Something close to a riot broke out when Julian and I tried to agree which of the books strewn over the table would go into this article. Five years ago when we moved to our current house, the removal men paled – they had never known such a houseful of books. Teachers and vicars liked books, they said, but we were something else.
At about the same time, our friend, the painter and writer Matthew Rice, said that he was sad to discover that two years after he moved he no longer missed the books he had yet to unpack, because everything is on the internet nowadays.
After much heated debate, however, we all revised our view on the subject. The internet is a wonderful tool, and a huge boon to designers for reference and illustration, but there is nothing like browsing through all your old books and magazines for inducing a sort of meditative spirit of invention. Equally, the smell and thrill of a new book can lure one into a state of immersion for an afternoon, all else blotted out. Like the written word, pictures and photography can be completely transporting, and many gardening books, while crammed with useful information, are also a visual trip, a fireside adventure into Monet’s garden, 18th-century ironwork, or Japanese timber construction, bringing a kind of solace in their wisdom and beauty. Many of our books were presents, or remind us of a moment or a passion, perhaps picked up in the pannier market in Bideford.
The two of us battled away over the relative merits of WJ Bean’s precise botany, Roy Genders on cottage gardens, Hoskins on landscape and Oliver Rackham on trees. It was an invidious task, bringing out the vixen in both of us. But it was good to be reminded how many treasure troves there are out there, and all now so easy to find… on the internet.
Here are ten of our favourite garden books.
by Richard Mabey
The Shell Gardens Book 1964
by Peter Hunt
(Phoenix House, 1964)
The Quest for the Rose
by Roger Phillips and Martyn Rix
(Random House, 1994)
by Georgina Masson
(Thames & Hudson, 1961)
Garden People: Valerie Finnis & The Golden Age of Gardening
by Ursula Buchan
(Thames & Hudson, 2007)
Meadows: At Great Dixter and Beyond
by Christopher Lloyd, with a new introduction by Fergus Garrett
by David Hicks
Snowdrops : A Monograph of Cultivated Galanthus
by Matt Bishop, Aaron Davis and John Grimshaw
(Griffin Press, 2006)
The Renaissance Garden in England
by Roy Strong
(Thames & Hudson, 1979)
The Startling Jungle: Colour and Scent in the Romantic Garden
by Stephen Lacey
(David R Godine Publisher, 1990)
Photos Jason Ingram