Green Corners by Bertha Damon

aClare Leighton

It seems like ages since I read this book, I’m way behind on book posts. This is a book which I bought on the internet, not my favourite way of getting books but I was never going to come across this one in a local secondhand bookshop, so needs must. It was after I enjoyed reading Four Hedges by Clare Leighton that I decided to see what elese was available. This one is only illustrated by Clare Leighton, the author Bertha Damon, an American, wrote lots of books in the same vein I think. The blurb says: This book is for everyone who has ever lived in the country anywhere, who has a hankering to live in the country, and who likes his (sic) reading to be punctuated with laughter.

The first chapter is titled Our Neck of the Woods and the place is New Hampshire, not a place I have ever been to but I’m reliably informed that people are a bit weird around there, from someone who should know – no names, I’m not a clype! (tell-tale) and I have no wish to put my informant in danger from irate New Hampshirers, or whatever they call themselves.

Bertha Damon is ably helped in her gardening/farming by Samule, her – I suppose you would call him a handyman or odd man might be more apt. Damon herself is not a native of the state and Samule shows her how to tap trees for their maple syrup, amongst many other rural pursuits.

I suppose it’s an American version of Beverley Nichols’ gardening books and is an enjoyable look back to around 1947 when it was first published. As I only bought the book because I wanted to admire the 6 colour prints by Clare Leighton which it contains, it was a wee bit of a bonus that the book was worth reading too. It probably wouldn’t be of interest to anyone not interested in gardening and rural life of years gone by. Her most famous book is – Grandma Called It Carnal.

The above woodcut illustration is my favourite from the book. I quite fancy moving into that wee house.

Recent Book Purchases

We went to St Andrews on Saturday and I can’t resist a look in the second-hand bookshop there. I thought I was only going to buy one but ended up getting three as I stopped to have a look at the table of books outside the shop, I just had to have two from there too. So my haul was:

The Proper Place by O.Douglas
The Lowlands of Scotland by George Scott-Moncrieff
Till I End My Song by Robert Gibbings

I want to read all of O.Douglas’s books eventually.

I wanted the Lowlands of Scotland because that’s where I was born and although this is a book published in 1938 it does have a lot of black and white photos in it. It’s quite an interesting book although Scott-Moncrieff fairly slags off a lot of towns and villages as being ugly. I wonder what he would have thought of all the truly ghastly housing which was built around Scotland after the war.

I read about Robert Gibbings when I was doing a wee bit of research into Clare Leighton after I bought her book Four Hedges. Gibbings was an Irish artist and sculptor and illustrated a lot of books. This one is written by him and is one of his river books with nice illustrations, this was his last one published in 1957 when I suppose he knew he was very ill, he died the following year. Gibbings was apparently an influence on David Attenborough – luckily for us!

In the post during the week I received:

High Rising by Angela Thirkell which I had pre-ordered and it arrived on the 22nd. I’m really chuffed that this book has just been reprinted because it was difficult to find online in decent condition at a reasonable price. I already have a copy of Wild Strawberries which has also been reprinted.

From Abebooks I got Green Corners by Bertha Damon which is illustrated by Clare Leighton. It only has six full page illustrations but they are lovely. The book itself is about gardening and country life in New Hampshire of all places so it should be interesting to find out what sort of things grow there. It was published in 1947.

So out of my haul only one book is a new one, I must admit that I don’t often buy new books for myself although I do buy them as presents for other people.

Four Hedges by Clare Leighton

Four Hedges

I really bought this book because I love the illustrations by Clare Leighton, having just seen some of her work for the first time a few days before, obviously having been ripped out of books, I was amazed to stumble across the original book in an antiques/bric a brac shop.

What a find, not only are the illustrations lovely, wood block engravings, but the writing is beautiful too. Well, if you like gardens, plants and birds as I do, then this book is a treat.

It was first published in 1935 but my copy is a reprint from 1970 although I think there has been a more recent printing.

It’s an account of the writer’s experiences of making a garden from scratch in meadowland on a slope of the Chiltern Hills. It’s hard chalky ground and colder than any of the gardens in the sheltered villages, but the extra care and nurturing that the plants need just make each surviving plant all the more special for the owners.

Each chapter is one whole month, starting from April and it’s a plethora of plant names as they plan what they are going to have in the garden. A love of gardens and plants goes hand in hand with a love of wildlife as far as I’m concerned so it’s natural that the nesting birds feature almost as much as the plants do. I say ‘they’ because Noel is her companion and it was their garden, the book is dedicated To My Companion within the Four Hedges. Noel Rooke was also her teacher and he taught wood engraving to lots of people who went on to become illustrators.

One thing that is sad though is that details of all the many trees which they planted, especially the elms, make you wonder how many of them are still standing today. People always plant trees for future generations but there seem to be so many tree diseases going around the world now, it’s maybe just as well that they couldn’t look into the future. I wonder if anyone knows exactly where that garden was/is situated. I suppose it would be entirely different now anyway, it’s quite scary the way gardens revert to nature almost the minute they are left to its own devices, no matter how much love and care has been poured into them.

Anyway, I’m going to be looking for some more books by the author as she had a talent for garden writing as well as illustrating. Clare Leighton was the sister of Roland Leighton of Vera Brittain fame, they were supposedly engaged to be married before he was killed in the First World War. Clare Leighton moved to America in the late 1930s and became a citizen in 1945, her ashes are buried in Connecticut.

You can see some of her engravings here.

Autumn Break Book Purchases

I came back home with very few books this time, slim pickings indeed. I didn’t see one Angela Thirkell book but I did buy:

Fire, Burn! by John Dickson Carr
A Thatched Roof by Beverley Nichols (sequel to Down the Garden Path)
and on the way home I bought a 1970s edition of Four Hedges by Clare Leighton.

The bookshop in York, just beside the Minster is one of those ones which sells a lot of prints too. I always find that quite sad because most of them have been ripped out of books. But I couldn’t help admiring some woodblock prints by Clare Leighton, I don’t recall ever seeing anything by her before, so when I picked up a book in an antiques centre at Powburn, Northumberland I was amazed to see that the book underneath was one by Clare Leighton with 88 illustrations by her. How lucky was that?! At only £5 it was definitely coming home with me. You can see some of her work here.

When I got home I looked her up and discovered that her brother was Roland Leighton, whom I always think of as O Roland – if you’ve read Vera Brittain’s Testament of Youth you’ll know that she was engaged to him but of course he died of his wounds in 1915. Four Hedges is subtitled A Gardener’s Chronicle and needless to say I won’t be breaking it up to hang any of it on my already overcrowded walls.

So that was it, just three books bought whilst in England but today we wandered down the High Street and I went into one charity shop and ended up buying:

The Demoniacs by John Dickson Carr
Watson’s Choice by Gladys Mitchell and
Taken By The Hand by O. Douglas

I’d better get down to some serious reading at the rate the TBR pile is growing, especially as two of the books which I had requested from the library have also turned up. I still haven’t got around to sorting through the photos I took whilst we were away. Maybe tomorrow!