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In the Garden: Essays on Nature and Growing – Book Review

A fascinating and beautifully written series of essays that explores the challenge and charm of various authors’ very individual gardening experiences. Reviewer Naomi Slade is a writer and designer.

by Niellah Arboine et al
Daunt Books, £9.99
ISBN 978-1911547921


This is a book of autobiographies in microcosm; a collection of essays written by people for whom the garden is a growth experience, balm, salvation, escape and much more.

Gardening is a personal thing and the stories are short and sweet: tales of inspiration and delight; individual perspectives and life journeys to be experienced by the reader briefly and fleetingly. The juxtaposition of voices somehow more poignant than a single, longer narrative would be.

The stories, divided into themed sections, counterpoint each other, expose both fundamental differences and common elements, like acts in an opera. It highlights social and racial inequalities and different levels of experience, yet it also reveals the equality inherent in the act of growing – it is a leveller, a commonality.

There is a fascinatingly pervasive sense of understanding, too. Of society and life lived from Penelope Lively; of the essence of what it is to be – to feel – a gardener in the case of Jamaica Kincaid. Paul Mendez addressing heritage, coming of age, sexuality and religion through the medium of plants. Claire Lowdon’s energising exploration of language and growing annuals, and the dreamy, poetic, intellectual, biological meditation on alkanet from Daisy Lafarge.

I found this book joyous in many ways. There is its international, culturally diverse flavour and its social scope. There is the chance to meet new writers and appreciate freshly those you knew already. The quality of the writing and the exquisite clarity of expression is tinglingly good, while the opportunity to revel pleasurably in language feels almost illicit.


This is not really a book about gardening, therefore, so much as the experience of gardening. It is an unpretentious and intelligent collection ponderings, and it is fresh, invigorating and thoroughly enjoyable.