I’ve loved books ever since my youth. My Uncle Michael would (and still does) present me with illustrated wonders such as Kit Williams’ “Masquerade” for birthdays and Christmasses: this began my love affair with monochrome print and colourful photographic plates sandwiched between hard covers. By the time I left home for university I already had quite a collection, covering science, invention, nature and literary classics. I read Lord of the Rings for the first time before I was 14 and have read it six times more since then.
Despite the march of technology, books still arouse a sense of childlike wonderment in me. When I pick up a new book I never cease to marvel at the time, commitment and talent that’s gone into bringing the razor-sharp pages into being. In their own way, books are works of art. I cannot bear to part with them, nor can I resist rescuing unloved books from second-hand shops, which is why I have so many of them.
Over the last few years collecting books has become an obsession. I won’t pretend to you that I’m very good at reading the books I collect, in fact I’m hopeless at finding the time, but I keep collecting in the vain hope that one day I might break a leg or be otherwise confined to the house for long enough to enjoy a sustained period of reading indulgence.
In April 2015 we got the chance to buy a small property backing on to our home, The Watch House. This presented a once in a lifetime opportunity to extend our home, creating new bedrooms and a bathroom on the first floor. We already had two living rooms and a dining room, so what were we to do with the ground floor? Looking around at the stacks of books cluttering every surface, it didn’t take long to reach the conclusion that a library would not only be a stately addition to our humble fisherman’s cottage, but also a practical one.
After a birthday meal at the Ham Yard Hotel in London I stumbled upon the resident’s library, designed by Kit Kemp. Although our library wasn’t going to measure up to the magnificent scale of this lovely room, I was instantly inspired by the symmetry, light and layout of the space. We too had a generous central chimney breast and large windows, and we wanted storage as well as shelving. The library at Ham Yard was to provide the blue print for our room, giving me every excuse to keep returning there for a cocktail or two over the last 18 months.
I refer to our library as “botanical”, which is a liberty as it will strictly be a horticultural library. However there is more to the botanical concept than just books. As the library takes shape I am planning to incorporate as many references to plants and botany as I possibly can, whether that’s in the form of plaster ceiling roses shaped like sunflowers, vines carved into the profile of the fireplace or botanical prints on the walls. I have given myself the task of sourcing vintage glass terrariums, microscopes and antique glass domes to add a decorative flourish and break up the serried ranks of books.The library links seamlessly to a garden room (neither a conservatory nor a greenhouse … and definitely not an orangery) on one side making the theme even more appropriate.
At the time of writing, late December 2016, the construction of the library has been completed but the structure has yet to be decorated. This will be another time-consuming task, but if a job is worth doing, it is worth doing properly. In the meantime books occupy every free surface in the house, from bedside tables to bookshelves, chests to kitchen worktops. They deserve better, and by summer they should be in their rightful positions.
I have started to scribble on the back of an envelope the categories in which I will arrange my books. Some design-conscious friends (they know who they are) have suggested arranging them according to the colour of their spines. This is absurd on two counts: first I could never recall the position of a book according to its colour, and second because the majority of books about plants and flowers are green under their dust jackets. I will broadly organise them by subject – for example practical gardening, encyclopaedias, wildlife gardening and landscape architecture – so that books of a similar nature are grouped together. I also hope to sort hundreds of copies of The Garden and Gardens Illustrated collected over the last 20 years or so. Getting them in order will keep me out of mischief for a little while.
I am very aware that a library is an enormous luxury, both in terms of space and expense, so I intend to spend as much time as possible in it, when I am not outside in the garden. Thanks to an enormous wood burning stove and large sash windows it will be warm and cosy in winter, cool and comfortable in summer. Who knows, I may even linger there long enough to read a book or two.
Follow this link for a list of the books I find invaluable and enlightening in my fledgling library. If you have any gardening books that you can heartily recommend, do please leave a comment below. Happy Reading. TFG.