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A Garden in Lucca: Finding Paradise in Tuscany    by Paul Gervais order for
Garden in Lucca
by Paul Gervais
Order:  USA  Can
Hyperion, 2000 (2000)

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* * *   Reviewed by Mary Ann Smyth

I dabble in gardening; love getting rich dirt under my fingernails as I putter in what I will now laughingly call my garden. I am a gardener. Paul Gervais is a gardener. His book is a witty tale lovingly told of the transition from someone who was my kind of gardener into a knowledgeable man who could hold his own with the finest of garden mavens. The author and his partner bought a Renaissance Tuscan hunting lodge whose sprawling grounds were overgrown and badly in need of tender, loving care. In the rolling hills on the outskirts of the town of Lucca in Tuscany, Paul and Gil rolled up their sleeves and began the monumental task of renovating both house and gardens.

Gervais feels that gardens can tell you as much about people as the clothes they wear, the food they serve, and the books they read. He states that 'Gardening is a credo; it matters not how the soul comes to be saved, only that we plight our faith. The garden is a temple. This book, a personal account, tells of what I found within the sacred walls' of Villa Massei. His story started off slowly but picked up momentum as I turned its pages. Unfortunately his use of Latin names for the plants, trees and shrubs left me at the starting post. I wished for common names so that I could better picture what he wrote.

But this didn't diminish the joy I experienced in reading the book. It explains wine making in terms I can understand. The author's reverence for the olive oil of the region has me yearning for a taste. Exquisite meals are described in every detail, making my salivary glands work overtime. And there are touches of humour. In the midst of a clutch of old tools, the author found an odd one that looked like an instrument of medieval torture but in truth was a manure taster! 'Manure tasting was once a highly respected profession in those parts and was the only reliable way to establish quality and price.'

The gardener who came to the new owners with the purchase of the house states, when asked to take down a tree, 'It never spoke to me.' When the author inquires of a neighbor how he feels, the reply is 'I lack the ground under my feet.' The gardener's wife, playing the role of maid at a swanky dinner party, clears the dishes from the table while shouting 'Andiamo. Let's go. Hand them up.' as she scrapes and stacks the china at the head of the table. There is a very amusing episode over the possible sale of Villa Massei.

AGarden in Lucca is a light and airy book about a very serious matter. Many of us congratulate ourselves on a pretty little garden gracing our home. The author has taken front yard puttering to the nth degree and produced what must be a work of art. I mourn that there are no photographs in this book, which is a keeper for any gardener, to be referred to time and again.

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