Pleasures of the Garden begins in ancient China and ends on the Isle of Man; it admires both stately landscaped parks and a soap box full of red geraniums on a fire-escape. It shows that gardening is for everybody, whatever their resources. It features classic writers on gardens such as John Evelyn and Gertrude Jekyll, famous historical figures like Pliny, Francis Bacon and Thomas Jefferson, the novelists Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë and Robert Louis Stevenson, and the poets John Donne, John Clare, W.B. Yeats and Rudyard Kipling.
I frequently listen to audiobooks while I’m gardening, so it was a joy to come upon The Pleasures of the Garden – An Anthology, selected and introduced by Christina Hardyment. Read by some wonderful actors – Sean Barrett, Anton Lesser and David Timson, to name but a few – this collection of prose and poetry ranges in place from Ancient China to Hawaii, and from authors such as Pliny to Rudyard Kipling and beyond, and from the rich joys of the lusty month of May (Sir Thomas Malory), to the more prosaic musings on the pleasure of spreading dung by 9th century monk, Walafrid Strabo. The accompanying music – Delius, Mendlessohn, Purcell and others – is a richly rewarding addition to this box of delights.
Kati Nicholl, Daily Express
Over sixty delightful extracts spanning many centuries are created here by six voices accompanied by complementary music. George Herbert’s ‘shrivelled heart’ recovers its ‘greenness’ in his garden, whilst for Malory, a May garden ‘flourishes a man’s heart’. Short-sighted Gertrude Jekyll identified birds by the sound of their wings. Kipling (who spent much of his 7,000 guineas Nobel Prize on laying out his garden in Sussex) extols potting sheds and grubbing for weeds. These reflections are as joyful and rewarding as visiting the gardens themselves.
Rachel Redford, The Oldie
Real wilderness is hard to find in this country, but no one does the Small Outdoors better than the English. This delightful anthology of prose and poetry, mostly homegrown but with contributions from Pliny on the magnificence of the box hedges cut into a thousand animal shapes in his Tuscan garden (with hippodrome), the 9th-century Frankish monk Strabo on the cultivation of dung heaps, and Thomas Jefferson on his ever-expanding vegetable patch, is the perfect companion for weeding, dead-heading, pricking out and mulching. Choosing a quotation is hard. It’s all wonderful, but Elizabethan herbalist Dr John Gerard’s fabulous Orcadian Barnacle tree, from whose fruit, upon falling into water, barnacle geese were said to hatch, was just pipped by this poem in Punch to celebrate the arrival of the first lady gardeners at Kew in 1896: ‘They gardened in bloomers the newspapers said, / So to Kew without waiting all Londoners sped. / From the roofs of the bus they had a fine view / Of the ladies in bloomers who gardened at Kew. / The orchids were slighted, the lilies were scorned, / The dahlias were flouted till botanists mourned. / But the Londoners shouted “What ho there! Go to! / Who wants to see blooms now you’ve bloomers at Kew?”’
Sue Arnold, The Guardian
The Pleasures of the Garden is not a random collection of garden poetry and essays. The selections are arranged into four categories: Lovers of Gardens and Lovers in Gardens, Grand Designs, Practical Gardening, and Solace for Body and Soul. Hardyment has reached far back in time to find works by classic writers such as Francis Bacon, Voltaire, and Jane Austen. There are poems, essays and letters written by Thomas Jefferson, Pliny the Younger, Rudyard Kipling, Robert Louis Stevenson, and many others. Although some of the selections will be familiar, most of them are less well known. A few contain somewhat tedious listings of botanical names, but most of the selections are surprising, inspiring, and appealing. One feels compelled to head outdoors with a spade and some seeds after listening to the love of gardening expressed by the various writers.
Each CD represents one of the four themes, and each reading is a separate track, allowing for easy replay of favorites. Hardyment introduces each selection, putting it in its context and providing information about the author. There are almost twenty readers, and their voices are nicely matched for gender and age to the particular work being read. All readers have pleasant, clear, trained voices. This audiobook is a distinctly British production, with English, Scottish and Irish accents. One should savor and revisit it, just as one would a real garden.
Mary Cummings, SoundCommentary
I have long had the habit of listening to audiobooks while gardening, so from this it has been a natural step to create an audiobook collection of the writings of gardeners and those who love gardens. It is a gardening anthology specifically for our rushed and troubled times. Its purpose is to remind us of the pleasures, not the pains, of the garden – though it does occasionally touch upon the latter. I hope it will provide both practical and spiritual inspiration, alongside historical and technological interest, and, in places, bring forth smiles or indeed laughter.
