Becoming a Gardener: What Reading and Digging Taught Me About Living by Catie Marron


“Gardens have mattered deeply in people’s lives ever since Eve ate the apple from the tree,” writes Catie Marron, in her new book,  What Reading and Digging Taught Me About Living.  In this impressive meditation, Marron chronicles her move to Connecticut, where she realized that “to feel rooted,” she needed to “put down roots” and start a garden, so she gave herself 18 months to design and watch a full plant cycle. Along the way, the Vogue contributing editor learned how to cultivate a green thumb by reading books by such writer-gardeners as Beverley Nichols, Eleanor Perényi, and Henry Mitchell, and also by good ol’ trial and error.  The book has been praised as an “elegant ode to gardening,” by Booklist.

“Gardeners make mistakes all the time,” Marron suggests—this is just one of the many lessons she lays out. Others include that to be a gardener, one must hang around other gardeners, that gardeners are witnesses to death, and that kitchen gardens are more work than other kinds. As she recounts the skills of “observation, planting techniques, and patience” she gained during her trial, she shares plenty of practical tips for others looking to get started—an “annual to-do list,” for example, breaks down seasonal tasks and what to plant when— and lush photographs compliment Marron’s musings. Aspiring and seasoned gardeners alike will want to have this on the shelf.

The elegant book is filled with charming watercolors, photographs, and illustrations of all things green and goodly. Marron (City Squares, 2016) eschews traditional how-to-grow guides, instead concentrating on the somewhat ethereal process of figuring out how to use the land via one’s favorite spots and other inspirations and, then, by trial and error, designing a garden with a nod to seasonality and sustainability.

In this very personal road map, Marron also traces her own evolution as a gardener, with homage to her late husband. Her narrative itself mesmerizes, with profiles of the five types of growers (scene setters, plant people, colorists, collectors, dirt gardeners); stats about Thomas Jefferson’s 330 varieties of 99 species of vegetables and herbs; and her plants and trees of note, from kale and rhubarb to sweet peas and dahlias. Following in her footsteps will require not only a leap of faith, but a rock-solid hope that all will be fine. Great advice in these days. Appended: Annual to-do list, literary mentors in the garden, recommended reading and viewing, select bibliography.  —Barbara Jacobs

Marron is also the creator and editor of two anthologies on the value and significance of urban public spaces: City Squares: Eighteen Writers on the Spirit and Significance of Squares around the World, and City Parks: Public Places and PrivateThoughts. She is a trustee and Chair Emeritus of The New York Public Library, where she was Chairman of the Board.  Marron is also a trustee of Friends of the High Line, where she was also Board Chair, and a trustee of The Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation. She was previously an editor for Vogue.

*Becoming a Gardener: What Reading and Digging Taught Me About Living by Catie Marron. Harper Design, $60; available HERE ISBN 978-0-06-296361-1. Photo Credit for the gouache illustrations: All the Way to Paris. The photo titled “CM__0103_Rev1_Trif 63.pdf” is by William Abranowicz.