A Tale of Man Nearly Bested by Nature

I embarked on Antony Woodward’s The Garden in the Clouds with enthusiasm having read so many positive reviews. The book is about Antony’s obsession with having a retreat somewhere in the country and once this is secured of creating a garden that will be excepted into the NGS Scheme.

I enjoyed the story and following Antony’s adventures in transforming his home and land half way up a mountain, meeting various characters along the way and seeing if he achieves his goal. He portrays the people living in the Welsh borders as only an outsider can, highlighting their peculiar expressions and ways, well peculiar to Antony.  There is an amusing incident early on when he is offered the details of a ‘tidy builder’ and assumes that this is a paragon of virtue who cleans up at the end of every day – instead it turns out to be a Welsh expression good or excellent. Then there is the epic adventure when all sorts of characters are roped in to help get an old railway carriage up the mountain.

However, I was completed distracted the whole way through by the footnotes which appear regularly.  I don’t think they serve any purpose, I don’t understand why the information in the footnotes could not be weaved into the main text. I am used to reading academic texts which include footnotes to highlight where a quote or reference comes from but these go into numerous lines of detail which, in my opinion, serve no purpose and distract, causing me to lose my thread.

But what really struck me was the notion of what is a garden.  Antony’s ‘garden’ is not a garden as I am used to experiencing them.  Instead it is the land around his mountain side cottage which incorporates an orchard, meadows and a vegetable garden (although that is demolished by sheep the day before the opening!).  He struggles to convince the NGS organiser that there will be a garden to open, even his family raise a sceptical eyebrow at the notion. I found myself agreeing with Antony when he pointed out that gardens did not have to have flowers etc to be a garden.  To me a garden is a space where you cultivate plants, of whatever description.  I have to say though that I found it strange that someone would set out specifically to create a garden so it would be included in the NGS Scheme. For me a garden is a private thing that I use to help me unwind.  I understand that many people having created a garden over time want to open them to help raise money for charity but to set out to create a garden in a year with this purpose does seem a little strange!

However, all told it is a good yarn and I found myself willing Antony and his family to victory. It does demonstrate what a bit of  determination and belief can achieve.

9 Comments on “A Tale of Man Nearly Bested by Nature

  1. Dear Helen, I have not heard of this book and it does indeed sound a most enjoyable read. I shall investigate it further. As you say, it does seem strange to have opening for the NGS as a goal for the creation of the garden, since, like you I think of a grden first and foremost as something created by an individual or individuals for his/ her own pleasure. Still, from what you write here there is much moreto this than a story of the creation of a garden and the areas you touch upon sound most intriguing.

  2. I agree, I can’t imagine creating a garden with the idea of it being ‘open’.
    The definition of a garden is a difficult concept – does it have to have plants? maybe not. The best definition I’ve come accross is ‘ an outside space designed to give pleasure to the owner and his guests’. I think that works and includes most of what almost everyone would define as a garden.
    It’s always nice to hear about what others are reading and their thoughts on them, thank you. Christina

  3. It is a good read and fun book.

    The discussion about making a garden to open is interesting. I squirm about gardens which are specifically made as ‘visitor attractions’ and their limitations usually show. A ‘designer garden’ also has severe limitations for all that it will bring the visitors in. (Tim Richardson’s thoughts on that here http://bit.ly/aF44ey…)

    But to regard gardens as only private play spaces is to miss the creative possibilities they offer – and who ever wrote a play or a piece of music and positively wished NOT to have it in the public domain?

    XXXX Anne

  4. Hi, I’ve had this book on my “waiting for paperback” list for a while. I anticipated it being about the creation of a garden in the more traditional sense too, so it’s a shame to hear that it’s not quite that, but should still make interesting reading from your review, so I shan’t scrub it from my list until I’ve read it myself!

  5. Thanks for the review Helen. I have read about it elsewhere and it certainly sounds as if the author has a sense of humour – perhaps an essential for creating a garden half way up a mountainside. Have also had a sneaky peek at the book in Waterstones and now waiting to see if it appears in the library. Strange as you say to create a garden to order specifically for NGS entry.

Please feel free to leave comments as its always lovely to get feedback. I try to respond to comments as much as possible but sometimes life and work get in the way but I will do my best to respond especially if your comment is a question.

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