VISTA: THE CULTURE AND POLITICS OF GARDENS

Edited by Tim Richardson and Noel Kingsbury

Publisher: Frances Lincoln Ltd (2005)
ISBN  0711225733

Hardback £16.99

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When visiting the garden festival at Chaumont-sur-Loire last summer, I was rather put off by the philosophical statement at the entrance to each garden.  But enter the garden and usually what a delight!  This book is rather like that.

When I read the dust jacket and the titles it is a collection of 16 essays it was hard to make sense of what the book was about.  When I read the essays, I found myself absorbed, challenged, sometimes confused, and often nodding in agreement.

Here we have: Martin Hoyles, lecturer in communication studies and garden writer, acknowledging that gardens are really made by the workers employed by the landowners;  editor of The Idler, Tom Hodgkinson, tracing the radical tradition of vegetable gardening in Britain; Rozsika Parker, psychotherapist and author who gardens, delineating how gender tension has structured the history of gardening; Noel Kingsbury, garden writer and designer and one of the book’s editors, exploring the best way forward for garden biodiversity; the co-creators of the famous colour garden at Hadspen, Nori and Sandra Pope, describing how their planting methods are underpinned by ideas derived from music; Louisa Jones, art historian turned writer and promoter of Mediterranean gardens, looking at the explosion of garden visiting in France.  Their voices joined by the other contributors who all whether you agree with them or not ‘ask questions for a variety of reasons. our gardening will benefit as a result as nothing ever improves if no one questions it’ as Kingsbury & Richardson state in their introduction.

The Times review described this as ‘the garden-philosopher’s bedtime reading’.  I would reply, ‘Yes, if you only want to read a chapter a night, but its stimulating contents may well leave you tossing and turning’.  Vista takes some long, hard reading and re-reading and its contents will provoke much thinking for gardeners.  And it is all the more rewarding for that.

Shirley Barnes