A Growing Obsession

Reading time 7 minutes

The promise of a new library has fuelled my growing obsession with books related to gardens and gardening. My Christmas list is a roll call of titles old and new, including Richard Mabey’s “The Cabaret of Plants“, Frank Lawley and Val Cobbins’ “Herterton House” and the late, great Will Giles’ “Encyclopaedia of Exotic Plants for Temperate Climates“.

The generosity of family and friends only extends so far, and my limited budget dictates that I won’t be able to furnish all of my bookshelves with spanking new tomes, so instead I have been trawling second hand bookshops far and wide, dredging up some surprisingly good finds.

The Botanical Garden, Roger Phillips and Martyn Rix

Bargain of the year, purchased from the Oxfam Bookshop in Highgate, must be Volumes I and II of Martyn Rix and Roger Phillips’ “The Botanical Garden“. When originally published in 2002 each volume carried a £50 price tag: I snapped the pair up this weekend for just £30. The cheerful volunteer behind the cash desk declared my purchase “sale of the day”, which only served to compound my glee. 

A faded green slipcase envelops two weighty books printed in glorious technicolor. They appear never to have been opened or read. Despite the passing of 13 years the pages look fresh as a daisy, furnished with clear yet evocative photographs in place of the usual botanical illustrations. A picture is worth a thousand words and I have already had great fun acquainting myself with unfamiliar plants such as Widdringtonia and Ourisia.

Volume I features trees, shrubs and woodly climbers, whilst Volume II is devoted to annuals and perennials. In all plants from more than 1,200 distinct groups are described, from Acer to Amaranthus, Wellingtonia to Woodwardia. Plants are are presented and described in evolutionary order, beginning with the most primitive and ending with the most advanced. As general references and aids to plant identification they will be superb additions to my new library. Books ten years in the creation, I can see myself referring to them often and for many decades to come.

The Green Florilegium, Hanne Kolind Poulsen

For me there is something far more alluring and informative about images than text, but then I am an especially visual person. This is one of the many reasons why I’m so excited to receive my “unread, in very good condition” copy of The Green Florilegium in the post before Christmas. I recall, some two years ago, walking past the window of Hatchards in Piccadilly and lusting after this extraordinary magnum opus. The original Green Florilegium, now in the care of the Statens Museum for Kunst in Copenhagen, is neither signed nor dated. However it’s believed to have been painted in the 17th Century by a German artist named Hans Simon Holtzbecker. In this century the book has been painstakingly restored so that the original colours and details shine off the pages once again. The Green Florilegium reproduces Holtzbecker’s entire catalogue of 400 beautiful illustrations in its entirety. Even at a third of the original cover price this is an expensive book, but one doesn’t expect to buy diamonds for coal.

The Irish Garden, Hyams and MacQuitty

An authoritative new book on Irish gardens written by Jane Powers, imaginatively entitled “The Irish Garden” (below), is right at the top of my Christmas list. Much to my chagrin, the gardens of The Emerald Isle remain largely unknown to me, apart from through the colour plates and descriptions of such wordly publications.

Until I right that wrong, I am more than content to take a walk down memory lane by perusing a recently purchased copy of “Irish Gardens” written by Edward Hyams with photographs by William MacQuitty. Published in 1967 this book enjoyed pride of place on my Cornish grandparents’ bookshelf. I was entranced by the images and staggered by the book’s size which, even now, strikes me as impressive. I would ask for the volume to be brought down (it was placed sensibly above the height where I could reach it) and would sit for hours gazing at the luridly coloured plates. They appeared to depict some kind of Nirvana. I think what struck me was not the grandeur of the gardens, but the way in which they sat so elegantly within Ireland’s stunning landscape. One day I would be very happy to experience those same scenes first hand.

In view of the great abundance of reading material I’ve procured for myself (and asked Father Christmas for) I have vowed to declare one day between Christmas and New Year an official ‘Reading Day’. If it happens it will be a miracle, but then a book is for life, not just for Christmas.

Whether you’re hoping for books, chocolates, diamonds, or simply some time to put your feet up, I wish you and your family a very joyful Christmas.

