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The Morville Hours: The Story of a Garden by…
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The Morville Hours: The Story of a Garden (original 2008; edition 2009)

by Katherine Swift (Author)

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1605112,089 (4.17)23
Member:catalpa
Title:The Morville Hours: The Story of a Garden
Authors:Katherine Swift (Author)
Info:Bloomsbury Publishing PLC (2009), Edition: UK ed., 384 pages
Collections:Your library
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Tags:history, unread

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The Morville Hours by Katherine Swift (2008)

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Showing 5 of 5
I picked this up in a charity shop thinking it was a historical novel, perhaps along the lines of Rumer Godden's "China Court". But instead it's a beautifully written account of how the author made a garden, practically from scratch, for the National Trust, recreating older styles of garden within it. (I'm still intrigued as to how she achieved this massive project when she had no money; this is never explained. Magic?) Horticulture, geology, history, family memories, local lore and much more besides make a glorious pot-pourri, or perhaps a patchwork quilt, of a book, based around the monastic Hours or services throughout the day.
Other books about making gardens sprang to mind, notably "Memory in a House" by Lucy Boston, and also "A Garden in My Life" by Cynthia Ramsden, about a garden in North Derbyshire.
Then occurred one of those synchronicities or happenstances: the very next book I picked up, completely unrelated, featured a family called Morville on the very first page ("The Heir of Redclyffe" by Charlotte M Yonge). As my dear departed brother might have said "Th'art entering the Twiglet Zone, tha knows".
  PollyMoore3 | Nov 23, 2017 |
The Morville Hours by Katie Swift

In August 1988 Katie Swift and her husband moved in to The Dower House, Morville. They arrived with two removal vans of books, three cats, and two car loads of plants. Up until that time Katie was Keeper of Early Printed Books in the library of Trinity College, Dublin. Her husband had a bookshop in Oxford, and Swift was commuting back to Oxford at weekends. "Morville was his plan to get (her) home." Although closer than Dublin, Morville is in Shropshire, up against the Welsh border.

From the garden of the Dower House one can see the church clock tower, and hear the bells as they strike the quarters and the hours, and ring for the rituals of the church. The church had been built in the early twelfth century by monks of the Benedictine Abbey of Shrewsbury, and then in 1138 permission was granted to build a priory there. The priory is long gone, a casualty of the Reformation, and it is no longer known exactly where the buildings stood. A Roman road passes nearby, and there is evidence of much older habitation. Digging the ground in her new garden Swift would find traces of previous occupants of the land: flints, pipes, glass and pottery. Among her neighbours were people who remembered the old village families and the agrarian practices now on the edge of extinction.

Swift set out to research the history of Morville, back to the creation of the landscape, the reasons for the variation in soil and rock, forward through the lives of various people who would have had a material influence on the estate. She then created a series of gardens together making a coherent whole, but individually planted especially for some previous inhabitant, with plants and planting style appropriate to the style, period, and interests of the selected people.

Books of Hours were produced for the laity throughout the Middle Ages, an abbreviated, portable version of the Hours of The Divine Office which, though pre-dating him, were codified by St Benedict in his rule, a practical guide to monastic life. The prayers, psalms, hymns and readings appropriate to the monastic hours change through the year, and thus books of hours also operate like calendars, with their illustrations showing the activities appropriate to the month; both the day and the year are measured and divided. There are seven Day Hours, plus Vigils, the Night Office, also, confusingly, known as Matins. The length of the 'Hours' would change with the seasons.

Swift's book follows the same division, with the chapters being named for the Hours, moving forward from Vigils, celebrated at 2 a.m., the vigil before dawn, Te deum laudamus, when one would consider the day ahead, - January, the begining of the year and of the garden, the inquiry into the oldest inhabitaants, through to Compline, celebrated at 9pm, the word derived from the Old French meaning 'complete', a time of facing the dark at the end of the day before retiring to bed. Nunc dimittis - now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace. December, the present. As the hours construct the day so the hours of Swift's book track the creation of her garden, the seasons of the year, the history of the previous owners, the history of the plants or planting styles they would have used. Along the way she discusses calendars, time, celestial bodies, classical mythology, changes in farming methods and gardening styles over the years and our relationship with nature. Every once and a while fragments of her own family history.

I had resisted this book for a long time, fearing I was just succumbing to the clever cover design, but it was a fascinating and inspiring read. It is lifted above the dry by Swift's extraordinary passion for her subject and her lyrical imaginative descriptions. She has an unashamedly childlike enthusiasm for her plants. The windows and door of the house are frequently thrown wide open all year round so that she can smell the garden. She gets down on her hands and knees to snuffle at low lying scented flowers. Towards the end of the book I began to wish that Swift's descriptions would occasionally be less imaginative, but I think that was just because I read so slowly the richness of the language was becoming occasionally too much. Definitely one to keep.
2 vote Oandthegang | Jan 22, 2015 |
I felt that what this author really wanted to write about was her parents and in particular her father. These were the parts of this book which I think I enjoyed the most. This is a very detailed gardening book about the way the author constructed a garden in a property in Shropshire, England which she and her husband Ken had taken a lease on for 20 years. I found it unbelievable that one would put so much effort into a garden which one didn't own.

I appreciated both the map of Shropshire and the map of the garden which were at the front of the book.
  louis69 | Nov 17, 2014 |
An interesting story of a garden, a house, a place and a woman. Katherine Swift arrives at the Dower House at Morville and decides that the neglected garden needs to be revived. She launches herself into the task and also looks at the past of the garden, being able to see the echoes in the present. As she searches for information she also finds information about the place and it's role in the community over the years.

The book is organised around the hours of the divine office mapped against the year, looking at the cycle of the seasons.

The story isn't just about the place, it's also about Katherine and her journey towards understanding of her self and her past and future. Her descriptions are evocative and lyrical and while sometimes it was a little rambly it was like talking to the person rather than being a more linear story. You could see the ideas sparking other ideas in her mind.

Overall a book to read in sections, to digest and not to rush at. ( )
  wyvernfriend | Sep 17, 2010 |
Kenneth Cox, third-generation plant hunter, nurseryman and author of numerous garden books, has chosen to discuss Katherine Swift’s “The Morville Hours ", on FiveBooks (http://five-books.com) as one of the top five on his subject - Plant Hunting, saying that:
“…It’s a melange of history, meditation, self-exploration, philosophy, autobiography and geology. And it’s one of the most ambitious gardening texts I have ever read. All the better for not having any photographs. Literary gardening at its best…”
The full interview is available here:
http://thebrowser.com/books/interviews/kenneth-cox ( )
  FiveBooks | Feb 1, 2010 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0747598231, Paperback)

In 1988 Katherine Swift arrived at the Dower House at Morville to create a garden of her own. This beautifully written, utterly absorbing book is the history of the many people who have lived in the same Shropshire house, tending the same soil, passing down stories over the generations. Spanning thousands of years, The Morville Hours takes the form of a medieval Book of Hours. It is a meditative journey through the seasons, but also a journey of self-exploration. It is a book about finding one's place in the world and putting down roots.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:19:55 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

The book takes the reader on a journey through time, from 1988 when the author arrived to make a new garden of her own, back to the forces which shaped the garden, linking the stories of those who lived in the same Shropshire house and tended the same red Shropshire soil with the stories of those who live and work there today.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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