Thursday, April 8, 2021

In The Garden - Essays on Nature and Growing

It was the 14th of January 2020 when I last went to London, the purpose of the trip was to get a readers card for the National Art Library (housed in the V&A). It was a preliminary for a piece of research that's back on indefinite hold now, and even when it's possible to revisit London for nothing much more than pleasure it's going to be a much longer time before I want to go there (or consider the exorbitant train fare worth while). I've never been to Daunt Books - there's never been time. 

It's London that 'In The Garden' mostly evokes for me though, and I'm not sure how I feel about that. Individually each essay in this collection is excellent - there's not a weak link in the chain. Not even Nigel Slater who is not a favourite writer (I can't deny the quality of his writing, but I can't relate to it either - everything in his written and photographed world feels too perfectly curated, too aspirational, for me - even the imperfections, it leaves me cold). Collectively there's a metrocentric feel about the book that I think leaves it feeling a little unbalanced.

Kerri Ní Dochartaigh describing the garden she's growing in Ireland, and Caroline Craig's 'Just Call Me Alan' where she describes her families farming and gardening in Provence, both towards the end of the collection somewhat redress the balance, but a couple more essays like this to add to the mix would have been welcome. 

It's not that I'm unsympathetic towards London bound millennials struggling with high rents and shared housing, longing for a garden to find and ground themselves in. I live in a city centre flat, the lack of a garden of my own is a constant small grief, but I also know plenty of millennials who didn't go to London, who by their mid twenties had mostly bought houses and gardens with their partners, who got allotments and started families before they were 30. I want to read something which reflects what a garden means to these people too.

What is here is excellent though, and there are at least a good number of voices that I don't think we often see in garden and nature writing. How a garden might tie together generations of immigrant families - from the first generation trying to assimilate or recreate a little bit of home through 2nd and third generations making their own identities or reaching back to find links with different parts of their heritage.

Zing Tsjeng's 'A Ghost Story' is a favourite piece for the way she talks about how her garden bridges gaps between her and her mother, and all she has to say on how we transfer our feelings into something like a garden. Francesca Wade is very good on London Square gardens in 'A Common Inheritance' too - but then I'll say again, there isn't a weak essay here. There's no shortage of things to think about either, I guess this is what happens when you chose writers to talk about gardening rather than gardeners to write about it. 

I've also been a little bit on the fence about buying both Kerri Ní Dochartaigh's 'Thin Places' and Francesca Wade's 'Square Haunting' too, but I'm now much more interested in both based on what I've read here. It's definitely a collection to have a good look at.

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