The Frustrated Gardener, December 22nd 2015.

The Irish Garden, Jane Powers


Categories: Annuals, Book Reviews, Musings, Perennials, Plants, Trees and Shrubs

Posted by The Frustrated Gardener

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24 comments On "A Growing Obsession"

  1. Thanks for the lovely article on garden books. Op shops are another brilliant source of great books old and new. I love the history of plants and design you’ve captured in this collection. Have a lovely Christmas read.

  2. I’ve been reading your blog for more than a year now and am so impressed by the standard of photography and the writing: not complicated, but keeps me on my toes and together with the really beautiful photos and interesting observations it is my year-round Christmas present.

    Take your reading day, you deserve. All the best to you both, Annie

  3. Hi Dan, I am in love with secondhand books too. Of course the price is great but they also have a faded romance that I like. This year I’ve requested ‘Roses for English Gardens’ by Gertrude Jekyll (just hope I’ve been good enough!) but I also found a great Secret Santa present this year for a Graham Stuart Thomas fan which looked practically brand new. Hope you get the books you desire and more importantly the time to read them. Merry Christmas, Helen

    1. Oh the time! That really is the greatest gift of all Helen. I am sure your secret Santa gift will be hugely appreciated. I got a polyester bow tie with holly on it, so wish it had been you buying for me! Wishing you a very Happy Christmas and a sparkling New Year. Dan x

  4. Second hand books have character and history, and when populating a new library they are a really good idea. Looks like you found some great deals there. Here’s hoping you have lots of time to read this winter because you’ll get great ideas for your new garden area and your readers will get to go along for the journey. Merry Christmas, Dan, and I hope 2016 is a wonderful year for you and your loved ones. 🎄

    1. Thanks Judy. You are quite right about character. I like to imagine who a second hand book’s previous owners might have been and love nothing better than to find a handwritten dedication inside the cover, or notes in a margin. Also I detest waste, so giving unwanted books a new home is one of my top reasons (read “excuses”) for buying them 😉

  5. What a fabulous find! You have excellent taste, I must say, and the florilegium is on my wish list now too… maybe next Christmas! Hope you get that reading day in. Merry Christmas!

  6. My biggest problem with shopping for Xmas presents is that I find all sorts of things for myself. Books especially. I read a review of The Irish Garden by Jane Powers a while back and am now reminded of it with your post, thank you. Hope you take time for that reading day. I need to do the same. Happy Holidays.

  7. How lucky you are! Those look like a riveting selection. I love all the Phillips and Rix books, but especially Wild Food (brilliant and humorous photos). I will be on the lookout for the others you have introduced now. The Irish Garden is on my list too, so fingers crossed. I wish you many happy hours reading.

    1. Thank you! I bought Wild Food for my dad this Christmas but found it had a lot of recipes in it so changed my mind and wrapped it up for Him Indoors instead (hopefully neither will be reading my reply to you!). Hope you have an excellent Christmas. Dan

  8. Ah books….every home should have lots! I would say that as my earlier career was in libraries! You’ve got some great books there Dan and enjoy your reading day over Xmas. I look forward to seeing the photos of your Gentlemans Library filled with gardening times in your new home!

  9. I am in receipt of the latest Garden Illustrated magazine ‘The Plant Issue’ and find it has a great article in it on the great gardening books that have been available for a gardener’s library.. It sure is worth a look.

    1. I am half way through writing a new page of book recommendations (a Christmas holiday project whilst I feel under less pressure to write normal posts) so we should compare notes sooner rather than later!

  10. Your passion for plants is just amazing! As a practicing landscape designer, I spend lots of time in the universe of the plants and am in love with it. However, from your articles, your love seems to be so much bigger! Thank you for inspring me and so many other people, Dan!
    Merry Christmas!

  11. Oh, what lovely books! I love trawling second hand book shops too. Those shelves will soon fill up. I seem to have nearly 400 gardening and flower books, I don’ t know how that happened. They are fighting for space with all our other books. I need new shelves- I need a new house.
    I hadn’ t realised Will Giles had died, although I knew he was ill. How sad, such a nice man and a wonderful garden.
    Have a great Christmas Dan.

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