I’ve almost always got some book or other about gardening on the go, and as time goes on I find I’m moving gradually away from the how-to manuals and towards what I call literary gardening books – inspirational and interesting more than useful (though they’re often that, too).
There are plenty of others who do fantastic book review strands – so I won’t do that. But as a way of passing on a little of that inspiration I thought I’d start a little thread here sharing some of the best bits.
At the moment I’m reading Adam Nicolson’s ‘Arcadia’ – the history of Wilton House, near Salisbury in Wiltshire, and my mum’s local stately home. We visit it a lot, and I love the garden although it is a shadow of its former extraordinary and ground-breaking self.
Adam Nicolson has an impeccable horticultural background (son of Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicolson, therefore grew up at Sissinghurst, and married to the very productive but hopelessly expensive Sarah Raven). So it was a bit of a surprise to find that this is not, mainly, a book about the garden but about a more philosophical concept: the creation of Arcadian paradise in Tudor England and beyond.
This makes it quite hard going at times, but the book has a habit of chucking out absolute truths that really stop you in your tracks. I shall leave you with one paragraph written about 16th-century England, but with as much resonance, to my mind, for post-war Britain:
“It happens again and again in the history of cultures. A generation of severe, rigorous, demanding and ambitious parents, who establish a form of order and riches, gives way, in the next generation, to a more evolved world, one more intent on fineness than propriety, happy to spend what the parents had earned, indifferent to debt, more interested in display than restraint, more attuned to brilliance and intricacy than mere obstinacy and assertion.“