STARRED REVIEW
June 2018

Meditations on seeds planted and green thumbs

By Penelope Lively
Review by

You need not be a devoted gardener to enjoy this slim, lovely volume from the consistently superb Penelope Lively. Life in the Garden is an ode to “chocolate earth in our nails,” as Virginia Woolf said. Lively has been a voracious gardener her entire adult life, and it shows in her nearly encyclopedic knowledge of gardening.

Share this Article:

You need not be a devoted gardener to enjoy this slim, lovely volume from the consistently superb Penelope Lively. Life in the Garden is an ode to “chocolate earth in our nails,” as Virginia Woolf said. Lively has been a voracious gardener her entire adult life, and it shows in her nearly encyclopedic knowledge of gardening.

Yet this is not a traditional gardening book. You won’t find tips for slug removal, growing roses or mulching. And thank goodness for that, because Lively has so much more to say about the relevance of gardens. In literature, Lively points out, a garden often sets the backdrop for a scene, like the gardens of Edith Wharton’s novels, or becomes a character in its own right, as in the children’s classic The Secret Garden. She writes about the fundamental absurdity of gardens, of trying to impose order on nature, a losing battle if there ever was one. And she compares the charms of urban gardens—she currently lives in a London townhouse—with the sprawl of suburban and rural ones.

Lively’s trademark British wit makes several delightfully acidic appearances, but Life in the Garden is also at times almost unbearably poignant, coming as late as it does in the life of the wonderfully prolific author.

“We are always gardening for a future; we are supposing, assuming, a future,” she writes. “I am doing that at eighty-three; the Hydrangea paniculata ‘Limelight’ I have just put in will outlast me, in all probability, but I am requiring it to perform while I can still enjoy it.”

 

This article was originally published in the June 2018 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

Trending Reviews

Get the Book

Life in the Garden

Life in the Garden

By Penelope Lively
Viking
ISBN 9780525558378

Sign Up

Stay on top of new releases: Sign up for our enewsletters to receive reading recommendations in your favorite genres.

Sign Up

Sign up to receive reading recommendations in your favorite genres!