After a spot of August reading inspiration? Look no further as Senior Editor for Vintage Classics, Frances Macmillan has shared her top ten gardens in literature.
The Garden of Eden in Paradise Lost by John Milton.
The Big One. The Original and Best. The one with the Tree and the Snake. The place where it all went wrong for mankind.
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Mary Lennox is a spoilt, sallow child uprooted from an expat life in India to lonely Misselthwaite Manor in Yorkshire. Then one day she hears about a garden in the grounds of the Manor that has been kept locked and hidden for years. And when a friendly robin helps Mary find the key, she discovers the most magical place anyone could imagine…
“Sometimes since I’ve been in the garden I’ve looked up through the trees at the sky and I have had a strange feeling of being happy as if something were pushing and drawing in my chest and making me breathe fast.”
Tom’s Midnight Garden by Phillippa Pearce
One night, lying in bed in his aunt’s house and unable to sleep, Tom hears the clocks strike thirteen. When he gets up to investigate, he discovers a garden that doesn’t exist during the day, and meets a girl from a different age.
“There is a time, between night and day, when landscapes sleep.”
The Botanic Gardens in Oxford – His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman
The only garden on this list you can actually visit, a particular bench in the Botanic Gardens plays a key part in the heart-breaking ending of Philip Pullman’s out-of-this-world trilogy (which coincidentally has its own links to Milton’s Paradise Lost). Points are scored if you do visit the gardens and discover a portal to a parallel universe.
“In that other Oxford where she and Will had kissed good-bye, the bells would be chiming too, and a nightingale would be singing, and a little breeze would be stirring the leaves in the Botanic Garden.”
San Salvatore – The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim
This is the tale of four women escaping from rainy England to Italy and a garden paradise beside the sea – so bursting with summer colour and sunshine copies should be sold with sunglasses. If you enjoy it (and you will) look out for author Brenda Bowen’s marvellous updated version on the same story, Enchanted August.
The sun blazed on scarlet geraniums, bushes of them, and nasturtiums in great heaps, and marigolds so brilliant that they seemed to be burning, and red and pink snapdragons, all outdoing each other in bright, fierce colour.
Elizabeth and her German Garden by Elizabeth von Arnim
This list is in honour of Elizabeth von Arnim so no apologies are offered for including another of her books on the list. Beside marvellously funny descriptions of enthusiastic amateur gardening, you can enjoy Elizabeth’s charmingly curmudgeonly dislike of ‘other people’, including her husband (named only as The Man of Wrath), and her refreshingly laissez-faire attitude to housekeeping and motherhood.
“What a happy woman I am living in a garden, with books, babies, birds, and flowers, and plenty of leisure to enjoy them!”
Pemberley – Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Another Elizabeth, another garden. Lizzie Bennet doesn’t think much of Mr Darcy’s attitude or his manner of proposing marriage, but begins to have a change of heart when she visits his family pile and beautiful gardens (where devotees of the BBC adaption may be sad to learn, there is no mention of a quick swim in a pond).
“She had never seen a place for which nature had done more, or where natural beauty had been so little counteracted by an awkward taste…at that moment she felt that to be mistress of Pemberley might be something!”
The Camomile Lawn by Mary Wesley
Behind the large house, the fragrant camomile lawn stretches down to the Cornish cliffs. Here, in the dizzying heat of August 1939, five cousins have gathered for the last summer of their youth, with the heady exhilarations and freedoms of lost innocence, as well as the fears of the coming war.
Manderley – Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
There have probably been dissertations written on the symbolism of the gardens of blood-red rhododendrons and white azaleas Manderley in Rebecca. The new wife of Maxim de Winter lives in the shade of splendours of Manderley and its previous mistress, until she learns the secrets hidden beneath the beautiful façade.
Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.
Mrs Shears’ Garden – The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, Mark Haddon.
When Christopher discovers the dead body of his neighbour’s dog Wellington on her front lawn, he decides to investigate, and so sets out on a terrifying journey which will turn his whole world upside down.
It was 7 minutes after midnight. The dog was lying on the grass in the middle of the lawn in front of Mrs Shears’ house.