Sunday, January 3, 2010

Reading Through the Garden Rooms

When I would visit my cousins in London in my twenties, Anne would take me on day trips to stately homes and gardens.  Anne & Thomas were amateur horticulturists, particularly of the genus Iris, and so they knew many of the famous gardens in England.  I was 24, I think, when I saw Sissinghurst, pictured above.  I still have the muddy photographs of Sweet William and Nicotiana, which I took with a cheap Kodak Instamatic camera.

Sissinghurst has a wonderful story -- it was the home of Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicholson, and although their marriage became infamous as a result of their various same-sex affairs, it was still a successful partnership, particularly in the creation of Sissinghurst's garden rooms.  It made a vivid impression on me -- a garden with nothing but white flowers, for example, or another showcasing pink blooms.

There's something new and unexpected to see in every "room" at Sissinghurst, and always another garden yet to see.  I feel precisely the same about reading romances that I order based on other people's raving about them.  Opening one of these books is like walking into a garden for the first time.  I may not like it, but that happens in gardens as well.  Sometimes I accidentally double back and "discover" the same book twice.  (I bought Kleypas's Dreaming of You, started it and then stopped.  Six months later, someone on Twitter was raving about Derek Craven, so I ordered it . . . and discovered the DNF copy on my bedside table!  It didn't help that the cover art was different.  Derek may be one of those characters I never come to appreciate.)  But then I turn a corner into another garden and find the most beautiful thing imaginable.  And look, it comes in other colors!

I felt that way when I bought my first Loretta Chase (My Lord Scoundrel -- the one everyone raves about although I liked Lord Perfect and its companion stories better): how could I have been missing this profusion of romances?  I immediately got all her books, and enjoyed them all.

Elizabeth Hoyt's To Beguile a Beast has just done the same thing for me.  I have no recollection whose "Best of" list I found it on, but I devoured it in a day and immediately minded when it ended.  And she has a backlist!  I get excited when this happens, but also a bit annoyed.  Why hadn't anyone told me sooner about Hoyt?  I could have read the other two "Four Soldiers" books first.  I could have met these characters long before now.  I acknowledge that this makes no sense; I should be thrilled they're all still ahead of me, but instead I'm grumpy that I might have missed her.

I'm greedy.  I freely admit that I want to own all the good books right now, even if I can't possibly read them all at once.  I also want to accumulate more yarn than I can knit, buy more quilting cotton than I can sew, and so forth.  (I'm just lucky I no longer want to eat every yummy pastry or divine cake ever baked!)  But I can't get to every garden in the UK, and I can't read every book.  I'll just have to focus on enjoying each flower as I find it.  There will always be another garden to discover for the first time.


  1. Your posts always make me realize how much I missed in England.

  2. Well, it's all there, and they're going to be weeding at Sissinghurst (and Knole, Vita's childhood home, which she wasn't allowed to inherit because of the laws of primogenitur) long after you and I are gone!

  3. You make me want to go!

    I agree with you re: Chase. I wasn't blown away by 'Lord of Scoundrels' although I've enjoyed most of her other books.

  4. Sarah -- There are statelier homes and bigger gardens, but Sissinghurst is, I understand, a "gardener's garden," so the horticultural set gets a hard-on when visiting. (Metaphorically speaking...)

    Funny about Lord of Scoundrels. When I read it, fully aware of various glowing reviews, I was underwhelmed. Mostly because I thought, "Yeah, so his childhood was crap, join the club."

    But then I read the Lord Perfect trilogy, and all was forgiven!


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