Authors and their Gardens by Paddy Tobin

A review of A Writer’s Garden: How Gardens Inspired Our Best-Loved Authors, by Jackie Bennett, with photographs by Richard Hanson – descriptions of nineteen gardens with the added interest of information on the authors who gardened in them.

For some of the authors in this book their garden was a place which provided inspiration – Beatrix Potter at Hill Top and Jane Austen at Dogmersham – for others the garden was a place in which they found the peace to write – Roald Dahl at Gipsy House and Virginia Woolf at Monk’s House –  for some the garden was purely functional, providing for the household – Thomas Hardy at Hardy’s Cottage and  Robert Burns at Ellisland -while others were devoted and ambitious gardeners who invested their incomes heavily in their gardening passion – Walter Scott at Abbotswood and Charles Dickens at Gad’s Hill Place.

The Writer's Garden

As with any selection of gardeners, the authors and gardens selected for this book had a variety of levels of interest in their garden, many differing approaches to it and their gardens reflected this.  This is part of the essential interest of gardening – we all start off with a patch of ground and a similar selection of plants and yet no two gardens will be the same.  This is the basic interest of the book, a description of nineteen different gardens. That well known authors created the gardens adds to the interest giving them a social connection and, in this case, a literary connection.

It struck me that for the purposes of assembling a book such as this that the gardens of poets would be more suitable for inclusion. Quoting a chunk of prose alongside a description of a garden is rather cumbersome – and not done in this book beyond a line or two – whereas a verse of poetry can be included so very easily and can say so much more in a very few words. I would have liked the inclusion of far more poets and far more poetry as it would have brought the literary content of the book to a far more enjoyable level.

The book is very pleasantly written if unexciting; it is agreeable and does not criticise nor appraise the gardens too rigorously. Indeed, few of the gardens would be regarded as great gardens, their claims to fame lies with their one time owners rather than in their designs or plant content.  It is heart-warming to read that these gardens continue to be cared for and, generally, are open to the public thanks to the work of either local societies or the National Trust.

The photographs used in the book are excellent, giving an insightful view into these gardens and capturing their atmospheres very successfully. Alongside the main text and photographs in each entry there are side panels with biographical information on each author with a listing of works written at each garden.

All in all, this is an enjoyable book, nicely written and well illustrated with a richness of interesting facts about the authors and their gardens.

A Writer’s Garden: How Gardens Inspired Our Best-Loved Authors, by Jackie Bennett, with photographs by Richard Hanson, Frances Lincoln, London, 2014, Hardback, 176pp, £25. ISBN: 978-0-7112-3494-9

Paddy Tobin

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