October 19, 2015


I am smitten by Amy Goldman's latest book, which will be published October 27.

Sometime, even I discover books and authors in the most traditional of ways ---from a friend.

 I made such a discovery last week - via a friend, of course. A few weeks ago, I received a package in the mail containing a gem - Amy Goldman's brand new book (being released this week) HEIRLOOM HARVEST - Modern Daguerreotypes of Historic Garden Treasures (Bloomsbury) with beautifully illustrated with surprisingly engaging Daguerreotypes by noted photographer Jerry Spagnoli.  It is a book which surprised me in a few ways, because it delivers on so many levels. I like to imagine that if it appealed to me on these levels, that it may appeal to you to.

I came to know Amy Goldman quite indirectly - through my dear friend Abbie Zabar, the artist, author and plantswoman who frequently fills my email box with delightful "must reads" and "Matt-must-get's". Abbie, who has this uncanny ability to connect people with her "I know that these people should know each other" mind - - did just that, via email

I knew about Amy Goldman's work, but only on a superficial level. Many people have mentioned her books to me in passing, and I have to admit that the covers always intrigued me, but I really can't say why I never bothered to order one, or pick one up at a book store? (I mean, where is there a bookstore, anyway?). Sometimes, I do wish that I lived in the city. If you are not familiar with Amy Goldman Fowler, she is first and foremost, a gardener with an extraordinary life history. She is an author ( 3 books, each one award-winning(, a writer (as seen in Martha Stewart Living magazine, the New York Times, she is an artist, (I will always remember those bronze cast squashes!). She is also a philanthropist with deep family roots in New York City. Most importantly, she is an advocate for seed saving, specifically heirloom fruits and vegetables. Amy is one of the foremost heirloom plant conservationists in the United States, if not the world today.".

Did I mention that she was also nominated for a James Beard Award.

So….let's say this….she's kind-of qualified to write a book on heirloom vegetables.

For whatever reason, I have never seemed to have acquired one of Amy's books - maybe I assumed that because they were designed so slickly, that they might contain shallow content - I now admit, that I had no idea what lay inside those books. 

Look, there are plenty of writers today who write about gardens.  There are plenty of garden writers who write about their experiences in gardens, and then there are those few people like Amy Goldman, who have the magic combination(if not gift) to immerse themselves in a subject so deeply that they can't help but learn most everything one ever needed to know about the subject. This deep-dive lends not only credibility to Amy's writing, but it makes for a great read as well.

Believe me, these sort of authors are rare today. So as many of us moan about the lack of the great garden writers, and look to the past, the 'Ruth Stouts', the Thalasa Cruso's'', Gertrude Jeckyl's and the, Vita Sackville West's. I believe that what we have here is indeed, our own American 'Vita Sackville West. Someone with the means, the care and passion to collect, grow and document what many of us can only dream of growing. Heady stuff to say, I admit, but when one looks at the scope and knowledge that factors into such a book, I think it's safe to say that it is a significant piece of work, at least visually.

It's the text that I really enjoy in this book. More! I want more!

Some of you may be familiar with her earlier books,  The Heirloom Tomato from Garden to Table, (2008), Melons for the Passionate Grower, (2002),  and the Compleat Squash - A Passionate Grower's Guide To Pumpkins, Squashes and Gourds (Artisan, 2004) - (this one I almost bought! Really!). What's important to note here is the word 'authentic'. Amy has grown these plants on her farm, from the gnarliest heirloom curcurbit to the sloppiest rotten melon. This sort of first-hand analysis and study is not only rare in todays published works, it may be nonexistent aside from Amy.

 What I really connected with in this book, which I first felt might have so easily just been a 'pretty book with nice images', was Amy's deep passion. It surprised me, as I read the first few pages ( and then the entire book just after I opened it on my vacation week two weeks ago). We share some foundational quirks - both started by exhibiting her veggies in state fairs and in competitions at horticultural societies, raising Indian Runner Ducks, and searching for unusual plants and heritage breeds - if I had a life to live over again, it would be Amy Goldman's, which is why I enjoyed reading about her journey so much.

The real star of this book are the photographs by Jerry Spagnoli. Dageurrotypes actually, so unique and lovely -  (think - Cival War style images) of Amy's gardens and plant crops harvested through the seasons.

Amy's books are also visual treasures, often winning design and production awards as well ( her first book, Melons for the Passionate Grower was nominated for several awards, including the Garden Writers Association of America 2003 Garden Globe Award for Achievement, and numerous Bookbinder's Awards for design and production, not to mention a James Beard Foundation Award for Best Design. Clearly, her books are not only comprehensive, but thoughtfully designed as well.

In a world full of mobile phones and fast media, one has to give credit to anyone who cares enough to see through the hype and hyperbole which sometimes can surround trends such as the 'farm-to-table' movement and heirloom tomatoes 0 it would be too easy to dismiss any book on these subjects as taking advantage of a noble cause of the moment. Let me assure you, this is no such book.Given what you now know about Amy's life, you can see what has informed this work of hers.

Black and white photos don't always inspire but these daguerreotypes are beautiful, and really add a tone a book which could at first, just be 'a book about pictures of heirloom vegetables'. This book is much more.