The majority of the writers who appear in this anthology can fairly be described as having classic status. The collection ranges widely through time and place, for garden-lovers occur in every century and every country, from Ancient China to English suburbia, from Pliny in first-century Italy to Robert Louis Stevenson in 19th-century Hawaii. Some of the books I have chosen deserve to be heard at much greater length, and some, notably those by Gertrude Jekyll and Reginald Farrar, will I hope be enjoyed complete and unabridged one day. However, gargantuan poems such as William Cowper’s The Task or Alfred Tennyson’s Maud are quite adequately enjoyed in brief; and the writings of John Evelyn and Thomas Jefferson actually benefit from being abbreviated. Garden writers can be pompous and pretentious, lyrical and light-hearted, deliberately and accidentally funny – or both, perhaps, as seen in D.H. Lawrence’s hymn to a red geranium: ‘… even God would have to have a nose / to smell at the mignonette. / You can’t imagine the Holy Ghost sniffing / at cherry-pie heliotrope.’ I hope that there is something here for every mood.
I have chosen
can still be
To manage this vast and hetero-geneous collection of what are literally other men’s flowers, I chose four themes. The first concerns love: pure love of gardens and pure (and impure) love in gardens. The second is about garden design: ostentatiously artificial and artfully
naturalistic, for great mansions and homely cottages, making the most of the different seasons. Francis Bacon, Joseph Addison and Gertrude Jekyll all offer ideas for winter gardens, and Jekyll adds gardens planned for the scent of their flowers and the sound of their various leaves, most memorably ‘the great Reed, Arundo Donax [which] makes more noise in a moderate breeze than when the wind blows a gale, for then the long ribbon-like leaves are blown straight out and play much less against each other; the Arabs say, “It whispers in the breeze and is silent in the storm”’.
The third of my themes concerns practical matters. There are many ingenious ideas worthy of modern consideration – though few of us will be able to establish the ‘brood of nightingales’ which William Lawson deemed an essential in the 17th-century garden of his vicarage at Ormesby, Teeside. Pliny dined around a large basin ‘which serves as a table, the larger sort of dishes being placed round the margin, while the smaller ones swim about in the form of vessels and waterfowl’. Reginald Farrer peppered the sides of a Yorkshire gorge with a shotgun filled with seeds; the successful results can still be seen. ‘Use your hand as a sieve to protect delicate seedlings during watering,’ suggested the ninth-century monk Strabo. In this section are so many mentions of the joys of growing mignonette and violets that I plan to plant quantities of these top Victorian favourites next spring. Here too we find awe-inspiring professional gardeners like James Philip of Erddig and amateur gardeners who frankly admit their own mistakes, one such being Elizabeth von Arnim.
Finally, I looked for poems that offer solace to weary souls, whether they are seeking peace and wisdom (see the works of John Park-in-the-Sun and John Clare) or want something more dramatic (Swinburne). Some find proof of God’s existence in their gardens; some find the fate of plants to be a metaphor for that of humanity; some are just humble about the pleasure they take in gardening: ‘It is like taking care of a friend in old age, who has been kind to us when he was young’, reflects mine host in Bulwer-Lytton’s Paul Clifford.
When possible, I have chosen descriptions of gardens which can still be visited today. They include Pliny’s villas at Laurentinum and Lake Como, Elizabethan Kenilworth, Jane Austen’s home at Chawton and John Clare’s at Helpston, Francis Bacon’s gardens at Gorhambury and John Gerard’s at Hatfield, and Kew, praised for its ‘tropic umbrage’ by Erasmus Darwin in the 18th century and for its glen-like rock garden by Reginald Farrer in the 20th (we also hear that it was the scene of a sensation in the 1890s, when bloomer-clad lady gardeners appeared there). Great Maytham Hall in Kent inspired Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden. William Morris’s gardens at the Red House, Bexleyheath and Kelmscott Manor, Oxfordshire have been appropriately restored; so too have many of the gardens designed by Gertrude Jekyll and Avray Tipping. Reginald Farrer’s home at Ingleborough Hall, Yorkshire, and William Robinson’s at Gravetye Manor are still horticultural legends.
The greatest reward that I reaped from my research is the important lesson that gardens are not just for working in but are for reflection and recreation. Short of time and money to pay for help in the garden as most of us are, it is too easy for a garden to become a reproach rather than a pleasure. Since composing this anthology, I have provided my own garden with more places to sit and developed a Zen-like tolerance of weeds (‘just flowers in the wrong place,’ as someone once said). I hope that you will do the same.