Life in the Garden, Penelope Lively 2017

Lively is an 84 year old Brit whose 20+books include the Booker Prize Winner, Moon Tiger, chosen as the best Booker winner of the 1980’s.  In this charming and thoroughly enjoyable volume, Ms. Lively shares her passion for gardening and gardens, making literary and art connections in every chapter.  From Virginia Woolf’s garden descriptions in To the Lighthouse and Kew Gardens to the painterly gardens of Monet, Renoir, Caillebotte and others, the primary joy in this book is the random walk from gardens and plants to books, paintings, poems (Kipling, Eliot, Marvell), gardeners who write (Pavord, Chatto, Fish, Perenyi and the redoubtable Gertrude Jekyll and William Robinson of the 19th C), writers who garden (Edith Wharton, Elizabeth Bowen, Carol Shields, James Fenton), and history (Capability Brown and Humphrey Repton).  I came away with a short list of ‘must try’ plants, but most of all loved Lively’s language, metaphors, and digressions about time.  Her comment about ‘matrimonial garden dissent’ brought a smile to my lips as I recalled the debates that Susan and I have about nearly every element of our gardens.  Her chapter on time, order, and the garden could be quoted in its entirety but here’s a taste:  “To garden is to elide past, present, and future; it is a defiance of time.  You garden today for tomorrow; the garden mutates from season to season, always the same, but always different….The great defiance of time is our capacity to remember—the power of memory.  Time streams away behind us, and beyond, but individual memory shapes, for each of us, a known place. We own a particular piece of time;  I was there, then. I did this, saw that, felt thus. And gardening in its small way, performs a memory feat; it corrals time, pinning it to the seasons, to the gardening year by summoning up the garden in the past, the garden to come.  A garden is never just now; it suggests yesterday, and tomorrow, it does not allow time its steady progress.”  She is so good!  This is a book to dip into again and again, and I can’t wait to plant some of her favorite plants  in the spring in Vermont.