Soothe your soul with this enchanting collection of essays by contemporary writers.

A year of restrictions, fear and loneliness has changed the way many of us see gardens. Those of us lucky enough to have some green space have learned to love it more. Those of us without have felt a whole new longing.

This slim, pretty little book, which examines what it is to have and love a garden, taps into that novel – or at least particularly acute – sensibility.

Published this year by Daunt Publishing, In the Garden is a collection of essays by 14 contemporary writers. The contributors span the generations – Dame Penelope Lively (88) is one; Niellah Arboine (who “sits snugly in the ‘wellness generation’, millennials and Gen Zs seeking out new ways to look after our mental and physical health”) is another. They also span the genders – star turns come from the pens of Nigel Slater and Jon Day.

While each beautifully written essay engenders a sense of wellbeing in its own way, a recurrent theme in the collection is that of the garden as a kind of paradise – whatever that means to you.

Nigel Slater’s garden is an inspirational and restful sanctuary. Jamaica Kincaid recalls the Garden of Eden, writing: ‘The world… began in a very good garden, a completely satisfying garden – Paradise…’ Jon Day considers gardening to be ‘a distraction from other, more important struggles’. Paul Mendez delights in the fact that his immigrant grandparents ‘could dig up a little bit of English soil and be responsible for upholding tiny patches of its beauty’.



Thick and fast come examples of the unearthly pleasure it is possible to get from the simple act of tending the earth.

Perhaps thing about In the Garden is that it is as accessible to rookie gardeners as it is to weathered old horticulturalists. It attaches as much value to an allotment plot as it does to Gertrude Jekyll’s landscaping. It praises London’s garden squares as highly as it does a group of pots on a windowsill.

In one of the most evocative passages, Penelope Lively recalls her grandmother – a serious gardener with a large garden in Somerset – saying: “that if she ever ended up with what she called a ‘pocket handkerchief garden’… she would grow just one thing, to perfection”.

Those without green fingers – even those who think gardening is a big fat bore – must not be put off. This is a gentle book, a massage for every mind. It criticises nobody and it judges nobody. Its structure allows you to dip in and out according to your mood. But I’d put money on you feeling better once you’ve reached the end than you did when you started.

As well as being a treat to read, In the Garden makes a jolly good thank-you-for-having-me-to-stay present. It looks so elegant (even in paperback) that it deserves a place on every bedside table in the land.

I felt bereft as I finished. My only consolation was that Daunt has produced two other collections of essays, called In the Kitchen – Essays on Food and Life and At the Pond – Swimming at the Hampstead Ladies’ Pond. They are sure to be just as soothing and are next on my list.

In the Garden – Essays on Nature and Growing (Daunt Books) is available to buy from bookshop.org.

If you liked reading this, then you might like:

GWG Book Club: The Truants By Kate Weinberg
GWG Book Club: My Wild And Sleepless Nights By Clover Stroud
GWG Book Club: The Bass Rock By Evie Wyld

By Becky Ladenburg
July 2021

Becky Ladenburg

Features Editor

As the GWG's features editor, Becky has her discerning finger on the cultural pulse. She's also our go-to expert on the property market.

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