Posh but Down-to-Earth

Share this

Recently, I noticed a rather irritating poster on the Underground proclaiming: ‘You never forget your first time.’ It was an advertisement for a villa holiday company – bizarrely – but the irritation I felt (since I am not annoyed by villa holidays per se) had to do with the too obvious double entendre. In fact, one does not forget the first time that one does quite a lot of things – seeing one’s name in print, for instance, or walking along Striding Edge, that most vertiginous of paths on to the top of Helvellyn – and certainly I have never forgotten the first time I read a gardening book.

I was only 20, and still at university, when I was given V. Sackville-West’s Garden Book by a friend, a first-rate gardener who was keen to encourage my burgeoning interest. I see from the flyleaf that she hoped I would be ‘as delighted and inspired by this book’ as she was. Yes, indeed. I had never read anything like it. Gardening advice then meant Percy Thrower and Arthur Billitt – extraordinary characters who looked in the 1970s as if they had landed in a time capsule from the Edwardian era – together with Roses: Their Culture and Management, a book which lived for many years in the downstairs loo, where it was definitely read more as a way of passing the time than for pleasure. To come across a writer, therefore, on such an unpromising subject, who spoke immediately and directly to the reader in an easy yet cultured style, was a revelation.

V. Sackville-West’s Garden Book, published by Michael Joseph, was an anthology compiled from four earlier books – In Your Garden (1951), In Your Garden Again (1953), More for Your Garden (1955) and Even More for Your Garden (1958). These were themselves anthologies of the best of her immensely popular weekly Observer articles, which had appeared since 1947 and were to continue until 1961, the year before she died. (When I began to write

Subscribe or sign in to read the full article

The full version of this article is only available to subscribers to Slightly Foxed: The Real Reader’s Quarterly. To continue reading, please sign in or take out a subscription to the quarterly magazine for yourself or as a gift for a fellow booklover. Both gift givers and gift recipients receive access to the full online archive of articles along with many other benefits, such as preferential prices for all books and goods in our online shop and offers from a number of like-minded organizations. Find out more on our subscriptions page.

Subscribe now or

About the contributor

Ursula Buchan writes on gardening for The Spectator and the Daily Telegraph. Like Vita Sackville-West, her gardening journalism has been collected into anthologies – Good in a Bed and Better Against a Wall – but there she fears the similarity ends.

Share this

Comments & Reviews

Leave a comment

Customise this page for easy reading

reading mode