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My Garden (Book) Paperback – May 15, 2001

21 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

"I wanted a garden that looked like something I had in my mind's eye, but exactly what that might be I did not know and even now do not know." Celebrated novelist Kincaid (The Autobiography of My Mother) should delight fans of her fiction and connoisseurs of the literature of horticulture with this personable and brightly descriptive, if somewhat rambling, book-length essay, most of it about her own garden in Vermont. Kincaid (who last year edited the anthology My Favorite Plant) shuttles constantly and with ease between the practical, technical difficulties of gardening and the larger meanings it makes available. She asks herself why her new weeping wisterias won't look right on her stone terrace; why her Carpinus betulus Pendula looks so lonely amid poppies and "late-blooming monkshood"; what's wrong with roses, and what's good about Blue Lake green beans; and how to stack up stones. But she also coaxes from her plot of earth more philosophical and psychological questions--inquiries about geography, heritage, marriage, motherhood, power; "how to make a house a home"; whether and for whom "to name is to possess." Kincaid's Antiguan upbringing recurs as a point of comparison, a source of political insights and a focus of nostalgia: "it dawned on me that the garden I was making... resembled a map of the Caribbean and the sea that surrounds it." A botany-centered trip to Kunming, China, gives the last chapter a welcome change of scene. Kincaid, her publisher and their designers have made of her meditations a remarkably attractive physical object, suffused outside and in by shades of green and decorated throughout with illustrations by Jill Fox. (Dec.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Kincaid blends a fertile inner life, botanical and colonial history, gardening lore, and her long gardening experience to create a rich, rewarding read. She contrasts the colonial specimen plants of the botanical garden of St. John's, in her native Antigua, with the wild, unruly garden she's created at her current home in Vermont. This garden, says Kincaid, reflects her passions and interests. "When it dawned on me that the garden I was making... resembled a map of the Caribbean and the sea that surrounds it... I only marveled at the way a garden is for me an exercise in memory, a way of getting to a past that is my own." Kincaid is a hopeful, imaginative gardener who lazily pages through catalogs during the long Vermont winters and plans trips to China, Giverney, and Sissinghurst to further feed her passion for plants. "I wanted a garden that looked like something I had in my mind's eye, but exactly what that might be I did not know. And this must be why: the garden for me is so bound up with words about the garden, with words themselves, that any set idea of the garden, any set picture, is a provocation to me." Is her ideal possible? "I shall never have the garden I have in my mind but that for me is the joy of it; certain things can never be realized so all the more reason to attempt them."
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 229 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 1st edition (May 15, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374527768
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374527761
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.7 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,118,151 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Jamaica Kincaid's works include, Mr Potter, The Autobiography of My Mother, and My Brother, a memoir. She lives in Bennington, Vermont.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

46 of 48 people found the following review helpful By DAMwriter on December 9, 1999
Format: Hardcover
I must confess to having never read any of Ms. Kincaid's earlier work, but having enjoyed this book as much as I did, I will certainly seek out her other writings.
This book is an open, descriptive peek into the pleasures and peeves of gardening, and into Ms. Kincaid's own idiosyncratic - alternately heartwarming and annoying - view of herself, her family, her friends and acquaintances, and history. It takes the "garden as metaphor for life" theme into entirely new and thought-provoking directions.
Her style (writing as the novice Kincaid reader that I am) was unusual - very conversational, sometimes rambling and disjointed - and took some getting used to. But once I got into the essays, I found it entirely engaging. She delivers an honest appraisal of her strengths and her weaknesses, as a gardener and as a person. Her enemies (insect, animal and human) became my enemies, her heroes became my heroes (I've registered for a symposium featuring Dan of Heronswood Gardens already!), and her ideas never failed to generate my own questions and (sometimes) answers.
I highly recommend this book, as an adjunct to the winter plant catalogues and "how-to" books into which we addicted gardeners usually immerse ourselves during the "off" season. No great font of gardening information (by her own admission, she usually breaks the mold, if not the rules), it will not fail to inspire your own efforts come spring.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By aboyer on June 7, 2004
Format: Hardcover
"Oh, how I like the rush of things, the thickness of things . . ."
Oh, how I like Kincaid's My Garden (Book). I am halfway through it and realize I had better slow down, because I am not going to find another book on the garden I like nearly so much as this one, probably for a very long time. I've got a stack of other books, none so good, and I will use My Garden (Book) like a tiny slice of truffle among the more common and less delicious food on my plate. Rationing is the only option.
What I like about her (among the everything else I like about her) is that she doesn't like Asiatic Lilies because their colors remind her of a hallucinogenic drug she took once ever seven days for a year when she was young. This is the best sort of confession to make in a gardening book.
She also confesses to amassing large debts and threatening letters from creditors about her garden habit. She confesses to being a messy, careless person with a messy house. All these confessions endear her to me. The weaknesses balance the austere authority of her prose, which also endears her to me.
Her garden aesthetic - odd, overgrown, intense and personal, wild, even, endears her to me. I remember reading a bit of memoir in the New Yorker that involved her experiments with coffee enemas. This struck me as the strangest thing I had ever read (because perhaps I was still a teenager in Kansas and ready to be struck by things). Enemas? The reason for them escaped me, but with coffee none the less - or espresso? I paid careful attention to the byline of that piece, wanting to find more of this sort of writing.
Later, one of her essays was in a book I used as a graduate teaching assistant. When I saw her name, I took a sip of coffee.
I like Ms.
Read more ›
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20 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Kevin Sim on December 7, 1999
Format: Hardcover
I first picked up Kincaid's 'At the bottom of the river' last August. I just returned to homeland after 5 years away, saw the book on the floor of a bookshop, picked it up and ended up bringing it home. Since then, I have read all of her books.
This novel continues to do great justice to its predecessors. Illuminating, alive and vivid.
This is not a book about only gardening, but about everything. Poignant, funny, opinionated. It is a book that entertains and informs, in between the discussion of gardens and people with gardens.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Lori Krell on December 27, 2000
Format: Hardcover
I love gardens, but I don't have a green thumb. I don't why I picked this book up, but I did. This work does not detail the Latin names for plants or teach you how to layout your garden designs based on climate and soil conditions. It is a voyage of discovery of the self through the tending of a garden. An intriguing concept well written by Jamaica. Through her knowledge and experiences as a gardener, she began to understand her history, thoughts, decision-making, home, desires, fears, everything that makes her a woman, with a family, living on earth. Do not read this book for tips on gardening. Read this book for personal insights through the tending and building of gardens in connection to one's mind, body, soul, and heritage.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Darby Rose on December 20, 2008
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I was sitting in a tire repair shop awaiting bad news and reading Jamaica Kincaid's My Garden to while away the time. Suddenly, the young technician approached to tell me that things were not so bad after all - and better yet, he informed me that I was reading a GREAT book! Who would have thought to receive a recommendation on a gardening book from a kid with axle grease on his hands!

He went on to explain that his teacher had assigned the book in his writing class at the local college, and he found it enchanting. (That wasn't his choice of words, but you get the drift.)

And indeed, it was an enchanting read. From her poetic mastery of the English language, to her transplanted Caribbean viewpoint, Kincaid writes from a different place - and don't we read at least partly to hear a different voice? Touching softly upon some very strong political sensibilities, Kincaid makes you think about earth's garden of souls as well as plants.
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