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June 23, 1985|BARBARA SALTZMAN

THE AMERICAN WOMAN'S GARDEN by Rosemary Verey and Ellen Samuels (Little, Brown: $29.95). How ironic that the most comprehensive tour of some of America's most intriguing private gardens should be undertaken by an English woman. But not too surprising. Verey may be the most astute and influential observer of contemporary gardening writing today. Her entrancing "The Englishwoman's Garden," which led to the equally compelling "The Englishman's Garden," has become something of a modern classic. Each captures the essence of the personal gardening experience of individuals whose prose--and gardening--style ranges from the ornate to the spare, from the perfectly ordered to the free-flowing. Like each garden, each essay illuminates individual horticultural corners while contributing to a provocative overview. In this volume, Verey groups gardens by type: historic; country; city and town; estate; perennials; collectors and specialists. Color photos beautifully complement the text. The sense of history, time and place that pervade every essay come into perspective in American garden writer Ellen Samuels' perceptive epilogue, which brings the disparate strands together. Through it all run the small satisfactions and larger disappointments that come to all addicted to working and tinkering with nature. The best gardens are working canvases that change daily, not just from season to season but from hour to hour, even moment to moment. They possess continuity and individuality, yielding constant frustration and constant pleasure: "satisfaction for those who garden, and joy for those who visit," as Verey puts it. That Verey began with American women's gardens, as she did with English women's gardens is no accident, for gardening has long been one of the few creative pastimes available to females, a "respectable" and non-threatening pursuit. Yet, women horticulturalists have proved visionary and much of their vision can be seen on these pages. While very few of us will be blessed with grounds quite as grand as those illustrated here, they surely will inspire efforts in kind.

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