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.
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.
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.
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.