1 July 2017 Susannah

I do Love a Nice Garden

The Door Into The Secret Garden In Kew Gardens - London.

Is there a word in the English language that is the opposite of ‘green-fingered’? If so, I’d love to know what it is? If not, there should be, because it describes what I am – very good at killing plants.

But while I might be useless at growing things, I do love a nice garden, and I also like to read about gardens. Recently, in preparation for giving a talk on Frances Hodgson Burnett, I re-read The Secret Garden. I’d forgotten just what a lovely novel it is. Published in 1911, the novel became an instant best-seller. It tells of two psychologically damaged children who find happiness and purpose when they restore an old garden. It was said that you could actually learn to prune roses from its pages.

Elizabeth von Arnim’s lovely Elizabeth and her German Garden, published in 1898, describes a rather idiosyncratic gardener and recounts frequent mistakes (those I can relate to!). Elizabeth was a relative of NZ writer Katherine Mansfield, who also writes lyrically of the beauties of trees and the natural world.

Many years ago, I greatly enjoyed For Love of a Rose by Antonia Ridge, about the creation of the beautiful Peace rose. Lady Winifred Fortescue created a glorious garden near Grasse in the South of France, and wrote a delightful book called Perfume from Provence (1935) which is terribly funny in recounting the battles she has with Hilaire, the elderly French gardener, over what plants might be permitted to “mate” with each other. It was reissued in the 1990s and became a best-seller all over again. Czech writer Karel Capek’s The Gardener’s Year (1929) is another lovely read, full of aphorisms such as “a real gardener is not a man who cultivates flowers; he is a man who cultivates the soil.” Rumer Godden’s An Episode of Sparrows (1955) depicts two children establishing a garden in bombed out London after the war, while Edith Holden’s The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady (1906) celebrates the beauty of the English countryside.

Do you have some favourite books, fiction or non-fiction, about growing plants? Share your favourites in the comments below. Or perhaps you can suggest an antonym for green-fingered?


The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Elizabeth and her German Garden by Elizabeth von Arnim
Perfume from Provence by Lady Winifred Fortescue
The Gardener’s Year by Karel Capek
An Episode of Sparrows by Rumer Godden

I only recommend books I have read and know. Some of these links are my affiliate links. If you buy a book by clicking on one of these links I receive a small commission. It doesn’t cost you anything extra, but does help cover the cost of producing my free newsletter.


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Featured image credit- The Door Into The Secret Garden In Kew Gardens – London. by Jim Linwood. cc. https://www.flickr.com/photos/brighton/
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Comments (20)

  1. I enjoyed Elizabeth Gilbert’s Signature of All Things. Alma, the heroine, was the daughter of Henry, a former vagrant in Sir Joseph Bank’s Kew Gardens and who also travelled on Captain Cook’s HMS Resolution, learning to collect plants for the gardens. This he did successfully enough to provide a wife and daughter with a life of luxury and gardens of thier own.

    Alma learned to love botany and wanted to add to the knowledge of plants, realizing that nothing much had been written about the mosses. Consequently, she turned her attentions to their study and documentation. Since reading the book, I cannot pass any moss without a close look of appreciation.

    So perhaps not as much about actual gardens, but a lot about plant collecting and the use of them by gardeners makes this book worthy of mention here. And – that is but a small part of a big novel.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      It sounds an intriguing book – thanks for the recommendation. It is set in my favourite era which is always a recommendation.

  2. Helen Cook

    I thoroughly enjoyed Philippa Gregory’s two historical novels, Earthly Joy and Virgin Earth which relate the story of the Tradescants, father and son, who gardened and collected plants during the 17th century. Their graves can been found at the fascinating Museum of Garden History in London.
    Another favourite of mine is Catherine Jinks A Gentleman’s Garden which is set in early days of the colonial settlement of Sydney and tells of a remarkable relationship between a convict and a gentleman’s wife as they try to establish an English garden in the harsh Australian environment.
    Most recently I have adored Inga Simpson’s Mr Wigg – a sensitive and moving novel dealing with growing old and growing fruit trees – – don’t miss it. She writes so well.
    Not quite gardening as such but don’t forget all those fabulous books that look at the remarkable tulip trade.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Oh more books to add to my list. I need more reading time! Thanks for the lovely recommendations, Helen.

