Rootbound, Rewilding a Life by Alice Vincent

Rootbound, Rewilding a Life, by Alice Vincent, book review

From the author of How to Grow Stuff comes a horticultural memoir that will resonate with the new generation of urban gardeners. Reviewer Matt Collins is head gardener at the Garden Museum

Rootbound: Rewilding a Life
by Alice Vincent
Canongate Books
£14.99
ISBN 978-1786897701

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An inquisitiveness underpins Alice Vincent’s new book: a natural compulsion to seek and nurture green amid London’s grey. She takes pleasure in ‘reading the hidden language’ of plants; those gradually filling her balcony, and those that spring, weedy and determined, from cracks in the city’s civic infrastructure.

Tom Stuart-Smith with his favourite books
© Andrew Montgomery

It is Nature’s unwavering constancy that Vincent finds grounding, as a twenty-something millennial contending with the pressures of ambition, adulthood, loneliness and heartache. ‘Perhaps in plants I could find … a steadfast way of being,’ she writes, ‘far beyond a life I had come to expect for myself.’

Known by her Instagram handle @noughticulture and as a gardening writer for The Telegraph, Vincent’s is the voice of a new generation of gardeners, who, starved of space, exercise green fingers through houseplants and community plots. As such, Rootbound is both relevant and important, questioning what it means to call oneself a gardener, and where horticulture fits within the modern urban experience.

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The central narrative, however, is deeply personal: shaken by a sudden change of circumstances, Vincent is forced to diverge from a comfortable path and wrestle with the expectations thrust upon Generation Y. Parties, bike rides and city breaks segue neatly into horticultural insights and mini-histories: we hear about the women excluded from botanical institutions and how Monstera deliciosa crept back into our homes. We’re taken to cherished green spaces in New York, Berlin and Japan, and many of the vital oases that constitute London’s ‘green lungs’. Vincent chronicles her cultivation of plants such as nasturtium, sedum and sweet pea, but also – crucially – relates how gardening can offer stability in uncertain times.