If you are stuck for ideas of what to give someone for Christmas or wondering what on earth an aged aunt would like (read on, neph/niecelets!) why not give them a book on gardens. Here are some of the best of 2019, listed by date of publication:
‘Cherry’ Ingram: The Englishman who saved Japan’s blossoms by Naoko Abe
Naoke Abe, a Japanese political journalist now living in London, was fascinated by the story of Collingwood Ingram, an unknown Englishman, who had rescued many cultivars of the Japanese cherry or sakura, from dying out. Born in 1880, ‘Cherry’ Ingram had originally been interested by Ornithology but after World War I, horticulture became his dominant passion. On a trip to Japan in 1926 to search for new specimens, he was asked to give a talk at the Cherry Society in Japan on their national tree. He was shown a painting of a large white cherry, ‘Taihaku’, thought to be extinct in Japan; he recognised it from a tree growing in his garden in Kent and was able to re-introduce it into its native home. Ingram became one of the world’s leading cherry experts and his story is set against the backdrop of Japanese and English history.
Dr Christopher Harding in The Guardian describes the book as ‘sympathetic and engrossing…a portrait of great charm and sophistication, rich in its natural and historical range, guaranteeing that you won’t look at cherry blossoms the same way again’ while in the Financial Times, Robin Lane Fox writes: ‘A remarkable book…. excellent…. fascinating, a treat for gardeners cherry-growers and historians’.
Claire Kohda Hazelton in The Spectator: ‘[A] deeply moving book – beautifully written, and a huge achievement in terms of research’
The Economist: ‘[A] lovely book….Two tensions animate this book: the difficulty of sending fragile scions around the world and successfully grafting hem; and the wrenching historical context…It is hard to view the blossoms of the somei-yashino with such tender joy after reading Ms Abe’s book.’
Ian Critchley in The Sunday Times: ‘An engaging biography of a man who ‘helped to change the face of spring’.’
Tania Compton in Country Life: ‘A page turner…. Naoko Abe parallels her biography with a comprehensive history of cherries, intersected with major moments in Japanese history…. There is a heart-warming end to the tale that the author spins with skill and erudition.’
Alice Vincent in The Daily Telegraph: ‘‘Cherry’ Ingram is a meticulously researched book: Abe undertook dozens of interviews with relatives of the sakuramori…[and] sifted through Ingram’s extensive diaries and condenses the often impenetrable history of Japan’s feudal and imperial ages.’
Chatto & Windus | 21st March 2019 | £9.49
The Hidden Horticulturists: The Untold Story of the Men who Shaped Britain’s Gardens by Fiona Davison
Chief Librarian at the Royal Horticultural Society, Fiona Davison, came across a cardboard box on the top shelf of her office. In it she found a book filled with handwritten notes dating from 1822 until 1829. They were written by young gardeners to support their application to work in the garden of the Horticultural Society at Chiswick. Davison traces the history of several of these gardeners, some of whom went on to influence the way we garden today. Included amongst them is Joseph Paxton who began working for the Duke of Devonshire at Chatsworth in 1826 but is probably best known for creating the Crystal Palace at Hyde Park for The Great Exhibition of 1851.
Tim Richardson in the Literary Review: ‘Davison has conducted deep research into the later careers of most of these gardeners, discovering what happened to them after they left Chiswick. The result is a revealing insight into the lives of aspiring working men in this period.’
Constance Craig Smith in the Daily Mail: ‘The Hidden Horticulturists pulsates with the extraordinary energy and excitement of the time, as thrilling new plants were discovered and shipped back to Britain from all over the globe.’
Atlantic Books | 368pp | 4th April, 2019 | £25.00
Kiftsgate Court Gardens: Three Generations of Women Gardeners by Vanessa Berridge
Kiftsgate in Gloucestershire has belonged to the same family for the last hundred years with three women gardeners each with their own ideas, building on the work of their predecessor. What is remarkable about the garden is that the sense of continuity has not been lost as each generation has added their own signature to the garden. Berridge has had exclusive access to the family archives which contain ‘not only family photographs but also letters from their gardening friends, helping us to understand why and how Heather, Diany and Anne have gardened’. [Merrell Publishers] Berridge also takes us on a tour of one of the greatest gardens of England.
The book has been published to coincide with the centenary of the garden at Kiftsgate and the opening of an exhibition at the Garden Museum.
‘Flowers’, according to the visionary painter Christian Peltenburg-Brechneff have ‘an underlying sensuality and sexuality which makes them very special’. In his book, Into the Garden Christian gives us his unique perspective of twenty-eight private gardens from around the world. Kirk Reed Forrester in FlowerMag admires Christian’s ability to capture ‘the texture, style and mood of each place’ while the designer Bunny Williams describes when Christian painted her garden and how she ‘sometimes felt that Vincent van Gogh was looking over his shoulder and waving approval’.
Beth Chatto: A Life with Plants by Catherine Horwood
Beth Chatto was one of the most influential horticulturists, writers and lecturers of the past fifty years; she died in 2018 at the age of 94. She started a nursery of unusual plants in Essex in 1967 and was an advocate of giving plants an environment as close as possible to their native habitat – her ethos was simple: ‘right plant, right place’. Married to Andrew Chatto, a fruit-grower, she developed strong friendships with Cedric Morris and Christopher Lloyd as well as her Dutch neighbour.
