Saturday, 17 January 2015

A Rare Review

Some time ago I wrote a post called Brightening Up about taking on our new allotment (did I mention we have an allotment ;)) In the comments section the lovely Frances from City Views, Country Dreams asked if I had read a book called Four Hedges. I immediately looked it up and was blown over by the cover alone. A few days later I was happily ensconced in what I consider to be one of the most enjoyable pieces of writing I've read.  

Written in the 1930's, Clare Leighton - renowned wood engraver - told of her experience of creating a garden in the Chiltern Hills. Alongside her partner, Henry Noel Brailsford, she fought against the not too ideal location to develop a garden that provided both visual and spiritual pleasure.

Divided into sections - one for each month - she not only observes the plants and wildlife but also the weather, social etiquette and the symbiotic nature of gardening.

Even if you're not a gardening nut such as myself you would find it difficult not to be moved by her deep understanding and appreciation of the senses.

To quote from 'January':

There is nothing more satisfying than to lie in bed at night, secure and warm,with a whistling wind outside. Windows creak and flap and grumble; one's senses are limited by the dark to hearing, and so the moan of the wind lifts and falls, strengthens and diminishes with a range of sound that is unimagined during the daytime, when hearing is tempered and distracted by sight, and wind means the racing of clouds across the sky.

In the introduction Carol Klein tells us

As you read each word, as you study each line, you smile. Yes, you want to say, yes, yes, you want to shout, that's it!

Not only battling with the plot and the weather, they also have another battle on their hands. That with their gardener - someone for whom they have the utmost respect but are too intimidated by to disagree with. This leads to often subversive methods in order to try and garden 'their' way. The local villagers also enrich their gardening knowledge with local lore.When their housekeeper Annie turns up with the phrase 'Coo! There's thunder about' they are confident that rain will soon appear to end a prolonged period of dry weather.

Clare urges us to look at things from a different view. When all seems grey and stark in the middle of Winter she notices the brightness of the birds plumage, and furnishes us with a beautiful account of watching the first iris open.

Throughout the book there is an air of appreciation and optimism. She manages to put into words what so many of us might feel but would find difficult to express. The eloquence of her writing is enhanced by the intensity of her engravings.

 A truly beautiful read.

So - how to follow up such a book?

Recently another blogger (I'm sorry I can't remember who - please put me right if you know!) put up a book for a giveaway. This one was called Allotted Time and with the strapline 'two blokes' one shed, no idea' I knew it would make a perfect gift for Mr K. Very loosely linked, in that it is about developing a garden, it provides a light hearted recount of the trials and tribulations of starting an allotment with - in their words - no idea. The writing may not be as lyrical, but the events are just as recognisable - with battles against the similar obstacles of land, weather and locals. 

Good fun.

So there we go. Two books - similar themes but very different tones. Both perfect for snuggling up with on these dark January days when all we can do is dream about what the year ahead will bring.

I'd love to hear if you've read either of these - or if you have any recommendations yourself.

Keep warm



  1. Great reviews Jane, now I really really want to read both of these books. I would recommend H is for Hawk as one of my fab reads of the year - a beautifully written multiple-layered book and Virginia Woolf's garden by Caroline Zoob-a fascinating visual treat.

    1. Must look that one up - it sounds right up my street! Thank you x Jane

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  3. What an interesting book, thank you for the review, and I guess all the illustrations are hers? I likre the grape hyacinths, they remind me of my dad. And the quote from January describes the sounds of wind at night perfectly. I bet you can't wait to get out on your allotment and to start harvesting in just a few months.
    Caz xx

  4. These sound really interesting and I love the illustrations. Thanks for the reviews, I am new to growing veg so need all the advice I can get.

  5. They both look like fascinating reads. I am thinking of making a little vegetable garden here in Florida in a small Earth Box, just thinking mind you but it seems like fun.

  6. That Claire Leighton book sounds like perfect reading to me *scribbles down the name*. Beautiful engravings too.
    Thanks for the recommendation!
    S x

  7. What beautiful engravings...sounds like a good read too.

  8. It sounds like two really good books. I have not read them myself.

  9. What fabulous wood engraving! Worth buying for them alone, but the words are beautiful too. One to look for, thank you.
    And the second, I have seen this, and must admit to having a chuckle at the title/strap line; a good sense of humour here, I thought.

    I am re-reading our (battered) copy of The Self Sufficiency Handbook by John Seymour, and beginning to dip my toe into some of the activities that decades ago we decided we would do if we ever had the chance. I have several friends now who went the whole hog (scuse the pun) and still do quite a bit of almost self sufficiency, we all read the books years ago, they got on and DID it! Ah well, there is nothing wrong in being just an enthusiastic reader, is there?? Lxx

  10. Jane, I am so glad that you've enjoyed Four Hedges every bit as much as I did. I'm going to have to go back to the library and check the book out again. The writing is marvelous, but those engravings are very, very beautiful.

    Thank you for recommending Allotted Time, and thanks also to earlier commenters for their recommendations. January reading time is off to a fine start.


  11. They both sound like great books, the first one for the illustrations alone which are so beautiful aren't they! xx

  12. The Four Hedges book sounds really lovewy. But they're both good in their own way.

  13. The giveaway was on my blog. I hope your hubby enjoys the book, if he does, another one in the same vein is Digger's Diary by Victor Osborne and I enjoyed My Life on a Hillside Allotment by Terry Walton very much too.

    1. Brilliant! Thanks for that Jo - I'm off to look up your other recommendations x Jane

  14. I adore Claire Leighton's writing, and Four Seasons is one of my favourite books. A joy, isn't it :o)


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