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Onward and Upward in the Garden
by Katharine S. White and E. B. White


Overview - In 1925 Harold Ross hired Katharine Sergeant Angell as a manuscript reader for The New Yorker . Within months she became the magazine's first fiction editor, discovering and championing the work of Vladimir Nabokov, John Updike, James Thurber, Marianne Moore, and her husband-to-be, E.  Read more...

 
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More About Onward and Upward in the Garden by Katharine S. White; E. B. White
 
 
 
Overview
In 1925 Harold Ross hired Katharine Sergeant Angell as a manuscript reader for The New Yorker. Within months she became the magazine's first fiction editor, discovering and championing the work of Vladimir Nabokov, John Updike, James Thurber, Marianne Moore, and her husband-to-be, E. B. White, among others. After years of cultivating fiction, White set her sights on a new genre: garden writing. On March 1, 1958, The New Yorker ran a column entitled "Onward and Upward in the Garden," a critical review of garden catalogs, in which White extolled the writings of "seedmen and nurserymen," those unsung authors who produced her "favorite reading matter." Thirteen more columns followed, exploring the history and literature of gardens, flower arranging, herbalists, and developments in gardening. Two years after her death in 1977, E. B. White collected and published the series, with a fond introduction. The result is this sharp-eyed appreciation of the green world of growing things, of the aesthetic pleasures of gardens and garden writing, and of the dreams that gardens inspire.

 
Details
  • ISBN-13: 9781590178508
  • ISBN-10: 1590178505
  • Publisher: New York Review of Books
  • Publish Date: March 2015
  • Page Count: 392
  • Dimensions: 8 x 5.1 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 0.8 pounds


Related Categories

Books > Gardening > Essays & Narratives
Books > Biography & Autobiography > Personal Memoirs
Books > Gardening > Techniques

 
BookPage Reviews

Well Read: At home in the garden

Unlike her prolific husband, E.B. White, Katharine S. White wrote only one book, yet she left a decisive and enduring mark over the course of her 34 years as an editor at The New Yorker, shaping the distinctive voice of the magazine and shepherding the work of many of the greatest writers of the 20th century. Her one book, Onward and Upward in the Garden, was not published until two years after her death in 1977, and is edited and introduced by her husband. Comprising 14 gardening columns written between 1958 and 1970, it is a charming, idiosyncratic, opinionated, informative and, at times, humorous paean to the amateur pursuit of horticulture. It returns this month in a new edition after a decade out of print.

The columns for The New Yorker began as unlikely book review-like assessments of the newest seed catalogs, which White scrutinized with uncommon ardor, applying the same critical eye that she might have cast on, say, a novel. As the years progressed, she continued to structure the pieces around the latest offerings from a far-flung array of nurseries, but the columns became increasingly personal and thoughtful. As with all of the best articles that the fabled magazine featured in its heyday, it is the controlled discursiveness of the writing that keeps us reading, even if we don’t necessarily care about varieties of roses or the care and breeding of African violets. White reels us in with her enthusiasm and her Yankee directness. When she takes a narrative side trip through the history of the lawn mower or contemplates keeping the -virus-ridden bulbs of “broken tulips” segregated in her flowerbeds, we find ourselves eagerly reading on—whether we have a lawn ourselves or give two figs about tulips.

The Whites did their gardening on a farm in Maine, and descriptions of the everyday rhythms of their rural life infuse her clean, poetic prose. “There is also internecine warfare among the phlox—between the burgeoning clumps of common pink, white and calico phlox and the less well-established stands of the new varieties, whose colors are more interesting,” she writes. “Nonetheless, I am happy with all this bountiful bloom, and, careless gardener that I am, I comfort myself with the thought that at least I have achieved mass effect, and that the flowers grow in drifts of color. . . . But [Gertrude Jekyll,] that formidable garden genius of the last generation would never, never have condoned my crowded bed or my state of August sloth, which makes me want to say, ‘Oh, let it go. Let the plants fight their own battles.’ ” Lovers of E.B. White’s most famous book may hear echoes of Charlotte’s prickly, philosophical pronouncements in passages such as these.

Sadly, Katharine White never wrote what would have been the final chapter in the book—a piece about the gardens of her New England childhood, which, given her perception and appreciation for the past, coupled with a clear-eyed lack of nostalgia, would likely have been among the most engaging parts of an already engaging book. “Writing for her was an agonizing ordeal,” E.B. White tells us in his introduction, “particularly hard because she was by temperament and by profession an editor, not a writer.” Onward and Upward in the Garden gives the lie to this claim: Katharine White was indeed a delightfully gifted writer.

 

This article was originally published in the March 2015 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

 
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