The Armchair Book of Gardens Explores a Love of All Things Green

The Armchair Book of Gardens features a collection of poems, short stories and sketches that celebrate gardens throughout history

Credit: The Armchair Book of Gardens/Greystone Books

Gardens have long been an intrinsic aspect of human life, as shown in Jane Billinghurst’s The Armchair Book of Gardens

Gardens have a long history and are inextricably tied to human life

From the dawn of time, mankind has shared a complex, powerful relationship with gardens. Once considered a direct link to the Divine, gardens have taken on a multitude of social significances over the years.

But through it all, gardens have remained a common passion for people across the world. They allow an individual the chance to truly feel at one with nature; a chance to see the fruits of their labour literally bloom before their eyes.

Douglas & MacIntyre’s new book The Armchair Book of Gardens: a Miscellany by Jane Billinghurst explores this steadfast love affair and attempts to understand why humans are so passionate about their gardens.

Billinghurst has collected poems, short stories and stunning portaits, and assembled them into a comprehensive representation of mankind and the gardens we love.

Excerpts from The Armchair Book of Gardens

“Ever since the first person planted a seed, then watched pale shoots explode into green, humans have felt deeply connected to their gardens. Where survival depended on fruitful crops, gardens were a link to the divine…For ancient mythmakers, gardens were the calm at the center of a threatening world, oases that sheltered heroes during their travels. Many religions portray the garden as the closest place to paradise on Earth.” (p. 1-2)

“…gardens allow chattering thoughts to be stilled and memories to unfold. Scents on the breeze lure the mind back to a time when senses were heightened and joys were sharp.” (p. 11)

“A certain person once said that man-made gardens can never exceed the beauty of nature. Travel throughout the century and one is certain to find a place of special beauty. However, there will surely also be several places nearby that hold no interest whatsoever. When people make gardens, they should study only the best scenes as models. There is no need to include extraneous things. – Tachibana No Toshitsuna (1028-1094)
(p. 61)

“People of all classes and backgrounds take enormous pride in their ability to coax horticultural wonders from the earth…these gardeners sow a garden to change the way the world sees them and to change the way they see the world. The work gives them dignity; the beauty they coax from abandoned spaces gives them hope.” (p. 164)

“A garden is a place where the temper of the land, the temper of the times and the temper of the gardener intertwine. Above all else, in the balancing act between Nature and gardener, the gardener must remain vigilant. Whatever the original design or purpose, gardens left untended will explode with growth or dry up and blow away.” (p. 51)

“Above all, gardens promise us pleasure. A garden engages our senses as soon as we step into it. Sounds soothe, colors delight, tastes satisfy, textures arrest.” (p. 3)

“Ever since I could remember anything, flowers have been like dear friends to me, comforters, inspirers, powers to uplift and to cheer. A lonely child, living on the lighthouse island ten miles away from the mainland, every blade of grass that sprang out of the ground, every humblest weed, was precious in my sigh, and I began a little garden when not more than five years old…” – Celia Thaxter (1835-1894)
(p. 41)

“And the Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden, and there he put the man whom he had formed.
 And out of the ground made the Lord God to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil.
 And a river went out of Eden to water the garden; and from thence it was parted, and became into four heads…
 And the Lord God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it. – Bible, Genesis 2:8-15
(p. 14)

Photos and quotes reprinted with permission from the Greystone Books imprint of D&M Publishers