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Onward and Upward in the Garden

3.97  ·  Rating details ·  232 ratings  ·  33 reviews
Katharine White began working at The New Yorker in 1925, the year of its founding, and was an editor there for thirty-four years, shaping the careers of such writers as John O'Hara, Vladimir Nabokov, and Jean Stafford. Throughout and beyond those years she was also a gardener. In 1958, when her job as editor was coming to a close, White wrote the first of a series of ...more
Paperback, 400 pages
Published April 12th 2002 by Beacon Press (first published 1979)
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Average rating 3.97  · 
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Oct 09, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Dov Charney
Shelves: got-rid-of

Be warned, most of this volume is about....seed catalogs. White reviews them as if they were books. Even for someone interested in seeds, botany, and yes, seed catalogs, like me, it's a bit much. She's also writing in the 50s and 60s, so a lot of the cultivars she's talking about have probably gone the way of the dodo.

I can't say the personality that came through the writing was all that attractive. Her writing style is what I consider fussy - "I shall" for "I will," and unnecessarily archaic -
Not really a longer review, but more thoughts:
Something as simple and ephemeral as a seed catalog is something that shouldn't be this fascinating, but the essays the Katharine S. White build around them, the world of her garden and her advice, make them that way. Even though the objects are transient, the role they play in gardening and White's own experiences aren't and that's what makes the collection of essays sparkle.

Longer review when I'm done with travel, but I absolutely love
Jun 21, 2010 rated it it was amazing
As a gardener myself, in addition to being an avid fan of The New Yorker, this collection of articles (first published in The New Yorker in the late 1950's) is a dream come true. Katharine White, the wife of EB White and a famed editor in her own right, was a reader and collector of gardening catalogs which she poured over from her house in Maine during the snowy wintery housebound months in frozen Brookline. From these cataogs she made her seed and plant lists for the Spring and dreamed of ...more
Jenn Estepp
For someone who can't garden at all, I sure do like to read books about it. And, I guess, about seed catalogs published in the mid-twentieth century by revered New Yorker editors and lovingly assembled by her husband (who happens to be the author of one of the most adored children's books of all times) after her death.
Apr 11, 2009 rated it really liked it
I've never met an opinionated gardener I like more than the late Katharine S. White. The essays in this book shaped me somewhat, to the extent that they helped me accept my own gardening prejudices and limitations. More than anything, though, they helped me to dream, to visualize perfection in my own little piece of sod. I've come close to that mark a couple of times, but not on the shady lot we now call home. This is a book for winter months, the times you'd like nothing better than to sink ...more
Jan 31, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, essays
I skimmed this quickly, enjoying it as I did, despite being only a vicarious gardener.

The Introduction by her widower, E. B. White, added a lot to my reading experience.

These essays evoke a time and a way of living now gone. They also transported me, a lifelong Californian, to a Maine farm.

I found certain essays of particular interest, including those which touched on fragrances of flowers, dwarf fruit trees, and the work ethic (in and out of the garden).

Jul 30, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Delightful, though we disagree about petunias.
Jun 06, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a compilation of New Yorker articles from the 50's and 60's on gardening. I loved the introduction by Katharine White's husband, E.B. White. Many of the articles are reviews of seed and flower catalogues, others are reviews of gardening books. Interspersed among the reviews are snippets about her own garden in Maine. I enjoyed her opinions and especially liked the fact that she buffs her gourds while watching the World Series! About the 1880 forest resources Census she says "(How ...more
Summer Bingo-Free Space
I love reading seed catalogues and old gardening books, so Onward and Upward in the Garden was a real treat for me! I look forward to re-reading these essays during the dark, cold days of winter.
Jun 03, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I will admit this book is not for everyone and if you are not passionate about flowers and flower gardening or reading about a woman living in the 50's then just skip this book.

I found it to be a treasure! I did take my time reading it, I think this is the longest I have ever taken to finish a book! I chose to pick it up at different times of different seasons when my interest was inspired. This is not a book to be read at one time. Katharine had spunk and she drew me in right off the bat and
Jun 16, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
What an unexpected collection! I confess I only had patience to skim this one, but found her tone and perspective on gardening and flower species and catalogues fascinating. She struck me as a highly intelligent woman who took very seriously her hobby of gardening, and invested heart, soul, and intellect into her reviews.
Diane Webber-thrush
Apr 11, 2015 rated it liked it
Delightful. I read it more as a memoir of an obsession than anything else. Love her line about "I read in dream" about how she reads gardening and seed catalogs. Three stars because it won't be everyone's cup of tea. But it's a gentle tonic that I really enjoyed. My first book from the NY Review of Books Club -- perfect timing with spring.
Katherine Kreuter
Nov 21, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I found this book on my late mother's bookshelf and picked it out as I couldn't stand what I'd brought with me on this trip (a very long if worthy biography of Joseph Stalin). I'd take gardening over politics any day. I'm so glad I read this - brilliant clear prose, amusing when it suits but never self-consciously so, interesting choice of detail and anecdote, great passion for the subject. It's a compilation of pieces she wrote for her former employer, The New Yorker, when she retired from her ...more
Sep 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing
To the pantheon of great explorers - Marco Polo, Columbus, Lewis and Clark - let's add Katherine White. No, she didn't find a continent or the source of the Nile, but she did discover an entirely new literary genre: the garden catalog. Who among us hasn't pored happily over the Burpee seed catalog, or the White Flower Farms bulletin? They brighten those long winter days just as much as any mystery or novel, inviting the reader to dream of riches to come. White discusses everything from the ...more
Jun 19, 2017 rated it really liked it
Was weirdly fascinated by this book. A collection of essays written over the span of Katharine S. White's career at the New Yorker, reviewing and musing on annual seed catalogues, the people who create them, and gardening in general. Made interesting by her pointed and particular opinions -- old fashioned, stubborn, sassy. Combination of time capsule and timeless, some parts were still relevant and others were pretty skimmable.

