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Life in the Garden by Penelope Lively
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Life in the Garden

by Penelope Lively

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My mother was not a great reader, but she was a keen gardener across three continents and Life in the Garden would have been the perfect birthday gift for her. Penelope Lively is a great raconteur and this memoir of her own life in gardens is nostalgia reading for any of us with memories of English gardens and of creating our own gardens, wherever they happened to be.
Lively thinks that there is a genetic element to being a gardener, and that it passes through the female line. She tells us about her grandmother’s garden in Somerset, her mother’s garden in Cairo where she spent her childhood, and then about her own two gardens in Oxfordshire and her current small urban garden in London. There are hints, here and there, that although her mind is as sharp as ever, Lively is getting on a bit, something I’d rather not think about because she has been part of my reading life ever since I discovered Moon Tiger, which won the Booker in 1987. My mother was lucky to spend her last years with the garden she had created on the Gold Coast; I don’t think she would have thrived if, like Lively, she’d had to downsize to a small courtyard garden.
Like my mother – who loved it when I came up during term holidays and took her for short expeditions to the nearest Bunnings Garden Centre – Lively can’t help but be captivated by the marketing of new plants. In the chapter ‘the Fashionable Garden’, she traces the history of garden fashion, noting that
These days, garden fashion is dictated by television gardening programmes, by garden journalism, by what is available and conspicuous in garden centres. Both television and garden centres are relatively recent dictators – neither was around when I first took an interest in gardening in the 1960s. But we have always gardened according to the written word, and some very persuasively written words at that. In the early part of the twentieth century, and back in the nineteenth, writers were the garden gurus of the day. Not usually fiction writers, but devoted gardeners – maniacal gardeners indeed – who turned themselves into writers in order to spread the message. (p.81)
To read the rest of my review please visit https://anzlitlovers.com/2018/02/07/life-in-the-garden-by-penelope-lively-bookre... ( )
1 vote anzlitlovers | Feb 6, 2018 |
Oh dear. Penelope Lively has got me wanting to grow roses again. Well, and also plant mixed borders, fill containers with mounds and cascades of flowers, and arrange some sort of a “water feature.”

I enjoyed this tremendously! In her wide ranging little book Lively looks at gardens in literature, painting, and real life, considering the ways they are used to communicate ideas, convey character, and suggest social position, and also how they may simply give hints about the inclinations of their creators. She talks about gardeners, from the famous and wealthy, with grand estates and staff to do the digging, to the more modestly situated, with patio or allotment gardens. Memories of her own gardening experiences and those of family and friends are interspersed with reflections on literary gardens, public gardens, garden writers, garden designers, etc. From the philosophically abstract to the grubbily mundane, she explores gardens across time and countries, forcing me to add quite a few new books to my already too-lengthy tbr lists! Absolutely delightful. ( )
1 vote meandmybooks | Jan 24, 2018 |
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Penelope Lively has always been a keen gardener. This book is partly a memoir of her own life in gardens: the large garden at home in Cairo where she spent most of her childhood, her grandmother's garden in a sloping Somerset field, then two successive Oxfordshire gardens of her own, and the smaller urban garden in the North London home she lives in today. It is also an a wise, engaging and far-ranging exploration of gardens in literature, from Paradise Lost to Alice in Wonderland, and of writers and their gardens, from Virginia Woolf to Philip Larkin.… (more)

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