Marianne Majerus

A bumper stocking-full of books for Christmas

It's great to hear that our biggest bookshop chain is actually making a profit again. Part of the reason must be because there are just so many gorgeous books coming out that can't be read on a machine - and so many have been written by women who really know their gardens. Here's my choice for this year's Christmas lists.

First up is Victoria Summerley's beautiful Great Gardens of London (Frances Lincoln) with photography by Hugo Rittson Thomas and Marianne Majerus.

Great Gardens of London

Victoria has gone behind locked gates and found some gems most of us will never get the opportunity to see. Building on the success of her previous book, Secret Gardens of the Cotswolds (Frances Lincoln), Victoria explores the great and the good, gardens such as Winfield House, the US ambassador's brilliant space gardened by Stephen Crisp, the garden behind the black door of 10 Downing Street, as well as the quirky - the Downings Roads Floating Gardens, Bermondsey, and St Regis Close, Muswell Hill. 

Next on my list is Caroline Holmes's Water Lilies and Bory Latour-Marliac (Garden Art Press).


You may never have heard of this lily nurseryman but you will certainly know of his most famous client, Monet, and seen the result of his purchases whether in real life or in print. And it's thanks to Latour-Marliac that all of us are able to grow a wide variety of water lilies in our gardens in the United Kingdom thanks to his amazing breeding programme. Coincidentally I visited this nursery for the first time this summer and came away determined to add more water to my garden just so I can grow some of these exotic-looking treasures. Part history, part garden joy, Caroline's book is a love letter to this beautiful family of water plants.

These days when it's so easy to get practical advice from the web, it's hard for writers to come up with fresh and creative ideas for garden books. But I loved Louise Curley's The Crafted Garden (Frances Lincoln) with photographs by the brilliant award-winning Jason Ingram.

The Crafted Garden HI RES

You know that feeling when you're in a garden or craft shop and see something and say, 'Why didn't I think of doing that?' Well, Louise has done it for you. And not only that, tells you simply how to do it. So many fab creative projects to do all the year round. Most of the materials can come from your garden - seedheads, cones, twigs, but Louise also includes a really comprehensive list of suppliers at the back for all those finishing touches. Perhaps a book to get for yourself before Christmas to help inspire with everything from wrappings to presents themselves.

The next book is written by one of my absolute favourite gardening writers, Mary Keen. Her latest book (and they are rare events) is very special: Paradise and Plenty. A Rothschild Family Garden (Pimpernel Press), about Eythrope, is, of course, about a world outside most of our imaginations. And yet it is also full of practical information on the running of a garden, any garden. You may never ever have a big garden or indeed a head gardener - but I defy you not to learn something from Sue Dickinson's perfectionism. Hopefully, I'll be curling up under the duvet with this inspirational book on Christmas morning.



Finally, a real luxury item, and not written by a gardening woman at all, but so what? It's present-buying time. Prolific author and mastermind behind the 'Chelsea Fringe' festival, Tim Richardson has produced the ultimate gift for any gardener with Oxonian connections - a lavish guide to Oxford College Gardens (Frances Lincoln) with photographs by Andrew Lawson. One can dream ...

Oxford College Gardens LR

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First Ladies of Gardening

I envy Heidi Howcroft. And then again, I don't. When I wrote Gardening Women. Their Stories from 1600 to the Present, I mentioned over 200 women who over the centuries contributed to our marvellously rich horticultural heritage - and I still got accused of leaving people out! So the task facing Howcroft in choosing her 'fourteen most significant women gardeners of the last 60 years' must have been daunting. So it's my turn now to say for starters - no Penelope Hobhouse? No Nancy Lancaster? 

Her brief was clear however. There had to be a garden to photograph - Penelope Hobhouse has been on the move in recent years, Lancaster's work no longer on view. So Sissinghurst, East Lambrook Manor and Waterperry make the cut even though Vita Sackville-West, Margery Fish and Beatrix Havergal are long gone. Beth Chatto, now 91 years old, has pride of place as do the three generations of Kiftsgate women carried on by Anne Chambers. Rosemary Wallinger's work at Upton Grey Manor is the perfect choice to focus on Gertrude Jekyll.

There is no question that Mary Keen and Helen Dillon deserve their places among this selection of 'pioneers, designers and dreamers'. I love both their gardens, one in deepest Gloucestershire, one in suburban Dublin. Like Beth Chatto, these are women who are 'green' to their fingertips, don't care for flower fashions but love to experiment and above all grow what they want. Note the brilliant dustbin plant pots in Dublin (below). © Marianne Majerus

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But for me, the envy comes because Howcroft has been able to give space to some gardeners who don't have famous names but are so deserving of their place as 'first ladies'. I've never visited Rachel James's garden at Eastington Farm on the Jurassic Coast in Dorset but I want to now. Sadly it is not listed at the back as opening to the public.

First Ladies_p50
Finally, such a worthy entry for Sue Whittington's beautiful garden in the heights of Highgate, north London (above) © Marianne Majerus. Over thirty years ago, it was Sue's garden that inspired me to hope that one day I have a garden worthy of opening for the National Gardens Scheme. I used to queue at opening time for a chance to buy from her memorable plant stall, all hand-raised, unusual and rare. Sue is still a stalwart of the London NGS and Marianne Majerus's mouthwatering photographs made me itch to be back there again on her open days

Howcroft and Majerus's book (for it is a good balance of words and pictures) is a welcome addition to the lexicon of works on women gardeners. 

First Ladies of Gardening by Heidi Howcroft. Photographs by Marianne Majerus (published by Frances Lincoln, March 5, HB £20)