by Ursula Buchan, photographs by Andrew Lawson

Publisher:  Frances Lincoln (2006)
ISBN  0711226385

Hardback £25


On a quick count, I have at least four books on my shelves with titles like ‘The English Garden’, as well as a monthly glossy magazine of the same title, so how does this new book differ from the others?
For a start it is very large; definitely a coffee-table book; it is also beautifully illustrated by garden photographer, Andrew Lawson. Many of his photographs are taken with the low-angled lighting of early morning which gives rise to highly atmospheric photographs that manage to capture the spirit of a garden.

The author, Ursula Buchan, is a garden historian, but the approach used here is mainly not historical. English gardens are grouped by style so that chapters are headed ‘Floral Exuberance’, ‘Gardening with Nature’, ‘Influences from Abroad’, ‘The English Rose’, and so on. Within each chapter, there may be some indication of historical development as, for example, the chapter on ‘Formal Bones’ which deals with formal gardens from Roman times, through knot gardens and the stylised parterres of  Nesfield, to more modern interpretations such as those at Sissinghurst and Hidcote.  The chapter headed ‘Floral Exuberance’, by contrast, discusses those factors such as soil and climate that have made England such a favourable country for the cultivation of an enormous variety of colourful plants.  This assignment of gardens to particular types can lead to some rather strange bedfellows; thus, the great gardens at Endsleigh, laid out by Humphrey Repton, are included in the chapter ‘Gardening with Nature’, which is mostly concerned with the current fashion for ‘wild flower’ cultivation.

Nearly all the gardens illustrated are those normally open to the public, and so many are well known. However, the photographs reveal new aspects of even very familiar views, especially as they are usually taken early in the day, before the public has had a chance to spoil the dew on the grass: indeed, I did not spot a single person in any photograph. A dozen famous Cornish gardens are illustrated. Each chapter concludes with a list of gardens other than those illustrated, but which express similar characteristics, providing ideas for garden visits perhaps nearer to hand than those detailed.

In conclusion, I found this an enjoyable book to look at, but it is probably not one to which I would wish to give the necessary shelf space.
Alison A Newton

by Toby Musgrave with Mike Calnan

Publisher:  National Trust Books (2006)
ISBN  10 1905400462
Hardback £9.99

I agreed to review Seven Deadly Sins of Gardening under the vague impression that it would offer counsel in dealing with such pests as slugs and moles. How wrong I was!

The authors, Mike Calnan, Head of Gardens and Parks for the National Trust, and Toby Musgrave, garden history writer and TV presenter, have together compiled ‘people stories’, about creators of  British gardens,  predominantly those in the National Trust’s care. The light-hearted anecdotes about the owners and gardeners of almost a hundred estates are sorted into chapters named after one of the seven deadly sins (greed, pride, lust, wrath, sloth, envy and gluttony).  For good measure, three more chapters celebrate the virtues of generosity, love and zeal. Somewhat mysteriously, Sir Winston Churchill and Chartwell appear together, once among the vices (sloth) and again under virtuous love (the somewhat gimmicky chapter headings clearly presented the authors with some awkward choices). There are signs of hasty editing is it credible that ‘Alice von Rothschild (1847-1992)’ lived to the age of 145 (page 149), or that the Profumo affair ‘helped set the trend for the scandals that so suffice (sic) the tabloids of today’ (page 61)?

With a few exceptions such as Lord Cobham’s Stowe, in the chapter headed ‘Pride’, and Sir Francis Dashwood’s West Wycombe Park in ‘Lust’ which are respectively five and nine pages long most of the entries are no more than a paragraph or two in length. The Cornish valley gardens of the Fox family around Falmouth: Glendurgan, Trebah and Penjerrick, appear together in a total of three paragraphs, together with Bosahan and Menabilly, under ‘Envy’, referring to the large plant collections gathered in the nineteenth century.

The relationships of the sometimes eccentric individuals, both gardeners and owners, are set in their historical and social contexts, which cumulatively present the reader with a highly readable and concise account of English garden history from the sixteenth century to the present. The pocketbook format is similar to that of Schott’s Miscellanies, priced likewise at £9.99. Like those publications it serves a market for small, accessible and entertaining books an ideal present for your garden-loving hostess.

Pam Dodds