Life in the Garden by Penelope Lively review – a rewarding, evocative ramble

In this vivid meditation, the novelist traces her love of gardens from childhood in Egypt to London and through art and literature

Penelope Lively modestly admits she is “only the most amateur gardener”. And yet this delightful and very personal paean to gardens amply demonstrates her abiding love of tending them.

From the hot, sunny garden in Egypt where she grew up and discovered the joys of reading amid bamboo groves and lily ponds, to the small London one in her ninth decade and with a chronic back problem, gardens have always played a “formative and essential” role in her life.

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Tom Wolfe obituary: a great dandy, in elaborate dress and neon-lit prose

Journalist and author who won a name as a brilliant satirist with the ‘novel of the 1980s’, The Bonfire of the Vanities

The writer Tom Wolfe, who has died aged 88, was a great dandy, both in his elaborate dress and his neon-lit prose. Although he was in his late 50s when he became a bestselling novelist, with The Bonfire of the Vanities (1987), some 30 years before that he was already famous as a journalist, was indeed that extremely rare thing, the journalist as international celebrity.

It was a part Wolfe played up to, wearing showy tailor-made white suits, summer and winter, as well as fancy headgear and shirts with detachable collars. The overall impression was of a fashionplate from a bygone age. The sartorial fireworks fitted in very well with the highly eccentric literary style Wolfe used and which made such a name for him when he ...

Olivia Laing: ‘There’s no book I love more than Derek Jarman’s Modern Nature’

Wild, honest, riotous, the film-maker’s diary showed me what it meant to be an artist, to be political – and how to plant a garden

There’s no book I love more than Derek Jarman’s Modern Nature. There’s nothing I’ve read as often, or that has shaped me so deeply. I first came to it a year or two after its publication in 1991, certainly before Jarman’s death in 1994. It was my sister Kitty who introduced me to his work. She was 10 or 11 then and I was 12, maybe 13.

Strange kids. My mother was gay, and we lived on an ugly new development in a village near Portsmouth, where all the culs-de-sac were named after the fields they had destroyed. We were happy together, but the world outside felt flimsy, inhospitable, permanently grey. I hated my girls’ school, with its prying teachers. This was the era of ...

Life in the Garden by Penelope Lively review – green fingers, silver trowels

Despite its strong focus on gardeners from the upper classes, Penelope Lively’s horticultural memoir is a book to treasure

When a really good book comes along, one of the things it does is to draw attention to the absence of such a book on your shelves before it arrived. I hadn’t really thought much about the state of the once venerable art of garden writing until I read Life in the Garden. It brought home to me how few recent gardening books come anywhere close to its style, intelligence and depth. I enjoyed Dan Pearson’s A Year in the Garden; Alys Fowler is always worth reading; I couldn’t care less about Monty Don’s gormless retrievers, but he does write stylish if faintly patrician prose when describing Longmeadow. Other than these worthy exceptions, garden books have become, as Penelope Lively herself points out, nothing more than “vehicles for lavish photography”.

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Plot 29: A Memoir by Allan Jenkins review – childhood trauma and the solace of gardening

As he cultivates his London allotment, the journalist also digs into his troubled past – a brilliant grafting of haunting recollections on to a gardener’s diary “We must cultivate our garden,” was the moral of Voltaire’s 1759 satire Candide. Faced with a world full of evil, uncertainty, bad luck, corrupt politics, natural disaster and torture, the best Voltaire’s hero can do is stay at home and look after the produce of his own garden, a small plot with pistachio nuts and citrons. Out in the world, Candide’s plans go horribly wrong. It is only in his small plot that he can lead a life that is productive, responsible and serene. Something of the same spirit animates the wonderful Plot 29 by Observer journalist Allan Jenkins, which is half memoir, half thoughtful gardener’s diary. Like Helen Macdonald’s H Is for Hawk, this is a profoundly moving account of mental trauma ...

Plot 29: A Memoir by Allan Jenkins review – childhood trauma and the solace of gardening

As he cultivates his London allotment, the journalist also digs into his troubled past – a brilliant grafting of haunting recollections on to a gardener’s diary “We must cultivate our garden,” was the moral of Voltaire’s 1759 satire Candide. Faced with a world full of evil, uncertainty, bad luck, corrupt politics, natural disaster and torture, the best Voltaire’s hero can do is stay at home and look after the produce of his own garden, a small plot with pistachio nuts and citrons. Out in the world, Candide’s plans go horribly wrong. It is only in his small plot that he can lead a life that is productive, responsible and serene. Something of the same spirit animates the wonderful Plot 29 by Observer journalist Allan Jenkins, which is half memoir, half thoughtful gardener’s diary. Like Helen Macdonald’s H Is for Hawk, this is a profoundly moving account of mental trauma ...

Wendy Whiteley’s secret garden and her one-woman mission to save it

Born out of grief following the death of Brett Whiteley, Wendy has tended an unofficial garden overlooking Sydney’s Lavender Bay for 23 years

Whether by accident or adventure, Sydneysiders seem to stumble on Wendy Whiteley’s secret garden when they need it most – in my case, on my very first day in Australia. Landing in the small hours of a Saturday morning, I was surprised to find the city as drizzly as the London I left 24 hours earlier. I arrived with a colleague and our editor had told us to stay awake for as long as we could to fend off the jet lag.

Related: The Goods Line: it's no High Line, but a welcome green corridor for Sydney

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A Natural History of English Gardening by Mark Laird review – gorgeous and diverse

A rich history of gardening lifts the heart with its scholarship and beauty – and for its celebration of female pioneers

Lumping this heavy book around – I needed a small suitcase to transport it – I have repeatedly been interrupted in my reading repeatedly by people saying: “That looks a beautiful book.” Not only is it visually gorgeous – a rich and diverse cabinet of curiosities with watercolours of magnolias in voluptuous flower, intricate engravings of butterflies, the imperious head of an American flamingo – but it also meticulously illustrates Mark Laird’s scholarship. He is a British-born historic landscape consultant and conservator who teaches at Harvard, but it would be wrong to think that this is a book for garden historians only. His text is as grandly miscellaneous as nature itself and, at every turn, he lightens erudition with wit. His implication is that gardens, in every ...