In her late 80s, Chatto invited her friend and fellow-author, Catherine Horwood, to produce a biography of her life. Perhaps suspecting that the public would want more than a list of horticultural achievements, Chatto gave Horwood access to her personal diary which she had kept almost daily from 1963 into the 1990s: ‘They were astonishingly frank and revealed two unsuspected strands of her life…’ The Telegraph
Ursula Buchan in The Spectator describes the book as ‘a faithful, workmanlike account of a truly remarkable plantswoman and artistic gardener’ while Fergus Garrett in Gardens Illustrated commends the work as ‘a triumph, beautifully crafted by an author who has thoroughly researched and understood her subject. From start to finish, this publication gives us a real understanding of Beth’s life. There is so much here to keep the reader gripped.’
Mary Keen in Country Life: ‘The life story of this elegant plant guru contains enough drive and determination to inspire any modern woman…To meet, Beth was an inscrutable coiled spring of a person, beautifully composed, a brilliant lecturer and writer and, of course, a terrific grower…This book shows what a remarkable woman she was.’
Daily Mail: ‘Brilliant, charming and beautiful, she was a horticultural pioneer whose impact continues to this day. Her gardening genius made her the darling of pop stars, aristocrats and royalty — yet as this sympathetically written biography reveals, her apparently gilded life was far more turbulent than anyone could have suspected.’
Reckless Gardener: ‘Catherine Horwood more than does justice to this iconic gardening legend…a delightful memoir of a remarkable woman. Beautifully illustrated and superbly written…a fitting tribute to one of horticulture’s most iconic women.’
Pimpernell Press | Illustrated | 5th September 2019 | £30.00
The Story of Gardening: A cultural history of famous gardens from around the world by Penelope Hobhouse and Ambra Edwards
Another great horticulturist of our era is Penelope Hobhouse. Now 90, her work The Story of Gardening first published in 2002, has recently been revised and republished. It tells the story of how gardening styles have developed from the earliest documented gardens of ancient Mesopotamia, Egypt and Persia via the medieval gardens of Christendom to the landscapes of the twenty-first century. Described by The Spectator as ‘magisterial’, the book is, writes Chris Beardshaw: ‘Perfect for a winter fireside read to ensure a new level of confidence and understanding on the art of gardening prevails come spring activities in the garden.’
House and Garden Magazine: ‘What Penelope so successfully achieves is casting the visions of today over the layers of the past, contextualizing them in a way that diminishes neither the new nor the old…a comprehensive work.’
The English Garden Magazine: ‘Deservedly claims its position on the bookshelf.’
Pavilion Books | Illustrated | 5th September 2019 | £35.00
Stourhead by Stephen Anderton and Alan Power
A beautifully illustrated book about the iconic garden of Stourhead in Wiltshire. The garden was created during the eighteenth century and is a magnificent example of an Arcadian landscape with a lake, grotto, plunge pool and numerous garden buildings. Stourhead is particularly famous for its autumn colour and the Head Gardener, Alan Power, has contributed four essays to the book including one on Autumn at the estate.
English Gardens: From the Archives of Country Life Magazine by Kathryn Bradley-Hole
As garden columnist for Country Life, Bradley-Hole examines the history of English gardens, using recent photographs and those from the archives of Country Life. Over seventy gardens are included, some famous such as the gardens at Sissinghurst, Hidcote and Great Dixter while others are less well known. In an interview for the Tatler magazine, Bradley-Hole describes how the Englishman’s obsession for gardening and weather ‘are as intertwined as the honeysuckle and the hedgerow’.
The Sunday Times’ Review describes the book as ‘elegiac….a world of sweet-scented roses, lush lawns and billowing borders….It is an authoritative snapshot of one of our most successful art forms as it is today.’
With a foreword by the Duke of Devonshire
Rizzoli | Illustrated |1st October 2019 | £55.00
Scent Magic, Notes from a Gardener by Isabel Bannerman
Anyone who has visited the Earl’s Garden at Arundel Castle or the Abbey Garden at Woolbeding will have experienced some of the magical creations designed by Isabel and Julian Bannerman. A new book by Isabel Bannerman, takes us through a year of gardening with practical tips on the best aromatic plants to grow as well as poetic descriptions of flowers.
Blackwell’s: ‘Whether evoking the freshly baked sponge smell emanating from wisteria, describing ‘Stanwell Perpetual’ as “the kind of rose that would taste of apricot and raspberries swirled together”, or championing the magic of the Himalayan cowslip, “scented profoundly and deliciously like the dark vault of a Damascus spice merchant'” the glorious poetry of her descriptions is here joined with personal memories and a lifetime’s experience of gardening and plant cultivation.’
An Economic History of the English Garden by Roderick Floud
Thousands of books have been written about the history of the English Garden but this is the first book that explores how much money was actually spent on their creation. Starting with the Restoration of Charles II in 1660 and ending in 2020, Floud takes us on ‘a journey that includes royalty and riches, designers and ditches, suburbia and shrubbery’ writes Ann Treneman in The Times review of 2nd November, 2019. Floud bases his conversions on average earnings in 1700 and in 2015 and it makes astonishing reading. Floud calculates that William III spent £2.8 million in six months on lowering the Privy Garden twice so he could view the River Thames from the first floor apartments at Hampton Court, while ‘Capability’ Brown earned between £20 million and £50 million a year. Treneman comments on the ‘mind-boggling amount of detail in this book’ and how at times, it ‘threatens to overwhelm’ but concludes that ‘Floud is a clear writer and excels at providing context and keeping the whole enterprise grounded’.
PD Smith in The Guardian: ‘Filled with fascinating and often surprising details – a rhododendron would set you back the equivalent of more than £1,000 in the 1770s – the book reveals the economic context to our love of gardening and shows that “the history of English gardens is, in many senses, the history of England”.’
Allen Lane | 400pp | Illustrated | 7th November, 2019 | £12.50