Yes, I am a used book junkie. But this addiction sometimes yields unexpected rewards: when a 1920 copy of Helena Rutherford Ely’s A Woman’s Hardy Garden arrived in the mail this week, there was a wonderful old garden sketch tucked between the pages.


Meticulously drawn in pencil on onionskin paper, the sketch is labeled in lavish Arts and Crafts style lettering as a plan for a “Fruit Garden for Miss Laura H. Emory, Grey Rock.” There are apple and cherry trees, blackberries and a grape arbor. A raspberry hedge encloses the inner plantings of apricot and nectarine, as well as smaller shrubs marked “G.B” (gooseberry?)  and others marked “C.” (currants?)

A woman, Elise E. Terhune, has inscribed her name inside the front cover. Her handwriting covers the book’s endpapers with long lists of her garden plants and seeds, as well as little notes to herself about planting times and conditions. She writes that she intends to start Canterbury bells, foxglove and columbine in her July seedbed. Already, she writes, yellow lilies are by her hedges and under her pear tree.


Some gardener — perhaps Miss Terhune, or someone after her — carried this book into the garden as a reference. There are earth-colored fingerprints on the edges of pages all throughout the chapter, “Preparation of the Soil.” And some thrifty soul pored over the book’s list of plant prices, underlining and annotating as prices rose.  Tulips for 80 cents a dozen, anyone? The greatest expense, hired garden labor, was $1.50 per day.


Despite a terrifying fondness for spraying hellebore powder around the garden to kill insect pests (omitting the toxin’s tendency to cause strangling, severe vomiting, dizziness and eventual collapse from cardiac arrest — but helpfully mentioning a fellow gardener who died after the breeze blew her spray back into her face) the author is immensely knowledgeable and also philosophical. I especially liked this little paragraph:

“I alway think of my sins when I weed. They grow apace in the same way and are harder still to get rid of. It seems a pity sometimes not to nurture a pet one, just as it does to destroy a beautiful plant of Wild Mustard, or Queen Anne’s Lace.”

— Helena Rutherford Ely, A Woman’s Hardy Garden