Gardening is a process, ongoing and full of joys and frustrations. Landscaping, where one strips away everything, puts in a sod lawn and token tree and calls it done, is not gardening. A manicured lawn and token tree are not a garden, and in fact gardeners look askance at those empty, nearly lifeless yards just as much as we do at the weedy dead ones. If you are a gardener, you may find a book like this one inspiring and encouraging. In An Eden of Sorts, John Hanson Mitchell talks about his extensive-sounding garden and his experiences turning his less diverse tract of white pines into a very diverse, artificial edge community full of wildlife. For anyone working towards improving poor lands into beautiful gardens, Mitchell gives lots of useful insights about wildlife and the dynamics of maintaining a large, complex garden project. He also talks about his setbacks, admitting that not all his garden projects on his land were successful right away, a point many gardeners will appreciate.
The only thing I found less appealing about this book was that it was only illustrated with watercolor paintings, not photographs of the garden and its plants and wildlife. This is a light, easy read, but it offers just fleeting glimpses of explanations at very shallow depth. For readers just wanting a nice read, this book would be great, but if you want to know more about the plants and wildlife he talks about, you’ll need to look elsewhere. Mitchell does briefly address biodiversity and why his garden is more biodiverse, and he has some good insights, but I also wonder if he could have incorporated the existing plant species a little, at least retaining one pine tree instead of clear-cutting. He seemed to have an all or nothing approach to his land transformation that echoed in his disparaging remarks on the native forest he cut out of his land to make his garden. What he created sounds beautiful, but environmentalists will still have some things to raise eyebrows at. On a 10 point scale I gave this book a 6.5, as a pleasant but shallow book, worth reading, but maybe not worth buying unless it is fairly cheap.