As winter calls for snuggling up with a good book, I thought I’d share a few of my personal favourites. With common themes of nature, gardening and seasons, I love these books for their storytelling, illustrations, language and photography.
1.The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
I’m sure many of you will already know this much loved story. The story of Mary Lennox, a ‘disagreeable looking’ child who is sent from India to live under the care of her uncle at Misselthwaite Manor in Yorkshire, the north of England. She comes to discover a ‘secret’ garden which she brings back to the life with the help of her friend Dickon, her cousin Colin and the gardener Ben Weatherstaff.
I have to confess, I only read the book for the first time last summer ! But I fell totally in love with it. It’s the charming story of how a lonely and sullen little girl changes into a happy, rosy cheeked child as she connects with the garden , enjoys the fresh air and forms relationships with the people around her.
‘She went from place to place, and dug and weeded, and enjoyed herself so immensely that she was led on from bed to bed and into the grass under the trees. The exercise made her so warm that she first threw her coat off, and then her hat, and without knowing it she was smiling down on to the grass and the pale green points all the time’
A book to read as we head into spring, return to our own little plots to weed and await (hopefully) those green ‘points’ popping up through the soil.
2. The Lost Words by Robert Macfarlane and illustrated by Jackie Morris
Like the Secret Garden, this is a book aimed at children. And like the first book, it offers much for adults to learn from. As an adult, you can pretty much read this book in 10- 15 minutes. And I thought that’s what I would do – read it and then pass it on to my two nephews. But, selfishly, I’ve kept it to myself, simply because it is a beautiful book.
Described as a ‘spell book’, it prompts you to seek out the words hidden on the pages, disappearing words that children used to use to describe the natural world around them (for example, conker, bluebell, ivy ). Each word is accompanied by cleverly written and rather tongue twisting verse and the illustrations are, well, breath taking .
I am ivy, a real high flyer
Via bark and stone I scale tree and spire
You call me ground cover: I say sky-wire.
A book that might leave you, perhaps , ‘spellbound’.
3. The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady by Edith Holden
I bought a second hand copy of this book in an Oxfam shop about 10 years ago. And I’ve been dipping in and out of it ever since. Edith was a naturalist and the book is a copy of her diary from 1906 as she recorded her thoughts, observations and favourite poems exploring the countryside where she lived. The illustrations, too, are beautifully detailed. It’s a handy reference guide to flora and fauna as well as a personal insight into someone’s love for the natural environment.
‘Jan.23 Sharp frost and thick fog in the early morning. The fog cleared off about 9.30am and the sun shone brightly. Went for a country walk. Every twig on every tree and bush was outlined in silver tracery against the sky’.
A book you can read for inspiration through the seasons.
4. The Seasons – The Complete Folio Anthologies
Presented in a boxset, this is a collection of 4 books, one each for winter, spring, summer and autumn. Each book is a collection of poetry, prose and novel extracts from a variety of authors that capture the moods and celebrate the beauty of each season, accompanied by nature inspired drawings from Swedish illustrator Petra Borner. I love books like these, as you end up discovering authors you’d never heard of before.
Although I’m not complaining that this winter has been very mild, reading through the winter anthology, it makes me wistful for snow !
‘A few light taps upon the pane made him turn to the window. It had begun to snow again. He watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight. The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward. Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland’. James Joyce, from ‘The Dead’, in Dubliners
At £75 for four books, admittedly it’s a little expensive, but I can imagine coming back to these books time and again for years to come. An investment buy, perhaps.
5. Life in a Cottage Garden by Carol Klein (with photographs by Jonathan Buckley)
As a presenter on Gardener’s World, you can’t help but be inspired by Carol’s love of gardening. The same can be said for this book. Eloquent and descriptive and filled with beautiful seasonal photographs of her garden at Glebe Cottage, the book tells the story of a year in her garden. I like to think of it as a modern day version of The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady.
‘Wednesday 20 January
When the snow melts, there’s a new perfume in the air – or at least a new smell. Suddenly you’re aware of the soil, so long out of sight and out of mind under its thick white covering, and I’m reminded that far from being dead, life has been going on underneath its crisp white surface’
A book that will make you want to get on your coat, get outside and get gardening !
Well, that’s a little round up of some of my favourite books. Maybe you might find some inspiration here too. All of these can be purchased from Amazon, Waterstones and other good booksellers except for the The Seasons- The Complete Folio Anthologies which you can purchase here. Feel free to share your own favourites in the comments below – I’m always on the look out for more !
Have a lovely Sunday x
(images courtesy of Penguin Books and Amazon)