The part that made the biggest impression on me, though, was EB
Nov 18, 2017 rated it really liked it
Simple and beautifully written essays with a central theme of seed catalogs. It made me nostalgic for my childhood when I found seed catalogs were the most interesting “magazine” delivered to our farm. With that said, I would not necessarily recommend this book to just anyone.

There were plenty of great quotes throughout:
“Though activities of the local garden club are generally benign and beneficial, the scene changes a bit when you get to the state level...”
May 29, 2017 rated it really liked it
since i was a copywriter for 11 years i was interested in the format of these essays. truly enjoyed...and the gardening wisdom was fantastic. i will be buying this book.
Jun 22, 2017 rated it really liked it
Rambling but fun. I could read it again and enjoy it again, but there are so many unread books out there.
Lynn  Davidson
May 12, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Katharine S. White was an editor at the New Yorker for thirty-four years. Near the end of that job she began writing garden pieces in a column called Onward and Upward in the Garden, and over the next twelve years her series grew to fourteen pieces in print. Katharine had become a well-respected garden writer who researched thoroughly for each piece.

Katharine was convinced by a writer friend that her garden essays were worthy of being published as a book, but it wasn’t until after Katharine’s
Jul 06, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: gardening
Very interesting gardening book, but there are references to either nurseries which are no longer in business and plant varieties which are inferior to what is currently on the market. That is one of the things which happens when you read a gardening book from the 60's and 70's. If you are interested in antique/heirloom varieties, then this has some information for you. Katherine White's enthusiasm shines through. At times I am sure she felt like Sysiphus trying to garden on the coast of Maine. ...more
Nicolas Mertens
Apr 10, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: essays, folio-society
Not much of gardener myself, living in a small apartment in a major city, many moments of this book gave me such a beautiful Wild Strawberries-esque moments of spending time with my grandmother as a young boy and being hosed off afterwards and ruining my new shoes—O the look on my mother's face! It was with these feelings, I realized the depth of these essays and stories, it was if I was reading Proust or Barthes emotionally, but at the same time the content of what I'm reading is Katharine S ...more
Jan 14, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction, ebook
This is about gardening and gardening books (mostly seed and flower catalogs) so why is it so entertaining? A total delight, especially when she gets all het up over the rules for flower arranging. I read before bed and it always put me to sleep happy.
Apr 25, 2016 rated it really liked it
One only wishes that Katherine S. White (wife of E.B. White) and noted editor had written more. Her scholarship is impressive and her voice is personal, yet formal, in this collection of essays which are a compendium of garden facts, history, and seed catalogue and garden book reviews.
Mar 24, 2015 rated it liked it
These essays were definitely outdated, talking a lot about the writing in garden catalogues. Several topics were interesting, obsessions with gardens, picking out seeds, flower arrangements, cultural influences on gardens, etc.
Jun 25, 2009 rated it liked it
Collection of pieces written by Katharine White wrote for The New Yorker. In 1958 she wrote the first of a series of fourteen garden pieces that appeared over the next twelve years. Married to E. B. White the intro is written by him. An essential book for gardeners and writers alike.
Jul 01, 2015 rated it really liked it
great book - thoroughly enjoyed her thoughts & reflections on everything from gardening catalogs & books to (at the time) modern flower arranging & floral shows :). A wonderful glimpse into the world of gardening in the mid 20th century :).
Feb 24, 2010 rated it it was amazing
I love this book! just the thing for thinking about spring gardening.....
I think that my 1982 reading of this wonderful memoir was my second time.
May 09, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
A great book on gardening, and the love of planning your garden, even when the snow is on the ground.
Sep 28, 2010 rated it liked it
I really enjoyed this, but reading it all at once can be a little dull. It's easy to switch to another read in-between sections of this one.
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Katharine White worked at the New Yorker for more than 35 years. She began as a reader of manuscripts and ended her career there as a valued editor. She never became as well known as her husband, E.B. White, but her influence on the magazine was enormous. To many of her authors (among whom were John Updike, Jean Stafford, Nadine Gordimer, S.N. Behrman) she was a mother figure and a treasured ...more
“As the years went by and age overtook her, there was something comical yet touching in her bedraggled appearance on this awesome occasion—the small, hunched-over figure, her studied absorption in the implausible notion that there would be yet another spring, oblivious to the ending of her own days, which she knew perfectly well was near at hand, sitting there with her detailed chart under those dark skies in the dying October, calmly plotting the resurrection. —E. B. White” 0 likes
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