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Fuchsia, anchusa, Jack Manii, choisya, morning glory, lily… If these names conjure up balm-to-your-soul garden imagery, then the splendid 84 year-old Penelope Lively’s Life in the Garden is for you.
Part memoir (the vibrant flowers of her Cairo childhood); part autobiography (her grandmother’s Somerset garden; nurturing past gardens with her husband Jack Lively) meld together with garden history and fashions (Henry Repton, Gertrude Jekyll, U and non-U planting) and with styles of paintings from the 17th century Semper Augustus tulip to Monet and Klee’s gardens. Above all, there is a host of thoughts and quotations from her long life of reading from Eliot’s Burnt Norton to Edith Wharton, from Willa Cather (a particular favourite) and Angus Wilson offering up her philosophy of the life-giving ‘green thoughts’ which infuses gardeners.
She’s also bang up to date with her thoughts on the influence of glossy gardening photography, television make-overs and the lure of garden centres. No longer able to bend, Lively is still looking forward to seeing her hydrangea paniculata flourish. Amongst all the benefits of gardening, she tells us that gardeners live an extra 14 years - (there’s life in the garden for human beings as well as plants and trees) -so she should indeed be rewarded!
This is an elegant book with a lifetime of distilled garden thoughts and experience. It’s one to treasure and I’m buying it – a download is great, but it can’t produce the illustrations.
It is a shame that such a cultured writer should have a narrator of her work who apparently doesn’t know how to pronounce the artist Paul Klee or, even more surprisingly P.G.Wodehouse.