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.