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First Garden: An Illustrated Garden Primer

First Garden: An Illustrated Garden Primer
C. Z. Guest
Publication Date: 

cloth, 127 p., $19.95

This is a book that can easily be read in a couple of hours. Primer is an apt word for it, for as the author clearly states at the outset, this is a book for the beginning gardener, with a simple system of rules to follow. Author C. Z. Guest makes no pretense for First Garden: An Illustrated Garden Primer; her hope is that her book will introduce readers to the joy of gardening, an activity from which she, herself, has drawn much pleasure.

But what really sets this book apart are the big names associated with it, beginning with the author herself — socialite, fashion leader and horsewoman C. Z. Guest. Then there’s her good friend Cecil Beaton, lending his hand to do the black and white illustrations. Finally, and most famously, there’s another good friend, Truman Capote, coaxed into doing an introduction for the book (short, but almost worth the price of the volume!). How many books with a horticultural bent can boast such a line-up of talent, even if the talent isn’t horticultural?

Some may scoff at this social lioness digging in the garden dirt. But it’s hard to scoff at her credits: author of three garden books, a nationally syndicated newspaper columnist and lecturer, and head of her own line of C. Z. garden products. Still, when you read Guest’s chapter on arranging flowers and catch her going on about "camellia bushes and lemon trees in the entrance hall," the lady of the manor comes through — and you wonder if she understands her readership. And when, in the 12 by 12 starter vegetable plot she recommends for her beginners, Guest has them growing five tomato plants plus all the other vegetables she delights over, you have to question the practicality of some of her advice.

The lady has a certain style, and I couldn’t help enjoying her book. But I would have to say it has more charm than substance, and will probably end up a collector’s item, more for the names attached to the book than for what’s in it!

— Jim Kemper