This photo of Joe watering the chrysanthemums in the greenhouse this weekend. -Our lives are surrounded by history, an old home, an older farm stone walls and plows - even the plant varieties and livestock each  have a story. Amy surely senses it all, and combines history, heritage with contemporary life in a respectful and uncommercial  way that makes everything feel more connected( in a world, which ironically really isn't all  that 'connected' with itself at all).

This weekend we picked the last of our heirloom onions and shallots. In the evening when I flipped through Amy's book, I could imagine how they planned their shots, since this is exactly what veggies really look like - when one raises interesting and heirloom types. Not, typical supermarket commercial selections.

A contemporary view from The Heirloom Harvest by Amy Goldman, of her greenhouse and garden. Perhaps you can see why I feel so connected to this lifestyle, albeit on a completely different scale!

Now, I am on a mission to read Amy Goldman's other works. For a gardener like me, who happens to have his own, personal history of experience with plants, particularly vegetable, I have found few books that offer either inspiration or help, often turning to vintage texts from the 19th Century since they somehow are more helpful, since they are always written with first-hand experience. I now know that Amy's books will do the same.

We with gardens always can learn more, knowing HOW someone grew the leek, or how they discovered that salsify really isn't that easy to master, or even, how they 'effed it up and tried again. It all adds to a collective knowledge which most of us need to discover (mostly because few of us have a grandparent who could advise on on exactly what does a Belgian Endive require each month, to be properly forced in the root cellar).

A winter view of Amy Goldman's farm.

If I had any complaints (and I do, but all are minor), the biggest is so superficial that I fill silly saying it - it's that gorgeous finish on the cover (a flat, uncoated varnish), it looks great, but it lends itself to fingerprints (yeah - maybe I have greasy fingers, but they are often dirty!). I also felt that this book is large (dimensions are bigger than I imagined). Heft, with a book, is usually something I appreciate, but since I wanted to sit and read the book, I felt that it might be slightly too big, at least to read in bed.

Clearly, my favorite part of this book is the text, but aside from a few chapters in the front, there is not enough. I want more!

The photography, of course, is stunning. In many ways, it feels like a beautifully shot documentary - a journey, with a tone and voice which is not only appropriate, but thoughtfully produced. It also somewhat functions as a portfolio for the these very fine photographs of Jerry Spagnoli, and I can appreciate the rest and pause between the text and the images, as one can focus on one, or the other, and, they deserve to be within the same covers.

Our last fig of the season, just being moved into the greenhouse before our first, hard frost this past weekend. I'm kind of inspired by those images! More of our harvest pics to come now that we had our frost.

Still, I guess what I am saying here is that I could also imagine this work as two separate books - better yet, I want to see another book now with more detail by Amy about her amazing and inspirational life on the farm - a month-by-month biography ( the sort I want to write), on her journey with plants, food and rural life which so few of us get to experience ourselves.

To close this blurby gush, as a graphic designer myself, the overall design of the book is really flawless. It's an object one will want to display (but always within reach for winter reading). The subtle but thoughtful graphic details within, the color palette, the typefaces and imagery all work. That said, I refuse to put this book in my book case, and even brought it to my office so that I could display it on my desk - it's that beautiful.

This is my own image of an olive tree, that I started a couple of years ago from a cutting that Abbie Zabar convinced me to 'just take it and root it in a glass of water'. Today, it's 5 feet tall, and trained as a topiary in the same style as Abbie's now out-of-print-book, The Potted Herb, by Abbie Zabar  (1988,Stewart, Tabori and Chang) (get that book took if you can find it!).


  1. Hmm. I guess I need to add Amy Goldman's books to my winter reading list.

    1. I think you would enjoy this book, Kathy. Just remind your family, that if each of your children chipped in $5, they could get it for you for Christmas!

  2. The photographs do look beautiful, and since English isn't my first language I prefer less text and more images. Might just have to put that book on my Christmas list.

    1. Pauline, you would enjoy the images, they are so artistic and thoughtfully crafted at every level, they alone make this book worth the investment. Good printing helps one enjoy them, which I forgot to mention. I am a bit of a paper-stock geek!

  3. anonymouse5:06 PM

    I own and love "Melons for the Passionate Grower". It inspired me to try growing some this year, even though I don't like melons. (The challenge appeals to me and my husband adores fruit.) I was unsuccessful in my attempts (one tennis ball-sized fruit set and was quickly sampled by a critter) but I plan to re-read the book over the winter and try again in the spring.

    1. If you remember, I tried some heirloom and French melons a few years ago as a summer crop in my greenhouse. They did fairly well, although I am not that keen about melons myself, Joe however is crazy about them. Maybe it's his Armenian roots!

  4. Anonymous6:26 PM

    Please, please, write a post on how you grow your fig and olive trees. Please? Pretty, pretty please?

    1. That's a great idea! I'll add it to my list of post ideas. I will share that it's a bit easier with a cold greenhouse, but my friend Abbie grows her in New York City on her rooftop penthouse garden, where they get pulled indoors on only the coldest nights. I'll have to check with her, but I think a few are wrapped up snuggly with insulation for the coldest months. I do leave mine outdoors here in Massachusetts until the Holidays, and last year, our largest Olive stayed out until mid-January, and it still survived. can you share where you live?

  5. I'm definitely going to have to pick this up to help me get through the gloomy winter months until spring. As others have said, the photography looks beautiful!


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