A Well-tempered Gardener

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There is no good reason why an expert and dedicated gardener should be able to write elegant prose – and a survey of the gardening shelves of bookshops, along with the many magazines devoted to horticulture, will confirm that the two skills rarely converge. One glittering exception was Christopher Lloyd, known familiarly as Christo, who died in 2006 having spent almost his entire adult life developing the five-acre garden at Great Dixter, his family home in East Sussex, where he was born in 1921. He wrote columns about it for Country Life and other journals, and produced seventeen books.

Although he was deadly serious about gardening, his writing was always unstuffy, telling us almost as much about him and his acquaintances as about his plants and preferences. He would use the reactions of others to clarify his own ideas. The very first sentence of his bestknown book, The Well-Tempered Garden – originally published in 1970 and revised and reprinted many times since – hints at this: ‘Friends sometimes ask me to deliver post mortems on their less successful gardening efforts, but it is very difficult to pronounce with any certainty when their case history has been thoroughly masked.’ This slightly irritable tone, bordering on the curmudgeonly, permeates much of his writing, and is part of what makes it fun to read.

The Well-Tempered Garden is today recognized as a classic of the genre; yet the essence of Christo’s approach is more sharply delineated in his numerous columns. He wrote for Country Life unfailingly every week from 1962 until 2005: a selection was published in 1993 under the title In My Garden. In 1989 he began a column for the Guardian which continued until shortly before he died. Some of these were collected in Cuttings in 2007.

As it happens, 1993 was also the year when I first became acquainted with him, both through his writing and in person. He had been born in

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About the contributor

Of Michael Leapman’s seventeen books, only two are about gardening: the aforementioned One Man and His Plot and The Ingenious Mr Fairchild, a biography of the eighteenth-century nurseryman who was the first to hybridize two different flowers. Both are available as e-books or print-on-demand editions from Faber Finds.

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