Alan Titchmarsh: The best gardening books from my 5,000 volume library
Alan Titchmarsh’s best gardening books have helped shape his career – he takes a look at some very special items from his library.
When my children were small, I told myself that the library I was building, in addition to being for my pleasure, would provide them with everything they wanted to know: “Dad; how do plants grow? Who built the Taj Mahal? Where is Azerbaijan?’ And then, when they were 11 and 13, the Internet arrived. Once again, my study was mine alone.
When it comes to finding information about plants, gardens and all things green – as with any topic you want to mention – the internet is an instant source. And yet, and yet… in terms of tactility — and illustrations — electronic communication is left for dead by the printed page. Not only do books furnish a room, they also furnish a mind and, just as importantly, they stimulate the senses.
I admit to using the Internet for scraps of information, but as a book collector for 50 years, my bookshelves bear witness to my delight in the content that lies between the covers of over 5,000 volumes on everything from art and architecture to natural history. , botany and gardening.
I wholeheartedly subscribe to Sir Winston Churchill’s saying, “If you can’t read all your books… stroke them… look at them, let them open where they want, read from the first sentence that holds the ‘eye, put them back on the shelves with your own hands, arrange them according to your own plan so that you at least know where they are. Let them be your friends; let them, in any case, be your acquaintances.
“Kim Wilkie’s Led by the Land and Tom Stuart-Smith’s Drawn From the Land provide insight into the spirit and manifestations of two of our greatest landscape gardeners”
Old volumes like that of Gérard Herball and Redoute Roses sit side by side with 19th century leather bound volumes Curtis Botanical Magazinewhose hand-colored plates amaze anyone who picks up a volume and flips through the pages.
But my interest and my pleasure have no limit at the dawn of the 21st century. There are brand new volumes that make me happy and these tend to fall into two camps: those that are beautifully produced and well illustrated and those that are discursive and thought provoking. Some books have managed to fulfill both requirements at the same time. Among these, that of Kim Wilkie ruled by earth and Tom Stuart-Smith Pulled from the ground provide insight into the spirit and manifestations of two of our greatest landscape artists. I use the term “gardener” rather than “architect”, because both have a great sense of plants, in addition to being sculptors of the earth.
At Arabella Lennox-Boyd’s The gardens of my life operates on a slightly smaller scale, but all three books are inspiring and rewarding and I find myself opening them and poring over their glorious pages on a fairly regular basis, not just with envy, but with the aim of emulating their talent.
When it comes to inspirational writing, two contemporary exponents come to mind: Robin Lane Fox and Hugh Johnson. Better gardening was published by Mr. Lane Fox in 1982, but the writing has a freshness that the years have not tarnished. Thoughtful gardening from 2010 builds on these earlier experiences, as we all should.
“Wise, prejudiced, opinionated and anti-mildew, Christopher Lloyd fired up a generation or two of gardeners”
by Hugh Johnson Sitting in the shade is a brand new 10 year compilation of the author’s diary. Having written about gardens and gardening since 1975 under the title ‘Trad’ at the top of the RHS journal The gardenthe current compilation shows that Mr Johnson’s palate, far from being jaded, has matured as one of the great wines of which he is also an expert.
These two writers both have an engaging yet informative style and their books are perfect for the bedside table – a section or two each night before eyelids start to droop is the perfect nightcap.
I cannot leave out Christopher Lloyd, whose friendship I valued immensely and with whom I sat by a crackling log fire at Great Dixter and chewed the fat. As long-time readers of country life will know, he wrote his weekly column in this magazine for 42 years, starting in 1963. Wise, prejudiced, opinionated and a mold breaker, he ignited a generation or two of gardeners with his well-crafted prose, steeped in experience and spirit. When it comes to garden writing, he has never been eclipsed, and when I want to renew our friendship, I have only to pick up one of his books.
Friendship, wisdom and glorious images – on the page or in the mind – available now in a book near you.
Credit: Jacky Parker/Getty
Alan Titchmarsh’s Christmas column takes a look at all the plants for the holiday season.
Credit: Moment Editorial/Getty
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