Author(s): Robin Lane Fox
"Thoughtful Gardening" is based on Robin Lane Fox's own selection from his widely admired "FT" column, which he has rewritten and amplified with new chapters to take readers on a highly enjoyable journey through each season of the gardening year. It draws on his lifetime of practical gardening, including his years as Garden Master of New College, Oxford, and contains many memories of fellow gardeners, from Christopher Lloyd to Nancy Lancaster. The book is essential reading for anyone setting out on a new garden or taking stock of one. It takes a critical look at fashions of the moment and is full of advice, ranging from problems with badgers to how to take root-cuttings or choose flowering trees, as well as examples of gardens at home and abroad which Robin Lane Fox has visited over many years. "Thoughtful Gardening" combines a principled view of the craft of gardening with dozens of new ideas for planting and visiting, and touching reminders of the power of literature and art to deepen what we see and realize in gardens of our own.
Review by Ann Chapman
Author of "Missionaries Wives & Roses", "Roses from Myths, Legends & Literature" & "Women in my Rose Garden"
Kids forgotten, jug of good, hot, strong black coffee to hand I would read the weekly column by Robin Lane Fox. He became my guru for his knowledge, lyrical style, and his humour. From him I learnt about thugs, what not to grow, how to grow and what simply charmed him. All written in the hand of a classical scholar. Robin is not only a fellow and tutor in ancient history at New College at Oxford University but he also is their garden master. His award winning books span Alexander The Great and The Classical World – An Epic History of Greece and Rome to Better Gardening and Variations on a Garden. Both garden books are much loved and well thumbed by me. They are a source of gardening inspiration and writing inspiration.
So imagine my delight when Lloyd turned up one day after collecting the mail with a published collection of his Financial Times columns and much more.
Called ‘Thoughtful Gardening. Great Plants, Great Gardens, Great Gardeners’ it is his latest book after a twenty-five year sabbatical from book writing. It celebrates the fortieth anniversary of his weekly columns. It is a journey through literature, language, gardens and gardeners. Robin takes you from winter, through spring, summer and autumn and discusses not only plants but amongst other things weevils, goats, irises on drugs and space invaders.
It is a very easy read, each chapter a mere two or three pages. It is the morning coffee, the lunchtime break and the cup of tea book. A chapter for each break during the day and the desire to have more than your nominal half hour break as Robin seduces you to read more and more.
It is a must have for the serious gardener and also the novice or for anyone who just enjoys a master wordsmith at his best. There are photos to accompany you on your journey but it is the words of Robin Lane Fox that really paints the picture.
As for the title? Well Robin quotes that great gardener Vita Sackville West who wrote her own column for the Observer.
‘The practicing gardener is always a Martha; it is Mary who sits back in admiration, saying how pretty that looks! Mary thinks it has just happened, as a gift from heaven; Mary is a dreamer, overlooking the practical pains and trouble that have gone into the making of the effect Mary admires. Mary can just sit. Martha, if she can spare the time for it, can and must sit and think.’
Over the summer holidays I will try and be a Mary after the last few months of being Martha and sit and enjoy with a coffee, a tea or a wine.
Robin Lane Fox is Emeritus Fellow of New College, Oxford, and was until 2014 Reader in Ancient History in Oxford University. He is the author of Pagans and Christians (1986), The Unauthorised Version (1992) and many books on classical history, including Alexander the Great (1973), The Classical World (2005) and Travelling Heroes (2008), all of which have been widely translated. He has been the gardening correspondent of the Financial Times since 1970.