Home & Garden Columns

Garden Variety: Mrs. Dalloway’s is Not Just A Garden Bookstore

By Ron Sullivan
Friday December 08, 2006

I can’t resist Mrs. Dalloway’s—well, I can rarely resist any bookstore, though lately I know I’m guaranteed a headache when I venture into one without my reading specs. Since I rarely remember to carry those around with me and so end up craning and squinting my way through the shelves, browsing bookstores has become a bit of an S&M exercise. No matter. Mrs. D’s pulls me in just by the lovely (and amazingly persistent) vegetal scent of its woven-grass carpet. So I’m already biased in the place’s favor; let me get that disclaimer out right here at the start.  

There are always other intriguing scents in the air there. The universal bookstore scent, the one that comprises new paper and ink and binding-glue, that’s a big part of it of course, but there’s a tang of clay and potting soil, often a thread of rosemary or some other herb, sometimes a flower scent. 

Up front, where they’ll get light from the big shopwindows, there are always a small, select bunch of interestingly potted plants: maybe topiary herbs or ivy, succulents, usually some orchids, always something else wants to come home with me (like the stray kitten that recognizes a Crazy Cat Lady), all displayed like the jewels they are.  

With the live stuff is an unpredictable but always nifty scattering of vases and pots. There’s more art on the walls, and perched on seemingly random shelves with the books, like those funny corsages made of zippers—something about their topology makes me laugh. That art’s local and connected with gardens or the natural world in general. I’ve seen pieces by Keeyla Meadows there, speaking of things that make me grin, so even if you don’t have space for one of her whimsical gardens you can have a piece of her work.  

I’m a garden hound, yes, but I always get distracted by something else in Mrs. D’s too. The place has a plant slant, as is fitting, but it’s also a general-interest bookstore: fiction, poetry (I like their selection—books by people like Kay Ryan whose stuff doesn’t turn up just everywhere, and is great fun to read; Galway Kinnell’s new one, Strong Is Your Hold, Mary Oliver’s Thirst, Louise Glück’s Averno), art, travel, nonfiction including a good natural-history section.  

The stuff I like tends toward the sensual—that’s why I garden—so foodie stuff like James and Kay Salter’s Life is Meals: A Food Lover’s Book of Days gets my attention. So does Julia Child’s My Life in France. Mary Gordon’s recent story collection is in; I read her when I have the guts to pick up that Irish-childhood baggage for a few hours. She moves in different circles (and no doubt her circles move) but she Gets It about that stuff the way I experienced it.  

Don’t miss Lester Rowntree Hardy Californians, reprinted this year, or Home Ground: Language for an American Landscape, by Barry Lopez and Debra Gwartney, eds. 

Mrs. D’s will special-order pretty much anything, and get it in fast. The staffers actually know about the books they sell.  



Mrs. Dalloway’s 

2904 College Avenue, in the Elmwood 


Monday-Wednesday 10 a.m.-6 p.m 

Thursday-Saturday 10 a.m.-8 p.m. 

Sunday noon-5 p.m.