When I was last asked to review a book, I chose instead to offer it up as a competition prize. Not so with the new illustrated edition of ‘Dear Friend and Gardener.‘ Here was a book I wanted all for myself. Mine, I tell you; it’s all mine.
between Beth Chatto and Christopher Lloyd.
Beth Chatto has spent 50 years building a garden on an inauspicious and challenging site in East Anglia. If you have a troublesome area in your garden you will want to consult one of Beth’s books: The Dry Garden, The Damp Garden and Beth Chatto’s Shade Garden. They’ve certainly been very useful to me.
Christopher Lloyd inherited Great Dixter and, up until his death in 2006, devoted 50 years evolving it into one of the best-loved gardens in England. Whilst I have yet to visit Beth’s gardens, I have been to Great Dixter several times. It is a great inspiration.
I hadn’t realised (until after I had finished reading the book) that the letters were written with an eye to being published. As I sat in the Priory greenhouse and supped my tea and scoffed my sandwiches, I did wonder at the sheer frequency and regularity of the letters and breadth of subjects covered. As well as gardening and horticulture of course, the letters range across food, opera and the arts, wildlife and well … just life. The publishers had initially wanted to concentrate on gardening matters only. But the two authors were insistent that the letters should reflect “a rounded picture of our lives (which) would of necessity include much that is non-horticultural.” Christopher and Beth were right and the book is all the richer for it. Though I couldn’t help but be slightly miffed; just a little disappointed that the book was ‘manufactured.’
I was quite often reminded of my lack of deep horticultural knowledge; they do cover a wide range of plants and use a flurry of latin names. (I almost cheered on the few occasions when I actually knew which plant they were talking about). If you have a laptop or tablet to hand, it can help to reference the plants they are discussing but it isn’t by any means necessary. The writing is inclusive and I found it fascinating to sit at the knees, as it were, of two such knowledgeable and gifted teachers.
Christopher to Beth on carrots – “they are crazily cracked and full of slugs. Does that make them organic?”
Christopher again – “Incidentally, if someone is in Colchester, could you bring me a canister of that shampoo I like?”
Beth on horticultural students – “… who all too rarely exhibit a real hunger for the subject. … They all seem to be studying landscape design; yet when I ask a few elementary questions I find they are astonishingly ignorant about plants.”
Christopher – “Now the light is going; I’ll pop out and see how Fergus is getting along.” (I really wanted to pop out myself to see what Fergus was up to).
I was also able to share experiences … and nod sagely. For example, for several years there have been no mallard ducklings at the Priory. Christopher – “Often by the end of the first week all the ducklings have vanished. How? Probably the heron picks off an early morning straggler, but I think the moorhens are responsible.” Quite possibly Christopher, quite possibly but personally I suspect mink. Damn them.
There is plenty to enjoy and learn in ‘Dear Friend and Gardener’ – whether you just dip into it, read it month by appropriate month or, as I did, devour it in one gulp. I have managed (just) to find enough space on my bookshelf for yet another gardening book. You might want to too.
To order a copy of Dear Friend and Gardener for £16 including p&p* (RRP £20), telephone 01903 828503 or email firstname.lastname@example.org, and quote the offer code APG16.