Archive for February 19th, 2013


The Jewel Box Garden by Thomas Hobbs. Raincoast Books 2004.

Winter is the perfect time for mulling over ways to improve on your own garden and to discover new ideas for next season. To this end, reading about the gardens other dedicated gardeners have created can be very fruitful and satisfying. One of the books I enjoyed this winter was Thomas Hobbs’ The Jewel Box Garden.

Jewel Box is a treat for winter-weary eyes, being filled from cover to cover with the beautiful photographs of David McDonald. Hobbs own garden is situated around his stunning 1930s Mission Revival home, nestled on a cliffside high above Spanish Banks beach. The site itself is so beautiful, overlooking as it does ocean, mountains and city, that I imagine one could gaze all day without ever tiring of the view. With limited gardening opportunities, Hobbs suggests every inch of available space should be taken advantage of to create a sparkling jewel-box of a garden, filled with colourful, eye-pleasing combinations. Although the west coast region around Vancouver, British Columbia is mild compared to much of Canada, I still spotted plants I would like to try, and interesting garden ideas that would be applicable anywhere.


The Jewel Box Garden offers more than just eye-candy. Hobbs’ writing is witty and opinionated and fun to read. My favorite paragraph was this take on suburban yards:

One of the mysteries of my life is repeated every day. I drive to and from work and cannot help but notice block after block of very average-income homes that appear hopelessly un-gardeny. It is almost a case of one-upmanship to be the most unplanted, least cared for but absolutely occupied. To me, it is a drive through the Valley of Death. Expensive cars, new basketball hoops, satellite television receivers and white plastic patio furniture are everywhere. I ask myself, “What do these people care about, anyway?” Occasionally I’ll spot a stranded tree peony, blooming its heart out, stoned on ugly. Or a maypole-type clothes-line bedecked with absolutely fried plastic hanging baskets. The botanical equivalent of a car crash.

LOL! I have to admit to having had much the same thoughts. Who are these people, who have time to surround themselves with nothing but ugly? Life is too short! As for basket trees, my judgement isn’t quite as harsh. I think of them as a sort of garden kitsch, the velvet Elvis paintings of gardening.

pot pole

In The Roots of My Obsession, Hobbs writes of an early infatuation with plants, in spite of the fact that no one in his family had the slightest interest in gardening.

Plants adopted me, I think. My parents did their best, but with six kids and their own drinking problems, I was up for grabs. Plants led me into a series of successful plant-related businesses. They steered me away from university, and wisely so. Plants decided to use me, I think. Or was it the other way round? I hope not.

Hobbs entry is one of thirty short essays in The Roots of My Obsession, in which gardeners write about how they became interested in gardening, or what it is about gardening that keeps them digging. Included are many well-known garden writers such as Penelope Hobhouse, Rick Darke, Ken Druse, Fergus Garrett, and a host of others. It’s a light, entertaining read and its fun and enlightening to learn of how others came to this shared passion.


The Roots of My Obsession ed. Thom. cooper. Timber Press 2012

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