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Tangled Branches: Cultivated

happenings in and around my zone 6b gardens in northern Virginia and in central Virginia

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Dear Friend and Gardener

Great Dixter in snow, from
The December/January selection for the Garden Bloggers' Book Club, brainchild of Carol at May Dreams Gardens, is Dear Friend and Gardener by Beth Chatto and Christopher Lloyd. The book takes the form of two years worth of correspondence between the authors. I knew the names Beth Chatto and Christopher Lloyd, but my knowledge of their work and accomplishments was only slight. I'd heard of Beth Chatto's famous Gravel Garden and read some short articles by Christopher Lloyd in Country Life. So, I was eager to get to know them better.

The book was perhaps a bit predictable - a lot of "we went here and saw that", "so-and-so came to dinner and we talked about....", "the weather has been miserable", etc. The sort of thing you would expect two friends to tell each other. Except, these letters were not spontaneous communication. They were written as a project for a book publisher. Contrived? Well, maybe. That's what I thought at first, but there was still much to be enjoyed and learned.

One of the most enjoyable aspects was watching the seasons change through the eyes of Chatto and Lloyd. The descriptions of the weather and its effects on their gardens were vivid enough that I could imagine myself there seeing it. Beth Chatto, writing on New Year's Eve:

...the wind is bitter (straight from Russia, so the papers say), but it is brilliantly sunny, even warm on my face as I sit by the window looking out onto the garden. The bleakness of winter is relieved by patches of green; feathery bamboos, various conifers and evergreens, and the bright green algae growing along the shady side of oak boles and branches all illuminated by the long, slanting rays of sunlight. In contrast, leaf-losing trees trees and shrubs form delicate traceries of buff, brown and black against the blinding whiteness of the snow.

This isn't a how-to book, but if you're looking for garden wisdom, you'll find it sprinkled in here and there. A bolt from the blue for me, came in Lloyd's complaint about the renaming of plant families. This happened while I wasn't paying attention and I never knew why. Here's Christopher Lloyd on the subject:

I got in a word with dear old Prof. Willie Stearn, and asked him why we'd been forced into using the suffix 'aceae' for all plant families, thereby impoverishing the English language, which has taken on board words such as composites, umbellifers, crucifers, legumes, labiates and so forth. Apiaceae for Umbelliferae, Poaceae for Gramineae, are not nearly so user-friendly, in any case.

He took my point, but said that we were going back to what Lindley had decreed. Lindley was a great man and his dictum should be followed. Not much comfort there....

Fortunately, the book has a very good index, so if I want to find an exchange about, say, Galanthus, I'll be able to do it easily. I liked the book well enough, and will probably keep it on my shelf to re-read passages and to use as an occasional reference.

I found myself wanting to know more about Chatto and Lloyd. Obviously, I could and should seek out their other books, but internet searches rewarded me with additional details.

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posted by Entangled at 4:58 PM ::: Permalink


Blogger Carol wrote...

My first comment just got eaten by blogger. I'll try again...

Thanks for joining us again for the book club. I've found it interesting that so far people are choosing different passages to quote. I think this is a book that has something for everyone in it, and if I re-read it, I'd probably be struck by completely different passages each time.

The additional links for more info are great, too.

Carol, May Dreams Gardens

11:16 PM, January 29, 2008  
Blogger Dee/reddirtramblings wrote...

Interesting post. I loved the photos. Thanks for the links. I joined the book club this month too.

10:04 AM, January 30, 2008  
Blogger Sue Swift wrote...

This post has been removed by the author.

10:52 AM, January 30, 2008  
Blogger Sue Swift wrote...

Blogger ate my comment too - or rater mangled it. here we go again ...
Great Dixter is on my list for next summer when I'm back in Britain. Well, it has been for a while but I've never made it. This year though, I'm determined to get there.

10:55 AM, January 30, 2008  
Blogger Entangled wrote...

Carol: I've enjoyed participating in the book club. It's kind of a coincidence, but the passages you quoted were ones I remembered also.

Dee: I'll be right over to read your review!

Sue: I'd love to see Great Dixter some day. If you get there, I'd love to see a virtual tour on your blog! I was in England 20 years ago, but the only garden we visited was Kew.

5:46 PM, January 30, 2008  
Blogger Blackswamp_Girl wrote...

I'm so glad that you posted those links at the end of your review. When I first found out that the exchange of letters was a setup, I was profoundly disappointed. But that their literary agent suggested it to both of them at the same time, and that some of Christo's first letters made Beth angry, restored my faith a little.

12:15 AM, January 31, 2008  
Blogger Entangled wrote...

Blackswamp Girl: I was very disappointed too in the manufactured nature of the book. I got an instant negative attitude when I learned early on (in the introduction?) that the publisher had attempted to influence the subjects of the letters (i.e. no Glyndebourne). I enjoyed it after I settled down with it, but always in the back of my mind was the idea that it was fake.

7:15 AM, January 31, 2008  
Blogger Lisa at Greenbow wrote...

I like the posts you added to find more info about Lloyd and Chatto.

I too thought it was a little contrived but I also found some of their passages to be thought provoking.

7:55 PM, January 31, 2008  
Blogger Entangled wrote...

Lisa: I wonder how I'd feel about the book if I hadn't known the letters were a book project. I imagine I'd have been more inclined to think positively about it. On the whole, I enjoyed the book. Oh, and I want to live at Great Dixter ;-)

3:06 PM, February 01, 2008  

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