Yes, I have written about these books before. I wrote about them in 2014 in connection to my recipe about making a “rose smoothie.” (A rose smoothie is something I feed my roses, incidentally.)
But I was prompted this morning to mention these books again because someone in my gardening group with a local restaurant who is a friend of mine kindly offered her old egg shells to gardeners who use them to amend the soil.
Decades ago at this point, I read about these books by Margaret and Bridget Boland in the Wall Street Journal. Yes, the Wall Street Journal. Truthfully, over the years some of the best US gardening articles I have ever read have been out of the Wall Street Journal on occasion. When I originally bought these books I bought them from Trevian Book Shop in Massachusetts.
These books are fun little volumes, and well, some of it literally is lore. As in why people planted things how they planted things and even charms to protect the gardener. There is a funny little section in Gardner’s Magic and Other Old Wives Lore about weather predicting creatures, specifically frogs. And how if a frog looks pale yellow the weather is going to be fine if it’s going to be wet the same frog will turn dark brown or green.
Old Wives’ Lore for Gardeners contains more practical garden magic. It was in this little book that I learned about adding banana skins to the soil for roses. It is what intrigued me in the article about these books I read in the Wall Street Journal- it was one of the things that the writer spoke about in the books. Of course also in this book I learned again about the benefits of tossing old soapy water – as in dish soap – onto your roses and flower and vegetable beds to help control things like aphids that don’t like the soapy water. People refer to this a lot of the time as “gray water” and we aren’t speaking of dishwasher detergent or clothing detergent, but plain old dish soap. Now my older relatives always used to speak of tossing the old dish soap onto the flowerbeds.
People tend to gravitate always and first towards the shiniest and new with glossy photographs gardening books. But inside little old volumes like these there is also a lot of knowledge to be had. These books are still enchanting today and interspersed throughout the lore are invaluable bits of old-fashioned wisdom and gardening tips. If you are a gardener you would love these books.
You can still find copies of these books which were published in the mid-1970s. I checked this morning and I saw them on both eBay and Amazon. They are skinny little volumes so they won’t take up much room. Originally they were very inexpensive. Now they are collectible but they aren’t beyond anyone’s reach you just have to check the listings. I have seen them for sale in both paperback and hardcover format.
I have all of the Bolands’ books (they were a mother and daughter) including Gardeners’ Lore: Plantings Potions and Practical Wisdom.
I will note that I discovered this morning there is also an edition of the first two books which combines the first two volumes into one.
I guess that the moral to this story is don’t overlook the vintage and older gardening books. Like older and vintage cookbooks you find things in these books you don’t see any place else. You learn the practical magic of gardening that our grandparents knew.
The last word I will have in this post is if you live in the Chester County area, the best place I have found locally to consistently uncover old and vintage gardening books is Baldwin’s Book Barn in West Chester. Have a great day….spring is coming!