THERE WAS a time when rich American gardeners would plant mint
around their swimming pools just to mow it for bathers who liked
walking on scented leaves.
There are stories about a turn-of-the-century botanist who
instructed all of his students to stare at new plants for three
days straight before doing any reading on the species.
And there are rumors that a rich industrialist felt so guilty
about his company's output that he created a world-class,
environmentally sound garden as an antidote.
What all of these eccentric gardeners have in common is that
they did their plantings in the Midwest.
A new book called "Gardens of the Heartland" ($45, Abbeville
Press) documents how their efforts live on in beautiful, often
unheralded gardens that are open to the public.
Laura C. Martin, the author of the Heartland guide, visited the
Missouri Botanical Garden recently as part of a country-wide tour
for her book.
But she wasn't the only garden writer of national stature to
come through town.
In the heat and haze of summer - when many gardeners are taking
a break from work outside to read about the work they'll start next
fall - Ann Lovejoy arrived.
She was here to collect an award for garden book of the year
from the American Horticultural Society, holding its annual meeting
in St. Louis for the first time.
In her "Further Along the Garden Path" ($40, Macmillan Inc.),
Lovejoy celebrates American plantings of a very different kind.
Lovejoy's gardens are recent creations from the Northwest by
residents within a 10-mile radius of her home, near Seattle. And
her choices are as quirky and small-scale as they are '90s
cutting-edge, all written up in the style of a month-by-month
reflection on the joys of a gardening life.
Talks with these two authors uncover equal doses of passion for
observing the ways that diverse groups of people have related to
their own little patches of land.
For Martin's part, the Heartland book follows a study of
gardens in her own part of the country - the South.
In that earlier work, the handsome, dark-haired Atlanta native
and former newspaper columnist focused on romantic histories and
opulent facades of several Southern gardens.
In the Midwest, she found something quite different.
"I was unprepared," Martin says, "for the depth of the
research, the collections and the excellence of display in the
She discovered soil-rich areas that had been pioneered in the
last century by settlers who literally busted the sod. In the
bargain, these settlers eliminated many prairies, forests and
native plants. But some of the Midwestern gardens that have taken
their place are restoration projects.
These are gardens that "evoke the natural wonders of the past,
imitate, emulate and even perhaps improve on the present-day
natural landscape of their region."
Her research included trips to six arboretums, five parks,
seven community gardens, six estates and eight botanical gardens,
including St. Louis' own. Besides lively histories and lush photos
by Allen Rokach, her book gives detailed travel tips on each.
"Great estates" is the category that features gardens
established by some of this country's more interesting, early
It was engineer/industrialist Charles Kelley King who mowed the
mint for swimmers visiting what is now Kingwood Center - a series
of themed flower gardens and landscaped terraces surrounding his
French Provincial mansion, Kingwood Hall, near Mansfield, Ohio.
George G. Booth, publisher of the Detroit Evening News, was the
force behind Cranbrook House and Gardens at Bloomfield Hills, Mich.
Booth's love of the arts-and-crafts movement in America lead him,
at his family estate, to focus on "landscape architecture that he
considered one of the essential arts," says Martin. It is also one
of the largest public gardens in the country to be maintained
solely by volunteers. …