Oh dear. Him Indoors has gone skiing and left me alone, at home, with only my credit card for company. It’s dangerous territory, and we both know it. Just ten minutes on Amazon earlier this week and I had parted with the best part of £100 on books that I haven’t really got time to read. But, what belters they are, every one of them a masterpiece crafted from board, paper and ink. I felt I had to share them with you here, and free of charge.
First out of the box was Landscape of Dreams by Julian and Isabel Bannerman. A luminous tome in every respect, the pages guide the reader through a series of sublime gardens created by the couple over a period of thirty years. Isabel and Julian have worked for many prestigious clients and are garden designers by appointment to HRH The Price of Wales. Yet it’s in their own gardens at Hanham Court, Somerset and Tremanton Castle, Cornwall that they have created the most magical landscapes. I kick myself now that I never visited Hanham Court, just a few minutes’ drive from my parents’ house, when they were still gardening there*. If the pictures are anything to go by, it was a little piece of heaven on earth. A visit to Tremanton is on the cards later this year and my excitement is already mounting. Just a few pages of this book before bedtime are guaranteed to have you dreaming of finding a forgotten house in a secret garden, the same fantasy that has fuelled the Bannermans’ imagination throughout their glittering career.
When I think of Michael Hestletine, back in the news headlines this week, I think of many things: gardening is not one of them. It was a surprise, therefore, to discover that the former Deputy Prime Minister has been busy creating a notable garden and arboretum at his home in Northamptonshire. Writing with his wife, Anne, Thenford: The Creation of an English Garden is a detailed and lavishly illustrated account of creating a garden from an area of wild, overgrown woodland surrounding a beautiful Italianate house. Judging by the first chapter, written by Anne, it promises to be a cracking read.
Since I’ve had a lectern on which to display large format books, I have been on the scout for more. Botanicum, written by Professor Kathy Willis and illustrated by Katie Scott, instantly attracted me with its generous proportions, easy prose and stylised botanical drawings. If a book like Botanicum had existed when I was a lad, I would have devoured it. As it is, I am happy to do so now, re-learning what I had long forgotten about carnivorous plants, mangrove forests, Victoria amazonica, flower structures, cycads, Gingko biloba and Carboniferous forests. Take my advice and don’t delay buying yourself a copy; if you have friends with children, but them a copy too. Botanicum deserves to become a classic.
At the bottom of the box, and this one’s a real indulgence, was Plant: Exploring the Botanical World, published by Phaidon. A glossy, embossed cover displays a collage of illustrated ‘petals’ arranged like a flower. Inside, a panel of experts has paired examples of botanical art to ‘create thought-provoking juxtapositions’. The result is fascinating in many ways. Apart from anything else, the sheer diversity of styles in which humankind has recorded and represented plants and flowers is staggering: for example, one double page spread places an illustration of Pyrus pyrifolia (Asian Pear) rendered in tempera on pear wood alongside gelatin silver prints of cultivated pears photographed c. 1901-20. Early in the book I have already marvelled at Franz Bauer’s exquisite depiction of Strelitzia reginae c. 1818 and Macoto Murayama’s 3D rendering of a rose, created in 2008. This books alone provides motivation enough to start a botanical art collection.
Was my £98.07 well spent? I’d say so. These aren’t just any old books, they’re in a league of their own. All I need now is the gift of time in which to enjoy them.
*The current custodians of Hanham Court open the gardens for the NGS and Rare Plant Fairs. Check here for details.