Wednesday, December 30, 2015

The Garden Anthology - a book review

The Garden Anthology - edited by Ursula Buchan (Frances Lincoln, Ltd., 2014).

I am an RHS member, and receive on a monthly basis their magazine - The Garden. This is generally an interesting read. Whilst I do get occasionally fed up of yet an other gushing review of a huge private garden, there are also articles on smaller gardens and, increasingly, social/gardening movements. This year, Tim Richardson wrote a great article on  the High Line in New York. Whilst I'm never likely to visit it, Tim's coverage of social and political factors lying behind the garden made for a more interesting read than the normal "Look at the lovely herbaceous perennials" discussion of it.

Tim Richardson is one of the authors chosen to feature in this book, a collection of articles from over 100 years of The Garden magazine. His short article discusses the landscaping at Ground Zero. Other authors include plant hunter George Forrest, garden designers Geoffrey Jellicoe and Gertrude Jekyll, and cook Nigel Slater. I was going to write 'a real mix', but perhaps very much indicating the typical readership. Middle class (and higher - Viscountess Byng of Vimy?), almost exclusively white, although men and women are both well represented. I suppose a pretty accurate reflection of the readership.

The articles themselves cover a range of topics - seasons, the kitchen garden, plants and people. The more fascinating chapters for me were those which showed a wider variety between the years. For this reason, I particularly enjoyed the pests and diseases and science and innovation sections. Here, dates of articles ranged most widely, from 1900 to 2013. It was fascinating to read a review of the horticultural value of Mendel's experiments in genetics, and to see how the use of chemicals has changed over time. I was glad to see that the author of a section on popular weedkillers acknowledged that arsenic might constitute a health hazard for the user. Chlorates, on the other hand, were fine.

As I mentioned above, it was the older articles (a smattering of early 1900s through to 1954) that were so interesting, shedding a light on past thoughts and gardening practicalities. Some things change, others not so much. Which leads me on to the one thing I found disappointing about the book. With the weight of history of The Garden magazine, it was a shame that the editor concentrated on very recent articles. I became a little obsessed by this, I admit. It turns out that 30% of the articles chosen for this anthology came from the single year 2010, with 73% of them being from 2009 - 2014 Whilst I was working this out, I also noticed the editor's name cropping up quite a lot in articles, and discovered that 9 (or 7%) of the articles she chose were written by her. The only other writer with anywhere near the same number of articles chosen was Hugh Johnson, mostly writing as Tradescant, who wrote for The Garden from 1975 to 2006. He contributed 6 articles (4.6%). I can only conclude that The Garden had a golden year in 2010, for so many articles to be chosen. Thinking back, I can't imagine that 2010 was so outstanding. Perhaps that was when a modern system of online indexing made article choice easier...

I must make mention of the beautiful illustrations by Jenny Bowers that are scattered throughout the book - they're a joy.

In summary - an interesting read, easy to dip into, but I can't help wishing for a few more historical articles.

Note: I was sent this book to review. I do so belatedly (it was published in late 2014). All views are my own, etc.

No comments: