Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Better than Wordsworth

Katherine Swift is a gardening writer who can not only tell you at a glance a variety of daffodil, but is willing to take long journeys to discover a particular variety and then write about their individual beauty for a whole column - and make it not only interesting, but compelling.

This is probably because Katherine Swift enjoys sublime talents. She is a keen nature observer, has an ability to weave in snippets of fascinating history, and has a delicious way with words.

So it is hardly surprising that she has very quickly grown to become one of the best-loved gardening and nature writers of her generation.

Her story of how she created her garden at The Dower House in Morville 'The Morville Hours' was widely and highly praised, so it is delightful that there is now a follow-up, 'The Morville Year', which is based on a collection of her gardening columns in 'The Times' (and also has photos this time).

Whether discussing the relative merits of wild foxgloves over the bred variety, how a swarm of bees (hers) saw off workmen from the National Trust, or the technicalities of what constitutes a native species, Katherine Swift's 'The Morville Year' has something to engage and delight on every beautifully written page.

The enjoyment of Katherine's writing for me comes not just from the tips about 'this is your last chance to trim your wisteria'. I adore the historical details of individual fruits and vegetables. Every plant has a story.

Katherine Swift planned her garden one winter: 'I read and dreamed and cross-referred and made lists, writing my guidebook to a garden which did not yet exist. By March my imaginary garden was so real that I could walk about it and smell the flowers.'

Many have, through her books and columns, enjoyed the resulting garden and have walked with her and listened to her point out charmingly named corners such as the nuttery, while sharing her musings on everything from the wisdom of introducing vegetables into the English diet to the precision and pleasure of getting water features just right.

You can sit and read 'The Morville Year' and believe that one day your garden, too, will have old roses tumbling over a wisteria clad crumbling stone wall.

There, right there, where the compost bin currently resides against that pile of dangerously lopsided bricks your son was using as a makeshift mud pie stove.

And almost, just almost, makes you feel that next time you look at your patchy, weed-infested plot, home to slugs the size of rodents, you can dream one day you too could have smooth lawns and fragrant old roses.

Or perhaps you can just close the door quietly and sit down and read Katherine's book.
'The Morville Year' Katherine Swift           Bloomsbury 18.99

(Katherine Swift will be coming to Mostly Books in Abingdon on April 6 - learn more here)

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