huge. At 544 pages and weighing over four pounds, it is not the sort of reading material that even the most die-hard gardener will take on a winter's beach vacation. However, it is precisely the sort that a person, namely me, will love to have on the nightstand and savor bit by bit, bulb by bulb before going to sleep.

In her acknowledgements Ms. Pavord writes, "I spend more on bulbs than clothes." And though she looked perfectly lovely at the recent dinner in her honor, I and so many other gardeners are blessed that she has chosen to use her money so wisely.

"'An enormous number of Fritillaries have stinking bells of dingy chocolate and greenish tones,' complained the pleasingly opinionated gardener Reginald Farrer. But that did not stop him growing them. Fritillaries are like that."—Anna Pavord

"Modern gladioli belong with the diamanté specs and knockout handbag of Dame Edna Everage, Barry Humphries's alter ego. With their vast flowers and unyielding stems, they are more at home on the show bench or in a vase than in a garden....The gladioli listed below are all good garden plants: they will get on well with neighbors in a border or you can grow them in pots either outside or in a cool greenhouse."—Anna Pavord

I particularly enjoy the bits of lore like this about colchicums:
"The name comes from Colchis (an ancient kingdom—and home of all sorcery—set between the Caucasus to the north and Armenia to the south) where the first plants are said to have sprung from drops of the potion brewed by the enchantress Medea, daughter of the king of Colchis, to restore youth to the ageing Aeson."—Anna Pavord

The poet's narcissus grows in a meadow in Greece, above.

Bulb by Anna Pavord (Mitchell Beazley). Hardcover, 544 pages, 10.9 x 7 x 1. 6 inches


Jim/ArtofGardening said...

Man, they never mention the art director/designer that designed these beautiful books. Great words and great pictures are only made netter by great design. I look forward to actually holding one of these to feel its weight and touch the paper. It's teh kind of book I keep by my bedside table too.

Stephen Orr said...

So true Jim. I amended a line above to reflect your comment. I should know better being an old art director

Jeffrey said...

"The Tulip" was AMAZING and beautiful! Who would ever think a tome on the history of the tulip could be so fascinating!! Can't wait to pick this new work up!

Helen said...

Now I know what I want for Christmas.

Susan said...

I bought this book for my boyfriend who lives in Australia on the Gold Coast and he said that I should return this book as it was only for the USA. I thought the author resides in the UK, so that is why I purchased the book seeing that she plants these bulbs in England too. I thought anyone who like gardening would enjoy this book.. am I wrong?

Stephen Orr said...

Hi Susan,
I don't know much about gardening in Australia unfortunately or which bulbs do well there. I know that this book was written from Pavord's experience of growing bulbs in her garden in the UK and then it was probably adapted by her for the US. Obviously it's very different gardening in the southern hemisphere where the seasons are reversed. Sorry I can't advise more! I would think Australian gardeners are used to reading Northern hemisphere garden books and interpreting the seasonal difference.