As winter approaches it’s all too tempting to reduce gardening activities to plans for next year, or perusal of the seed and plant catalogues. Another temptation is to curl up in front of the fire with a good book. So why not combine the two and read something with gardening at its heart? Here are some ideas to while away those evenings.
For the child at heart
My favourite childhood stories included The Secret Garden, What Katy Did, Tom’s Midnight Garden, and The Selfish Giant. These all had gardens in a starring role and are worth a revisit with any children in your life, though I’m quite happy to revisit them on my own. My niece and nephew also thoroughly enjoyed The Very Hungry Caterpillar.
Philip Pullman’s The Amber Spyglass, features a bench in Oxford Botanic Gardens which exists in the two worlds Will and Lyra – now separated from each other – inhabit. They promise to sit on the bench for an hour each Midsummer’s Day, so they can feel close together once more.
For those wanting something a little more grown-up
Gardens are a little harder to find in adult literature, with some notable exceptions. Lovers of plays may like to revisit the works of William Shakespeare, who included many references to flowers. Most notable is Romeo and Juliet, where the famous balcony scene is enacted in the garden of the Capulets, and where one of Shakespeare’s most famous quotations is found:
What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.
The Cotswolds countryside is the magnificent backdrop to Laurie Lee’s famous childhood memoir, Cider with Rosie. I particularly enjoyed the chapter which describes Slad’s redoubtable characters, Granny Trill and Granny Wallon, where Granny Wallon brews all kinds of alcoholic drinks from the countryside’s fruit, herbs and flowers she’s gathered. Then of course, there’s the role that cider plays in the closing chapters.
Never has a garden been more menacing than Manderley’s estate in Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca. The garden’s blood-red rhododendrons serve to heighten the unease and tension the second Mrs de Winter feels in the face of the psychological torment wielded by the housekeeper Mrs danvers.
The Author’s inspiration
A recent crop of non-fiction books look at the gardens and landscapes which inspired various authors.
Marta McDowell’s Beatrix Potter’s Gardening Life explores Beatrix Potter’s passion for plants and her gardens in the Lake District. Potter’s drawings and sketches illustrate the book and together with quotations, letters and diaries, the reader gains an insight into the horticultural inspiration which provided the background to her famous characters.
In a similar vein, Kathryn Aalto’s The Natural World of Winnie-the-Pooh explores the landscapes which inspired A. A Milne, especially the places in Ashdown Forest which we know better as The Hundred Acre Wood. No Winnie-the-Pooh book would be complete without E.H. Shepard’s illustrations, and this book doesn’t disappoint.
Lovers of good mysteries may like Kathryn Harkup’s A is for Arsenic, which includes some of the plants behind the poisons used by Agatha Christie in her novels. Christie was a chemist, advantageous for a writer where poison was often the preferred murder weapon. The chapters are arranged by poison and the novel in which they appear, so the reader has a neat follow-up reading list to take them through the remaining winter months.
Jackie Bennett’s The Writer’s Garden is a dippable book where the private gardens of various authors and poets are explored. Agatha Christie and Beatrix Potter again make an appearance, and are joined by Jane Austen, George Bernard Shaw, Rupert Brooke, Robert Burns, Winston Churchill, John Clare, Roald Dahl, Charles Dickens, Thomas Hardy, Ted Hughes, Henry James, Rudyard Kipling, John Ruskin, Walter Scott, Laurence Sterne, Virginia Woolf and William Wordsworth. Many of the gardens featured are open to the public, which would make a great follow-up activity.
These are just a few of my favourite garden-related finds. Add yours in the Comments below.
Michelle Chapman is a gardener, freelance writer and blogger from Wiltshire. She is the author of the award winning blog, Veg Plotting, where she writes about her small town garden, seasonal food and anything else which strikes her whilst at her allotment.