WRITING THE GARDEN: A Literary Conversation across Two Centuries

by Elizabeth Barlow Rogers

Publisher: David R. Godine (December 2011)
ISBN 978-1567924404

Hardback
£24.95

An A5 size book with a wonderfully illustrated cover showing a watercolour entitled ‘The garden in all its glory’ by Childe Hassam.

The American author, Elizabeth Rogers, is the President of the foundation for Landscape studies, the founding President of the Central Park conservancy and a garden historian. She suggests that gardening has always attracted a cult of devotedly literate practitioners. To interpret: people who dig also like to write!

She makes her case by picking examples of people who over the last two centuries have been writing diggers. She then arranges her book into various sections including Women, Rhapsodists, Nurserymen, Foragers, Travellers, Humorists, Teachers, and finally Philosophers in the garden.

The cover suggests that Barlow Rogers provides historical background,

anecdotal material and insight into how these garden writers worked and uses both illustrations and long quotes directly from them.

The first section, ‘Women in the garden’, aroused my interest. It talked of Jane Loudon (1807-58) who as a keen gardener encouraged ‘delicate’ female contemporaries to take up the spade. She gives a detailed description of the costume such a lady should wear.

The most interesting section was that entitled ‘Nurserymen in the garden’. Rogers talks of Andrew Downing from the USA who as a nurseryman was involved in gardening writing and in 1846 produced the Downing Magazine, the first horticultural one. He was also the foremost advocate for a metropolitan park in New York City. Unfortunately he died in 1852 before it was finished. She does also include some European gardener writers, such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Gertrude Jekyll, Vita Sackville-West, and Russell Page.

To summarise I found it a hard read but a few inspirational sections were enough to encourage me to continue to the end although the style was an academic text with rather extensive quotes.

You also need good eyesight to read the small print.  At a full retail price of £24.95 I will not be buying it as a present for even my best gardening friend!

Hilary Bosher