Mary Keen

The future isn’t rosy

Emotional geography is now a recognised academic subject. Is emotional botany heading the same way? This is a year for thoughtful books about plants and the way they affect lives, what they make people feel and how we can respect nature. Many of the year’s works might appeal to non-gardeners. Readers hoping for rose-tinted pages

Playing at shepherdesses

Oh, the longueurs of aristocratic Georgian leisure. What on earth did they do all day, with no domestic chores, no Wi-Fi, no television, no telephones for chatting and the slowest of transports to move their lives from the sticks to the bright lights of London or Bath? Kate Felus has written a fascinating book which

Dear Mary | 4 August 2016

Q. David and Samantha Cameron, their family and two armed policemen have moved to the house opposite us. Do you think we should organise a small drinks party to introduce them to the neighbours — or just pretend that we haven’t noticed their arrival? My son has promised to remove his ‘Leave’ poster before we

Viewing the view

Landskipping is about viewing the view, from the 18th century to the present. From the title (which is the only self-conscious thing about this terrific book) I feared we might be in for a heavy dose of Wordworthishness and ‘the lone enraptured male’ school of writing. But Anna Pavord, along with Kathleen Jamie, Dorothy Wordsworth

Is there anything new left in gardening books?

‘Whither the novel’ was a great dinner party topic in the 1960s. It is a question less aired these days, when novels come in strange and varied forms. From Paul Kingsnorth’s The Wake, set in the 11th century andwritten in cod Olde Englisshe, to the versifying of Constantine Phipps (much chosen as ‘book of the

Notes on…the great English garden

‘Write about the best English gardens,’ says the email from the deputy editor, ‘or what makes a good garden?’ That’s a bit like saying, ‘write about the best paintings, or the best music.’ Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and we now behold so many varieties of English garden that it is hard

Pretty maids all in a row

It is received gardening wisdom that men tend lawns and women plant flowers. This is a good year to see how two exceptional writers on gardens live up to that definition. Our top horticultural columnists, Anna Pavord of the Independent and Robin Lane Fox of the Financial Times, have both published elegant and witty collections

Vale of tares

‘Feather footed through the plashy fen passes the questing vole.’ Nature writing used to be a subject for ridicule. ‘Feather footed through the plashy fen passes the questing vole.’ Nature writing used to be a subject for ridicule. Evelyn Waugh, the arch sneerer, might have found it harder to parody the modern breed of literary

Recent gardening books | 2 December 2009

Philippa Lewis is a picture researcher, with an eye for uncommon facts and a wry way of presenting them. Her book Everything You Can Do in the Garden Without Actually Gardening (Frances Lincoln, £16.99), is a scholarly and entertaining social history with pictures. Most books of this type recycle old material, but this writer has

A choice of gardening books

Aspiration. Aspiration. Aspir- ation is still the watchword for publishers of gardening books. How many heavy, glossy productions filled with Get-the- Look pictures does the average gardener need? Especially when what is always peddled and praised tends to emphasise the haute couture of horticulture. There is a fashionable tendency to over-intellectualise about design. This is

A choice of gardening books | 20 December 2008

This is the time of year for dutiful appraisal of current garden books. The heart sometimes sinks at the thought of conning the same old material in a newer and glossier arrangement, but Ronald Blythe’s Outsiders is a genuinely original find. Like Akenfield, his portrait of an English village, his latest work breaks the mould.

Ancient and modern unite

Once, when Adam Nicolson was asked the question ‘will you be writing a family memoir?’, he answered, ‘I think my family is the most memoired family in the history of the universe. It’s like a disease. “No” is definitely the answer to that.’ But Sissinghurst: An Unfinished History is at least a quarter family memoir.

Recent gardening books | 24 November 2007

Celebrity gardeners are what publishers are banking on this year. The Dowager Marchioness of Salisbury, known in New York as ‘the high priestess of historic garden design’, has given us her gardening autobiography. A Gardener’s Life (Frances Lincoln, £35) is illustrated by another aristocrat, Derry Moore — in private life Lord Drogheda. The book looks

Pioneer of the studied casual

Norah Lindsay had wit, beauty and a bohemian spirit. Diana Cooper described her dressing ‘mostly in tinsel and leopard skins and baroque pearls and emeralds’. At Sutton Courtenay, the house where she lived through the early years of her marriage to Harry Lindsay, she entertained non-stop. Raymond Asquith, Julian and Billy Grenfell, Maurice Baring and

Recent gardening books | 26 November 2005

Twenty years ago, gardening books never made it to the coffee table. The reader had to supply the glamorous illustrations. It was a bit like the difference between listening to the wireless and watching telly. I remember Mark Boxer, who was a publisher then, saying, ‘Once garden books start using pictures, they will sell in

Recent gardening books

The late Paul Getty has left gardeners a surprising legacy. Gardens of the Roman World by Patrick Bowe was published in America last year by Getty publications and the copyright belongs to the J. Paul Getty Trust. Did our run-of-the-mill publishers miss a trick here? I imagine the proposal for a book about Roman gardens

Gardener’s question time

Is the taxpayer about to stump up another £16 million for the Duchess of Northumberland’s pet project, Alnwick Garden? Mary Keen investigates To him that hath shall be given, and to the Duke and Duchess of Northumberland hath been given quite a lot. We are talking public funding here. The £11.5m Lottery sum awarded to

Finding Paradise in your own back garden

Gardening is the nation’s hobby. It is worth around £3 billion in annual business, much of it generated by television makeovers. No one is letting on that what keeps us spending is the pursuit of a dream. Makeovers are showbiz, brilliant marketing tools, but Eldorado will never be found at B & Q or the

. . . and truncheons and snowdrops

Alistair McAlpine, one-time treasurer of the Tory party, is not a conventional fellow. A picker up of unconsidered trifles, he has in his time collected truncheons, chickens and snowdrops. He gets crazes and then he moves on: whole collections go under the hammer. ‘No object or painting has such beauty that I could not bear