There seems to be a plethora of books about gardens in various locations of the world or the UK at the moment so finding a new angle is a challenge. Jackie Bennett has taken the approach of collecting together an assortment of gardens in the UK which either inspired or belonged to some of our best known writers and bringing them together in The Writer’s Garden
Whilst the book is essentially another glossy image laden coffee table book on gardens it has the distinction of including potted histories of each of the writers from Sir Walter Scott through Henry James to Roald Dahl and Agatha Christie and how they encountered or created the featured garden, what works they were inspired to write at this time and the current status of the garden.
The book is well written and researched and as you would expect from a garden book from the Frances Lincoln stables, includes excellent and plentiful photographs by Richard Hanson. However, I did find the premise of the book a little strained at times if you take the title ‘The Writer’s Garden’ literally. Few of the writers were actually hands on gardeners with the exception possibly of Wordsworth and Beatrix Potter. However, many created the gardens included, through the employment of gardeners, due to wealth generated from their success as writers including Sir Walter Scott and Thomas Hardy and they seem to have had a strong desire to create a place to escape to presumably from the celebrity caused by their writing – Kipling’s Batemans is an example.
I was surprised that Lumb Bank was included for Ted Hughes. It was a property he bought in the Pennines where he had lived until 8, but only lived in for little more than a year. Whilst he did not live at Lumb Bank for long he was instrumental in it being converted into a retreat for writers. Robert Burns’ property Ellisland was also, for me, another tenuous inclusion given that this was a farm that Burns bought and worked to provide for his family and only lived in for 3 years however it is whilst he was working the land during the day that he collected the traditional songs he would rework or came up with the stories he would tell.
The tag line for the book ‘How gardens inspired our best-loved authors’ is far more relevant to the content than the title. If you have an interest in literature, as well as gardens, this book will provide some fascinating insights into many authors you have probably read, or at least know of. Having studied literature at degree level including the background of some of the authors featured I still found plenty of information that was new to me and which helped to provide an interesting context for books I have enjoyed in the past.