What could be more idyllic that reading a book in a garden? What about reading a book about gardens in a garden? A book about the positive power of gardens? Don’t you feel better just thinking about it?
Gardens were the theme connecting the three books in this panel event, hosted by friend of the Festival and blogger supreme Naomi Frisby. Tor Udall’s A Thousand Paper Birds takes Kew Gardens as the setting for a novel in which different parts of that garden resonate with different characters. Udall spoke evocatively about the themes prompted by the setting: life, death and rebirth; place and belonging; resilience and innocence, and more. No wonder she spoke with such enthusiasm when much of the novel was written in its inspirational environment.
From that most public of gardens, Kate Bradbury took us to her secluded, private garden, described in her book The Bumblebee Flies Anyway as a place without which she may go mad. Bradbury lovingly described this place, created on a minute budget, through micro-details, regularly coming back to her “bee hotel” (without which a garden is not complete). It was clear how individual elements contribute to a holistic space of therapeutic benefit.
And to the most dramatic gardens of all: those in, and a retreat from, war zones. In War Gardens, Lalage Snow relates her experiences as a war correspondent in some pretty hairy places: Afghanistan, Gaza, the West Bank, Ukraine. War fatigue meant that the familiar harrowing imagery had lost its impact, and so Snow set out to document the effect of war on civilians and the everyday spaces that they loved and cared for. More themes emerge: grief and solace; taking back control of the land amidst the chaos of war; the meeting of nature with religion, heritage and ancestry. Snow related how she was once stopped by hostile rebel fighters who confiscated her camera, only to be bamboozled when it turned out to be full of photos of roses.
The conversation between the panel lead down many interesting (garden) paths, but what could we take from it in relation to our own gardens? The key answer was this: we may think that our gardens are our private spaces, but each is also a critical thread in the web of nature. We may go into our gardens to shut the human world out, but we must welcome the natural world in. We need to manage our gardens in a way that stalls the decline in wildlife and respects the balance of nature. These are words we need to hear, because words lead to ideas, ideas lead to action, and action leads to change. These inspiring women put words into action, and so must we.
Words: Andrew Davey
Pictures: Peter Mourant