That it should come to this

So I’m swanning around Washington DC, and wander into a huge bookshop, with the intention of checking out the garden books.  In the pre-internet days we didn’t see any American garden books in Australia, and I’ve still got it in my head that I might stumble on a huge untapped resource of inspiring reading.

I looked high and low for the garden section, and having passed the Photography section, the five (approx) cooking sections, the American History section, the Civil War section, the Architecture section and the Pet section, amongst others, I gave up and went for the door.  I was headed off by one of the staff who asked if he could help. By then I was suspecting that the lack of gardening section reflected the general opinion, and that it might be wiser not to admit I was looking for one.  I wouldn’t have been surprised if he’d pointed at me, laughed out loud, and called the other staff over to share the joke.

But he didn’t laugh.  He took me to the garden section.  The major heading on the shelves (where the label ‘Pets’ went, for instance, at the other end of the store) was ‘Remodelling & Renovation’ (image above).

The subheading for the part that included garden books was labelled as follows.


Even Carpentry had its own subsection nearby for heaven’s sake (albeit with a little overlap in the stock)



  1. I can’t believe it! It would be funny if it wasn’t so awful. Did you get to another bookshop? Maybe nobody actually gardens in Washington D C.

  2. i have spent almost all day in front of the fire researching……… books everywhere on the floor, a sweet indulgence.
    Let us hope that your encounter , or lack there of, only means that books are being sold on line ; not that there are no new American garden books.
    ‘The Garden in Autumn ‘ by Allen Lacey was very influential in the development of a garden style and emphasis 20 years ago.

    Perhaps all this has been replaced by blogs…… digestible snippets. Though i am not including you Michael. I am so grateful your books are on my shelves.

  3. Feel the need to clarify – put that down to jet lag. There was at least a row and a half of garden books (nearly all paperback, and nearly all of that type that are proudly practical, but curiously disempowering). My point is that the section of the shop wasn’t labelled anything as down-home, as irrelevant, so frankly boring as ‘Gardening’, but in order to raise them to new heights of engagement, are displayed under ‘Cleaning and home reference’.

  4. Hi, Michael,

    Before we all start feeling sorry for poor Americans, I’m sure you will check out a few more bookshops? I’m hoping it’s only just this particular location, bookstore chain, or even the local manager, that for one reason or another, demand a total disregard of gardening.

  5. This isn’t confined to American bookshops at all. Many Sydney bookshops no longer have a section labelled ‘Gardening’. They’re called ‘Home and decor’ or ‘Home and Lifestyle’ or ‘Renovation and Outdoor’ and are mostly not gardening books. It’s very sad. In the 1990s, the meterage of gardening books v cooking books was about 3:1 – now I’d say it’s about 1:10 and a gardening book is much more likely to get on the shelves if it’s about growing something to eat. This must be the most food obsessed decade ever.

  6. Don’t tease the Americans, Michael, they’ll know. And you may cause an international incident from which we’ll be forced to rescue you.
    “Honestly, Mr President, it was the jet-lag. He didn’t know what he was doing with that constitutional amendment demanding the standardization of sub-section headings in all book shops.”

  7. That was so funny but still a problem in many book shops here I have found. I do love some of the ideas in 50’s gardening books but the accompanying photos are of very poor quality unfortunately. Your photos are great on your blog thank you.

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