Archive for the ‘Cooper, Thomas C.’ Category

Odd Lots: Seasonal Notes of a City Gardener by Thomas C. Cooper ~ 1995. This edition: Henry Holt, 1995. Hardcover. ISBN: 0-8050-3741-1. 218 pages.

My rating: 5/10. I felt rather brutal giving this rating, because the author writes well, sometimes exceedingly so, and his subject matter is dear to my heart. But somehow this book just didn’t feel like a “keeper” – I had to push myself quite firmly to go on with it after the third chapter or so, and as I did so I found myself skimming much too much, between the bits worth slowing down for and more deeply savouring.


This book of twelve monthly themed garden essays began life as editorials in Horticulture magazine. Thomas Cooper is a passionate and literate gardener, and he writes a perfectly readable style of prose, but for the most part there was nothing here to really stick with this particular reader. A pleasant one-way conversation. I mentally nodded and smiled, while one half of my mind was appreciating Cooper’s thoughts on peonies, mulch and the joys of examining a crocus at child’s eye level. The other half – well – it was thinking about my own garden much of the time, or the progress of the dinner roast, or how I really need to sweep down the cobwebs on the ceiling fan. Oops, bad sign.

This review from Kirkus says it well:

A devoted gardener offers a meandering collection of brief essays that may hold some charm for others of the same ilk.

As the editor of Horticulture magazine, Cooper contributes a regular column whose intent, he says, is “to capture the world in and around a garden.” This translates into fragmentary and scattered musings, mainly about his own backyard gardens in Massachusetts, so don’t look for practical assistance or even the occasional clever idea here. Although the columns are not dated or presented chronologically (for example, the reader sees Cooper’s daughter age eccentrically from three to two to six), they are grouped by month. January finds the author poring over nursery catalogs and drafting resolutions (“Stop accepting plants as gifts, no mater how tempting . . . just imagine they are offering a tray of zucchini seedlings”), while by April he is yearning for a spiffier potting shed and delighting over the arrival of packages from mail-order nurseries. A number of columns are little more than the verbal equivalent of puttering, but then, as Cooper says, gardeners do “raise puttering to the state of high art.” Occasionally, pieces that were written to be read one at a time are diminished by being crowded together: Although July’s articles on water and watering, musing on a watering can, noting the desirability of an efficient soaker hose, and admonishing readers to learn from water shortages out West are separated by forays into other matters, they lose some of their effect when read within the space of half an hour.

This one is for people who nod sagely at the line, “There is only so much Geranium endressii one person can handle,” and whose hours not spent in the garden are spent talking about being in the garden.

What else can I say? Good effort, nice production, but just a titch more miss than hit, at least in this garden veteran’s opinion. And yes, I did read many of T.C.C.’s columns in Horticulture during his 22-year stint as editor which ended in 2001, and enjoyed them in a mild way, as one does when reading the editorial as a sort of appetizer for the much anticipated main course of the longer articles to come.

Tom Cooper knows his stuff, and can turn a neat phrase, and in his time at the helm he oversaw a marvelous gardening magazine, my prized back-issue collection of which I frequently re-read. But when it comes right down to it, I can’t in good conscience wholeheartedly recommend this book. I truly wish I could – it’s that close.

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