I am always in two minds about anthologies. I often find them disappointing with the assorted short articles or stories. I think I really like to get into a subject more. So it was with two minds that I agreed to review the RHS’s new publication The Garden Anthology.
The book has been edited by Ursula Buchan and is a compilation of a wide range of articles that appeared in the magazine from 1866 to the present day. Buchan states that she has chosen articles which do not rely on photographs or other illustrations to make their point which immediately warmed me to the book. I remember when my parents bought me Lloyd’s’ The Well Tempered Gardener and they were bemused why I would want a gardening book without pictures but are pictures really necessary all the time? If you don’t know what the plant being referred to you can look it up. I much prefer reading good descriptive writing that evokes a sense of place or scene.
Unlike many recent anthologies this has not been arranged season by season or month by month which is also a relief. There is nothing more tedious than reading article after article about winter gardens. Of course I know you are meant to dip into a book but I prefer to read cover to cover. In this book the sections are organised according to subjects which are quite broad. They include some obvious ones on plants, people, garden design, practicalities but then there are some more unusual sections such as ‘The International Dimension’ and ‘Inside the RHS’.
Given the broad range of writers who have contributed to the magazine over the years it isn’t surprising that their many voices can be found here from the lyrical writing of Geoffrey Dutton who in the 1990s wrote a series of articles about gardening in Perthshire to more scientific and up to date voice of James Wong. In total there are 80 different writers included and my only real complaint with the book is that there seems to be more articles from 2000 to the present day than the period before this which I found a little disappointing. Many of the earlier writers’ work are hard to access these days so I was hoping for more of this.
I was also interested in Buchan’s approach of trying to choose articles that reflected the changing interests in horticulture, whether it is a new scientific discovery or a move towards more environmental approaches, wildlife gardening etc. I wondered if this contributed towards the large volume of articles from the current century as it seems to me that changes to horticultural approaches have been significant since the turn of the century, far more than I remember previously. Maybe this shows a greater acceptance by the magazine’s readers to embrace new ideas rather than the traditional set in stone approach of this is how you do something that I remember from my early days of watching Gardeners World. Interestingly a subject that is often promoted, especially in social media, as a new idea – Are Gardens Art – was raised by Lucinda Lambton back in 1996. As they say there isn’t much that is really new!
This anthology is a good substantial read. It has a wide range of subject matter and a wealth of intelligent writing which I am sure would satisfy any gardener with an enquiring mind. It would also make a good Christmas present for the gardener in the family and I am sure a welcome change to the usual gardening gloves and secateurs.