I love reading about gardens as much as I like looking at them. There’s something inherently fascinating about other people’s gardens and the choices they’ve made- why those dahlias, there? Can I nick that idea of trailing nasturtiums in a big pot (yes, I can.) This book, a mishmash of memoir and literary compendium, is the written version of this.
In it Penelope Lively (I must have read some of her books as a kid, I’m sure I read A Stitch in Time at least) writes about her own gardens- the very first one, as a child in Cairo, her grandmother’s garden inspired by one of my own gardening heroines, Gertrude Jekyll, the ones she maintained herself as an adult and the small London patio that’s just about enough for her to manage as she gets older.
She also weaves in gardens from literature and art, touching on the tragi-comic sadness of Phillip Larkin’s squished hedgehog in ‘The Mower’ to Monet’s obsessive garden painting paintings and Vita Sackville-West’s gardens at Sissinghurst, via other representations of the garden across time and western culture.
“We garden for tomorrow, and thereafter. We garden in expectation, and that is why it is so invigorating,” states Lively, and as someone who freely admits that for me gardening is essential for my mental health, this makes sense. It’s a shared obsession, one that can delight and frustrate in equal measure and this book captures that perfectly.