Book Review: The Romantic Garden

The Romantic Garden:  A Guide To Creating A Beautiful And Private Garden Paradise, by Graham Rose

This book is a far more intriguing one than may appear to be the case from its title alone.  It should be admitted at the outset that this book is not about romance in terms of relationships with people, but romance in the terms of picturesque literature and the romantic movement of the early 19th century with its strong appeal to emotionalism.  As someone who is no stranger to books on gardening [1], I found that what this book had to offer was a sense of self-awareness that is often lacking when it comes to gardening.  This is more than a book about building a pretty garden, although it gives plenty of examples and much advice on that subject.  Rather, this book places romantic gardens in a larger social and cultural and even religious context that is worthy of a great dea of thought and reflection, even where there is not wholehearted approval of what is said.  This is a book that is remarkably honest and transparent about questions of inspiration and filled with a great degree of syncretism about its religious and historical sources for the idea of a romantic garden.

In about 160 pages or so, the author, who worked for the Times of London as their gardening writer when this book was written (it was almost 30 years ago, so he may not even be alive at this point) manages to write about the romantic garden, discuss how it is to be created, how one finds romance–of a sort–within, and what secrets it has as well as what sort of planting one does there.  The book includes a lot of whimsical drawings of gardens, often in an impressionistic style, and spends a great deal of time discussing features that make a garden more romantic–boundaries are disguised, there is a great deal of surprise, either because it has been deliberately designed or because of the ravages of time, and there is often a great deal of transition between light and darkness.  The author does a good job at taking what could easily be seen as a somewhat esoteric and obscure subject, namely the genre of garden, and providing numerous examples as well as a thorough explanation of what plants and what design makes a garden romantic.  Even better, the author ends the book with a lengthy series of charts that describes precisely the sort of plants can be put in a romantic garden, after pointing out that a good romantic garden requires only moderate labor after the initial effort.

This book is quite a good one at explaining what it means to have or make a romantic garden, but that might not be a good thing.  The author makes many references to heathen religious beliefs, including comments about statues as well as references to various pagan gods and Catholic saints.  It is clear that for the author, Romance includes a hint of ties to Catholic as well as pagan Rome.  This book is a reminder that although the word romance is tossed around more than a little casually, that there are genuine ties between the word and the moral worldview of Rome, which we are commanded to avoid if we are biblical believers.  I do not wish to condemn a book for honesty–many books would skirt the issue of what was truly being called to mind in a romantic garden, but a reader should be aware that this is not only a book about gardens but also a book about the religious context of many aspects of gardening, specifically religious contexts that people may not be aware of and may in fact be hostile to.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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6 Responses to Book Review: The Romantic Garden

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