Damon Young's wonderful new book, Philosophy in the Garden, is a beautifully written and highly entertaining exploration of writers and thinkers and their relationships to gardens and plants. The garden, he says, is one of the most fundamental expressions of civilisation, representing a place where we flirt with our fear of nature and our great desire to somehow curb and control its beauty.
|Sydney's Hyde Park gardens|
The garden has also been a place of retreat for writers, those terminally indoor creatures like Jane Austen who nonetheless benefited from a daily turn around their garden beds. My favourite writer gardener has always been Vita Sackville-West, though in this book Young is much keener on the garden work of her romantic rival, Leonard Woolf.
This beautiful looking book is a wonderfully refreshing mix of literary gossip, historical exposition and philosophical reflection, and I never wanted it to end.
From Proust's beloved bonsai that provided him with an entire imaginary world to Nietzche's despised and immoral nature, a place that showed up what he saw as the cruelty and randomness of a capricious universe, this book never allows the reader to slide into easy platitudes about gardnes and flowers and home sweet home.
I was struck most by Colette, that deliciously amoral writer, who in her final years was bedridden and deprived of the pleasures of the plants and gardens she had so loved. And like Rousseau I have been struck by the romantic possibilities of nature, and at various points in my youth was convinced that the only solution for the future of humanity was to live more in accord with what I imagined was nature's perfect - and perfectly beautiful - system.
If you have ever planted a cactus or sprayed a lemon tree or mowed a lawn you will find much to fascinate you in Philosophy in the Garden. In equal parts bookish and outdoorsy, it balances the romatic dynamic that so many of us literary types battle with, and challenges the binary of art vs. nature.
You can purchase this or any other book at the global bookstore links: all above right. We also love to hear from you. Don't hesitate to post your comments, thoughts, responses. You might also want to catch up with Damon Young's 2014 article on his current reading.