'What a wonderful book this is. I loved the enchanting and beautifully written story but also the fascinating and thoughtful excursions along the way.' – Nigel Slater
‘A garden contains secrets, we all know that: buried elements that might put on strange growth or germinate in unexpected places. The garden that I chose had walls, but like every garden it was interconnected, wide open to the world . . .’
In 2020, Olivia Laing began to restore a walled garden in Suffolk, an overgrown Eden of unusual plants. The work drew her into an exhilarating investigation of paradise and its long association with gardens. Moving between real and imagined gardens, from Milton’s Paradise Lost to John Clare’s enclosure elegies, from a wartime sanctuary in Italy to a grotesque aristocratic pleasure ground funded by slavery, Laing interrogates the sometimes shocking cost of making paradise on earth.
But the story of the garden doesn’t always enact larger patterns of privilege and exclusion. It’s also a place of rebel outposts and communal dreams. From the improbable queer utopia conjured by Derek Jarman on the beach at Dungeness to the fertile vision of a common Eden propagated by William Morris, new modes of living can and have been attempted amidst the flower beds, experiments that could prove vital in the coming era of climate change.
The result is a beautiful and exacting account of the abundant pleasures and possibilities of gardens: not as a place to hide from the world but as a site of encounter and discovery, bee-loud and pollen-laden.
What a wonderful book this is. I loved the enchanting and beautifully written story but also the fascinating and thoughtful excursions along the way -- Nigel Slater
No one writes with more energy and ecstasy than Olivia Laing. This book is what we need right now: paradise, regained -- Philip Hoare
This book is as imaginatively structured and full of beauties and surprises as the garden whose creation it documents. -- Lucy Hughes-Hallett, author of The Pike: Gabriele D'Annunzio, Poet, Seducer and Preacher of War
An extraordinary and important work. I felt doubly alive after reading it. The book is an inspiration. -- Celia Paul, author of Self-Portrait
Olivia Laing is my favourite non-fiction writer, and it is a joy to encounter her brilliant mind again in The Garden Against Time. It is a magisterial work, and the exacting sensuality of her garden writing is pure pleasure, delight, surprise. It is a triumph, from a writer at the height of her powers -- Francesca Segal
Olivia Laing has written a book about making her garden, which is by turns lyrical, consoling, disturbing and inspiring. It’s a book for thinking gardeners everywhere -- Mary Keen
Powerful, reflective and captivating to read - I loved it. -- Fergus Garrett
A sharp and enthralling memoir of the garden’s contradiction: dream and reality, life and death, the fascination of cultivation and the political horrors that it can disguise -- Neil Tennant
The most magical writing, intimate, insightful, learned and brilliant. -- Jeremy Lee, restaurateur and author of Cooking: Simply and Well, for One or Many
Quite literally unputdownable. It is astonishing, funny, beautiful, wise, charming and truthful. -- Jinny Blom, author of What Makes a Garden
Laing probes important questions about land ownership and exclusion and the human drive to create paradise on earth. All the while, her elegant prose bewitches and beguiles. A truly wonderful read. -- Sue Stuart-Smith, author of The Well Gardened Mind
Olivia Laing’s exploration of cultivation and dispossession is both arresting and irresistibly lyrical, confidently yet modestly drawn from a life entwined with plants and a gift for compelling biography. A timely and necessary reappraisal of the garden and its boundaries. -- Matt Collins, Head Gardener at the Garden Museum