I was asked to review Jackie Bennett’s The Writer’s Garden: How Gardens Inspired Our Best Loved Authors by merit of my horticultural background.
As a garden designer, I come from the completely biased starting point of totally agreeing with the author’s statement that “great things happen in gardens”. But have they historically inspired our best-loved authors?
Despite some trepidation at reviewing the work of an author with a biography like Jackie Bennett, who has written for many of the publications I regularly consult in my line of business, I read her book rather aptly in my garden studio in Hampshire.
My rusty A-level in English Literature stood me in good stead and I, at least, knew the majority of the authors covered in Jackie’s book, if not all their literary works! So, it was fascinating to read the book, author by author, learning about their lives, works and the gardens that had inspired them.
The book is crammed full of interesting facts about the lives of writers from the last few centuries and about their approaches to writing, fame, childhood, family life, health, politics, inspiration and ageing. I certainly learned a lot about the writers and Jackie’s thoroughly researched book repeatedly supports the statement that gardens inspire.
Who knew that as well as creating marvellous characters and stories, Roald Dahl collected orchids, or that Rudyard Kipling had a sundial inscribed with the words “It’s later than you think” to prompt guests to leave at the end of a walk around his garden?
Certainly, there are some common themes that run through the case studies. Many of these leading literary figures turned to their gardens not only for inspiration, but also as a retreat for peace and tranquillity. In many cases the garden provides them with solace following the death of a family member and for some it is a safe haven from fame and the pressures of the outside world. As I know only too well, these life issues are still pertinent today.
The layout of the book is attractive and I like the panels that summarise each author’s works and their literary connections, as well as the detailed captions to Richard Hanson‘s photographs that beautifully illustrate Jackie’s words.
The photography really made the gardens come alive for me, giving a sense of how they would have been when the authors walked in them. I was struck by how many of the plants and garden features are considered contemporary today and indeed are components of my own garden designs.
Although I think this book would particularly appeal to readers with an interest in literature, don’t be put off if your preferred genre is more general knowledge or gardening. Jackie’s informed yet relaxed style of writing makes it easy to pick up and put down the book at your leisure. This book is one you will be proud to have on your coffee table and to dip into on a regular basis.
Nicola Baldwin is the owner of PLOT Garden Design in South Wonston, Hampshire.
Talk, book signing and garden tour – Wed 3 Sep
Places are still available for Jackie Bennett’s illustrated talk on her new book. Tickets cost £11.00 (or £8.50 for students/friends) from Eventbrite or call Chawton House Library on 01420 541010.
Signed copies of the book (published by Frances Lincoln) will be on sale at an exclusive price of £20 (RRP £25), with proceeds helping to support the charity’s work.