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The generosity of gardeners, comrades of the spade

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Garden writing, also, is all about being “communicative,” about sharing ideas and experiences, collaborating. “I merely wish to talk to you on paper,” Mrs. E.W. Earle begins "Pot-Pourii From a Surrey Garden."

Gardening is personal. And the best garden writers — like the best gardeners — are opinionated people. While willing to share horticultural secrets and help solve horticultural mysteries, we can be cranky and prejudiced. We may do things in distinct ways, we may not like the same plants or the same color combinations, but we are comrades of the spade.

Moreover, most gardeners are as generous with their praise as with their criticism. One reader, for instance, wrote to tell me that I erred, that Anna Comstock’s "Handbook of Nature-Study" was written in 1911, not 1939. Then she softened her censure, explaining that the book was also one of her favorites, that she had discovered it when a college student, and that she was delighted to see me refer to it.

Another gardener, a man in his 90s, wrote that “I liked your article, but I was amazed to read that your bleeding-hearts don’t self-sow. Mine do — I bought them at the Woolworth store in the 1930s. You’re welcome to a sample. Come and help yourself,” he added, giving me directions to his house. “Go on in through the side gate — I won’t be home — and dig up whatever you see that you don’t have. I will like thinking of my plants growing in your garden.”

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