  3. Malvina Yock

    I do love gardens in books, although I really am a plant-and-if -it-survives-that’s-amazing sort of person. I win some, I lose some. My daughter loved The Secret Garden when she was a child, and the film was exquisite. I recently read The Language Of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh, which was not what I thought it would be, but thoroughly enjoyed it. I heard her interviewed on the radio when it first came out. The whole language of flowers is so intriguing as well. My husband planted carnations in our front garden because they are my favourite flower. That might be the language of love!

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Yes, the film of The Secret Garden is really lovely. I loved hearing about your carnations. What colour?

  4. I am an avid gardener and was definitely inspired by The Secret Garden. My other source of a love of gardening came from LM Montgomery’s ‘Emily of New Moon’ and the 2 sequel books which I first read as a 12 year old (and have re-read many times since). Her emotional relationship with her natural PEI environment made a big impression on me and, in particular, her love of trees which she personified so beautifully. Her detailed descriptions of Cousin Jimmy’s garden at New Moon and how each winter they would plan their spring garden is a delight.
    And congratulations on your OAM Susannah!

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Thanks so much for your comments, Catherine. I also adore LM Montgomery’s books, and agree that she describes trees and plants superbly. Who could forget Anne’s Snow Queen and the White Way of Delight and Violet Vale. I must go back and read the description of Cousin Jimmy’s garden again.

  5. Brian Doyle

    I have a wonderful book on Edith Wharton and the beautiful gardens she created, all it takes is a vision, lots of money and many talented people to execute and maintain it whilst you just enjoy the results.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      I hVe been lucky enough to see Edith Wharton’s garden at the Mount in the USA and also her garden in the South of France. Both are wonderful. I know the book and it is gorgeous.

  6. G’day Susannah

    Congratulations on receiving the OAM. I hope now that you receive special treatment on your overseas flights because of it. Maggie’s dear old Uncle Royce Wham did, but then he wore a special tie…

    Have you caught up with any donkeys lately? We still remember with great affection our trip with you and the late lamented Peter Cox, a truly lovely man.

    You are going from strength to strength with your newsletter. It’s a pity we don’t live in NSW!

    The term you are looking for is: Black Thumb.

    Keep up the good work. Love your website.

    Best wishes from Maggie and Glenn Ball

    PS. Apologies: My website is greatly overdue for an update.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Thanks so much, Glenn and Maggie. We did have fun with the donkeys, didn’t we! Dear Peter would have been so thrilled with the news. Hope to see you both soon.

  7. Brian Doyle

    Have you read The Paper Garden Mrs Delalaney starts her life’s work at 72. A remarkable 18th century woman few have heard of, being a paper artist myself of course I loved every page so it’s worth a look.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Sounds excellent, especially with an 18th century setting. Thanks for the recommendation.

  8. Marisa Cano

    I would also like to know what that word is, because it would certainly apply to me. I love plants of all kinds, but I’ve only “owned” a plant once, when I was a teenager, a cactus: it died. Ever since, I’ve refused to look after plants. Someone gave me an orchid some years ago; it’s still thriving, but that’s because my husband (who does have a green thumb) looks ‘after’ it – I just look ‘at’ it (and speak to it!).

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Yes, I’ve tried talking to them but that doesn’t seem to work. Maybe I don’t speak plant language.

  9. Pam Davis

    Susannah, the opposite of ‘green fingered’ is ‘brown thumbs’ and that’s me! I’d much rather read about a garden – or in one – than attempt to work in one.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Yes, brown thumbs or black thumbs would describe it well. Fortunstely my husband likes gardening so is hapoy for me to just admire his efforts.

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