Two for the Show: How Does Your Garden Grow?

by Phyl­lis Root and Jacque­line Brig­gs Martin

It’s high sum­mer in the gar­den, with an abun­dance of veg­eta­bles to har­vest and flow­ers abuzz with pol­li­na­tors. Crunchy car­rots, leafy kale, sun-warm toma­toes, gar­lic bulbs, green beans, zuc­chi­ni (some gigan­tic) all offer them­selves to the gar­den­er. But more grows in a gar­den than plants. Peo­ple grow, too, and con­nec­tions between peo­ple take root and blos­som. Two love­ly pic­ture books about grow­ing things and the peo­ple who grow with them are The Gar­den­er by Sarah Stew­art with pic­tures by David Small (Far­rar, Strauss, Giroux , 1997) and The Grandad Tree by Trish Cooke, illus­trat­ed by Sharon Wil­son (Can­dlewick Press, 2000).

bk_gardner178The Gar­den­er is an epis­to­lary pic­ture book (a cat­e­go­ry wor­thy of its own blog post), told in let­ters from a young girl, Lydia Grace, sent from her home in the coun­try to live in the city with her Uncle Jim dur­ing the Depres­sion until “things get bet­ter.” She writes first to her Uncle Jim, then back home to Mama, Papa, and Grand­ma. Although Uncle Jim doesn’t ever smile, Lydia Grace is excit­ed by the win­dow box­es she sees in the city, by learn­ing to bake bread in her uncle’s bak­ery, and by the store cat Otis who sleeps on her bed.

With help from her fam­i­ly back home who sends her bulbs and seedlings and seed cat­a­logues, from Emma who works in the bak­ery with her hus­band Ed, and from neigh­bors who give her con­tain­ers in which to plant flow­ers and call her “the gar­den­er,” Lydia Grace sets about mak­ing gar­dens in pots and fill­ing win­dows box­es with radish­es onions, and let­tuce. But what fills her with “great plans” is her dis­cov­ery at the top of a fire escape of the building’s roof (shown in a word­less spread), lit­tered with trash and just wait­ing for the dirt she hauls from a vacant lot.

All the while, Lydia hopes for a smile from Uncle Jim.

When her “secret place” is ready, Lydia Grace, Emma, and Ed bring Uncle Jim to the roof gar­den in a glo­ri­ous dou­ble page word­less spread, which par­al­lels the first view of the roof, now transformed.

A week lat­er, when Lydia Grace learns that her papa has got a job and that she’s going home Uncle Jim clos­es the shop, sends Ed and Emma and Lydia Grace to the roof gar­den, and brings Lydia Grace a cake cov­ered in flow­ers. Lydia Grace writes, “I tru­ly believe that cake equals one thou­sand smiles.” The last page, also word­less, shows Uncle Jim hug­ging Lydia Grace as they wait for her to board the train home. In the grim grey city, Lydia Grace has grown more than beau­ti­ful flow­ers and a gar­den, she has grown a con­nec­tion with her uncle, Emma, Ed, and the neigh­bors. As she writes in the P. S. of her last let­ter, “We gar­den­ers nev­er retire.” In this book, the deep­est emo­tions are not said in words but with flow­ers, with cake, and with silent hugs. Even the word­less spreads con­vey the book’s heart — that plants and peo­ple can bloom in the grayest surroundings.

bk_grandadtreeLGThe spare poet­ic words of The Grandad Tree begin,

There is a tree

at the bot­tom of Leigh’s garden.

An apple tree.

Vin, Leigh’s big broth­er, said

it start­ed as a seed

and then grew

and grew.

And Vin said

that tree,

where they used to play

with Grandad,

that apple tree

will be there…


The text goes on to tell how Grandad was a baby once, then a boy who climbed coconut trees near the sea where he lived, then a man and a hus­band and a dad and a grand­dad for Leigh and Vin. “That’s life,” Grandad would say.

 The apple tree blos­soms in spring as the art shows Vin and Leigh play­ing ball with Grandad. In sum­mer, as the apples grow, Grandad plays his vio­lin for the chil­dren under the tree. He watch­es them har­vest apples as the leaves fall, and he watch­es from the win­dow as they build a snow­man in the win­ter. The text continues,

And some­times things die,

like trees,

like peo­ple…

            like Grandad.

Leigh and Vin and their mom­ma remem­ber Grandad as Vin plays his vio­lin, and Leigh plants a seed beside the apple tree to grow and grow, to go through changes, and for them to love for­ev­er and ever

            just like they’ll always love Grandad.

In few words and glow­ing illus­tra­tions, Cooke and Wil­son bring togeth­er the sea­sons of a tree and of a life lived and show how while things change, some things, like Leigh and Vin’s love for Grandad and his for them, will last forever.

Com­fort, love, rela­tion­ships can all bloom along with the wide world of grow­ing things. Even when har­vest is upon us gar­den­ers, it’s good to remem­ber that seeds will hold next year’s gar­dens close inside. Who knows what will blos­som there beyond fruits and flowers?

Oth­er books about grow­ing things that we love:

  • Cher­ries and Cher­ry Pits by Vera B. Williams
  • Farmer Duck by Mar­tin Waddell
  • Miss Rumphius by Bar­bara Cooney
  • The Tree Lady: The True Sto­ry of How One Tree-Lov­ing Woman Changed a City For­ev­er by H. Joseph Hopkins
  • Wangari’s Trees of Peace by Jeanette Winter
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David LaRochelle
David LaRochelle
8 years ago

What beau­ti­ful books! Although not a pic­ture book, anoth­er “gar­den” book that I just read that involved grow­ing a com­mu­ni­ty and find­ing heal­ing was “Seed Folks” by Paul Fleischman.

Liza Ketchum
8 years ago

Phyl­lis and Jack­ie have writ­ten two of the best gar­den books I know. Check out Jack­ie’s book Will Allen and the Grow­ing Table, and Phyl­lis’s Plant a Pock­et of Prairie. Both are inspiring!