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Gardens in my Life by Arabella Lennox-Boyd – Book Review

Disarmingly candid memoir from a ‘grande dame’ of garden design, filled with pragmatic insights into the practical business of being a designer. Reviewer Tim Richardson is a garden critic and regular columnist

by Arabella Lennox-Boyd
Apollo, £40
ISBN 978-1789545685


This book perpetuates the tendency among leading garden designers to offer assessments of their own careers, but it is nevertheless refreshingly different in its way. That is because the author writes with such disarming candour about her ‘process’, while refraining from larding the text with pseudo-philosophical asides.

Arabella Lennox-Boyd’s client list includes grandees such as the Duke of Westminster (of Eaton Hall, Cheshire, which must surely be her key work, beside her own garden), trendy institutions such as London’s Serpentine Gallery, and a smattering of rock stars. One picture caption, relating to her work at Il Palagio in Tuscany, begins, ‘I was pleased to agree with Sting’s idea for a curved path …’. An ungenerous observer might call this almost beyond parody. But it’s not name-dropping – it is simply and sincerely meant. This path clearly has ‘poise’, which is the one word that might sum up the designer’s style.

A certain artlessness pervades the text and is nearly always appealing. We learn that as a child it was camping trips near Rome that ‘gave my life new purpose and meaning’ – hinting at an unhappiness that is never fully expressed. Lennox-Boyd spent her summers at her family’s 15th-century Palazzo Parisi near Rome, which could only be reached by mule. There, she lived with her mother and her Scottish nanny in three rooms (out of 40) with no mains electricity, water or curtains, and with bats flitting about. Her mother had no interest in gardening, preferring to pursue business ventures such as snail breeding. Only much later was Lennox-Boyd able to make a garden there.

Sixteen gardens are presented here, but the highlight must be the designer’s own garden at Gresgarth, in Lancashire. Only here has Lennox-Boyd achieved a full and satisfying fusion of spatial grandeur and horticultural plenitude.