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The Essential Earthman: Henry Mitchell on Gardening Paperback – January 24, 2003

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

This first collection of Henry Mitchell's garden columns was one of those instant classics, a book which quickly earned a permanent place on thousands of bedside tables. Though written for the Washington Post, these tales of the city garden travel well. This book, often dog-eared and battered, is found in gardeners' homes all across the U.S.--not just in the South, but in Minnesota, Alaska, and the other Washington. After reading a single page--any page--you'll realize why. Many gardeners quote Mitchell's line, "It is a great joy the day we discover that we can learn things without actually having to make the mistakes ourselves." He regales us with his mistakes, recording the frustration caused by stubbornly planting where his beloved dogs insisted on sleeping or by thoughtless activity ("I speared a superb lily bulb today"), hoping we will profit from his own gardening mishaps. We can and do, but we profit just as much by his company as his advice, which is so clearly the fruit of long and direct experience. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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With Henry Mitchell's recent death, gardeners lost one of the most erudite yet entertaining voices of horticultural wisdom. This agreeable iconoclast will no longer be around to tease and provoke his fans--those readers devoted to Mitchell's splendid gardening essays in the Washington Post. So his prevailing legacy will be books like this one, a new, slightly expanded edition of Mitchell's first collection of columns. In reading over these delectable gardening vignettes, the reader finds reasons for Mitchell's popularity unmistakable. Not only does he instruct readers with his expert advice, but in his own rather cantankerous way, he consistently provides a gentle, philosophical assist; a balm for the bumps and blows of daily life. Alice Joyce --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Indiana University Press (January 24, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0253215854
  • ISBN-13: 978-0253215857
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.8 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #952,817 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

29 of 30 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 17, 2000
Format: Paperback
I first read Henry Mitchell in the Washington Post when my husband was receiving cancer treatment at NIH in 1982, and when I realized that his columns were collected in The Essential Earthman I immediately bought a copy. I have subsequently owned (and loaned out and thus lost) two or three more copies. As each planting season arrives I remember how much I've missed reading Henry's wisdom, and I berate myself for having loaned out (and lost) those books. So for the sake of upcoming generations of gardeners (and the old hands among us), would someone please reprint this valuable book? It's a book to read in the depth of winter and the heat of summer, in a spacious country garden or a tiny city yard, for beginning gardeners and old timers with permanently-stained hands. There never has been anyone quite like Henry Mitchell on gardening, or on life, for that matter. Grouchy, opinionated, funny, informative, brutally honest--his words will never go out of style.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 8, 1997
Format: Paperback
As a gardener sufficiently serious about it to prefer catalogs without pictures, I commend Mr. Mitchell's essays to anyone -- seedling or mighty oak -- who loves to put their hands in dirt, and needs someone to lyrically explain why. My favorite essays include: dogs in the garden, why $ spent on garden plants are toted up differently than other money spent, and why, no matter how long you garden, you are never done until you are dead
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By B. Ginder on April 24, 2003
Format: Paperback
I bought this book a few years ago based on the reviews. When I got it I tore into it and was sorely disappointed. That's the reason for 4 instead of 5 stars.
Why even 4 stars you ask? Well, about a month ago, for whatever reason, I picked it up again and now I LOVE IT!
Henry Mitchell is dry - like the soil under an oak. But he's terribly warm and fuzzy once you get to know him. I write a newsletter for my local garden club and have found quote after quote that I want to use for future issues. They're not la-dee-dah quotes that speak vaguely about the lovely joys of gardening. BLAH! Rather, they're jewels that point fingers at snobby gardeners and kill-joys who scold children for picking crocuses.
This is not a "pretty picture" book. It's sort of a how-to in an essay form. But more than that, it's great writing by a wonderful author on a topic I am crazy for.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Dianne Foster HALL OF FAME on May 7, 2000
Format: Paperback
Dear Publisher...please reprint this book. I love Henry Mitchell. I was one of the 'blessed' because I actually read Mr. Mitchell's columns (both of them) for years. I live in the Washington DC area, and subscribed to the Post. Those of us who gardened locally were twice blessed because he was not only one of the best garden writers ever, he struggled with the heat, humidity, and high winds that attack us from all sides. Whenever I am in my garden I think of him. When I look at my Japanese Anemones I remember he said "Once you have them you'll always have them." There have been times when I thought for sure they were goners, but they always survived. When I see a little plant struggling under a bush, I remember him saying, "One of these days I'll have to crawl under there and pull it out." When I see a fish tank, I think of him and his horse trough. I miss him.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Pete Wright on February 10, 2000
Format: Paperback
My original copy of "The Earthman" is in shreds. Why?
I have read (and re-read) The Earthman for more than 20 years. Every time I returned to The Earthman, I had a patient, passionate teacher by my side.
With Henry's guidance, I matured. I learned to accept the rains that turned my garden into a sea of mud. I learned to accept the dogs who had a deep need to explore and "investigate" my treasured plants.
Henry is my friend and mentor. I cannot imagine life in the garden without him.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Mary J Mills on December 28, 2001
Format: Paperback
The two books I have read cover to cover as gardening advice and as literature are this book and Christopher Lloyd's Adventurous Gardener. I have shelves of gardening and horticultural books.
It gives you more each time you read it.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By OldRoses on October 14, 2009
Format: Paperback
I was prepared to not like this book. It's just not my style. Come on, a collection of newspaper columns? We've all read the garden column in our local paper. It's horrible. Poorly written, pushing a lot of chemicals and all the newest plants. I'm an heirloom gardener. My interest is history. What were old gardens like? How did gardeners back then do things? What did they grow? Why? What worked for them and what didn't?

My favorite garden books are books about historical gardens and historical gardeners. I don't care for "modern" gardening and I absolutely loathe "how-to" books. They're a lot like those TV shows about home renovation. They make it look so easy, but when I actually try doing it myself, it's a heck of a lot more difficult. Or needs specialized tools. Or involves a lot of expensive materials. So I was prepared to dislike Mr. Mitchell and his book(s). Instead, I fell in love.

I was hooked from the first sentence: "As I write this, on June 29, it's about time for another summer storm to smash the garden to pieces, though it may hold off until the phlox, tomatoes, daylilies, and zinnias are in full sway". A real gardener! With a sense of humor! And perspective! And he grows heirlooms! In fact, in many cases, he prefers the heirlooms to newer varieties. No perfect garden here. Instead, he willingly admits to mistakes and how he corrected them.

Much to my chagrin, this is the perfect "how-to" book. He gives complete instructions on many issues and even admits when the process is difficult. He names and describes both new and old plant varieties. And provides the kind of useful information that you won't find in catalogs or nurseries: how a plant performs (or doesn't perform) in the home garden. All with a wonderful sense of humor.
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