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Life in the Garden

3.59  ·  Rating details ·  1,308 ratings  ·  257 reviews
The two central activities in my life - alongside writing - have been reading and gardening.

Penelope Lively has always been a keen gardener. This book is partly a memoir of her own life in gardens: the large garden at home in Cairo where she spent most of her childhood, her grandmother's garden in a sloping Somerset field, then two successive Oxfordshire gardens of her
Hardcover, 199 pages
Published November 2nd 2017 by Fig Tree
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Average rating 3.59  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,308 ratings  ·  257 reviews

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Elyse  Walters
Audiobook... read by Heather
Lloyd. 5 hours and 56 minutes.

This was another ‘soothing’ audio-experience.
Yesterday I listened to Alice Hoffman read a 57 minute novella and found Alice’s voice to be very comforting and uplifting

Today...has been another day of being read to with soothing voices.
I’m turning into a blissful mellow-marshmallow.

After finishing this audio-book- “Life in The Garden” - thirty minutes into my two hour hike -
I ‘still’ felt a need for another ‘soother’...
I picked a D
Diane Barnes
Sep 25, 2018 rated it really liked it
I love Penelope Lively, both her fiction and non-fiction. She's one of those down-to-earth authors who tells her story and gets out of the way in her novels, and saves her personal opinion for essays and autobiography. She is an avid gardener, and in this one gives us gardens in art, gardens in literature, and gardens in real life. If you like to putter around in your own little plot (mine is the size of a postage stamp), you'll enjoy this. If not, you may be bored. It worked for me. ...more
Nov 29, 2020 rated it really liked it
"To garden is to elide past, present, and future; it is a defiance of time."

Penelope Lively reflects with insight and wit the essence of both gardens and gardeners, as well as the importance gardens have had on literature, art, and history. Examples from authors such as Frances Hodgson Burnett, Virginia Woolf, Elizabeth Bowen, Jane Austen, and others are given. Monet, Matisse, Manet, and Renoir also found gardens to be important in their work. Lively makes the case that all these authors and art
Jan 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Oh dear. Penelope Lively has got me wanting to grow roses again. Well, and also plant mixed borders, fill containers with mounds and cascades of flowers, and arrange some sort of a “water feature.”

I enjoyed this tremendously! In her wide ranging little book Lively looks at gardens in literature, painting, and real life, considering the ways they are used to communicate ideas, convey character, and suggest social position, and also how they may simply give hints about the inclinations of their c
(2.5) I read the first 79 of 187 pages. This is a gorgeous physical book, literally one of the loveliest I’ve come across in years, what with its embossed matte cover with full-color flowers against a black background and the black-and-white botanical illustrations on the endpapers and opposite the start of each chapter. But this is writing by numbers: It feels so stiff you can see just how Lively filled in her original outline. One chapter even ends with “This has been a discussion of the writt ...more
Oct 13, 2018 marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Just opened this at a really busy time & know I would like reading this. "Gardening is genetic" she writes. What I think she means by that is a well-tended or enthusiastic garden can influence the way one thinks, and ever after one feels something is missing if there are no plants somewhere about. Not at all sure the skill is passed through genes...though my older sisters seem to have drained the goodness from that particular pot before I managed to make an appearance. ...more
Chavelli Sulikowska
Sep 08, 2020 rated it liked it
This is a lovely, relaxing read – especially if you are a gardening enthousiast. Having just spent extended time living in Egypt, I particularly enjoyed her opening descriptions of the garden where she grew up in Egypt. Lively’s latest novel, written in her twilight years, is nostalgic, reflective and sumptuously full of a passion for all things flora and botanical. Her passages fluctuate between reflection and memory to the laments of gardening with arthritis, the changing of the seasons and in ...more
Nov 18, 2017 rated it it was amazing
How did I not know who Penelope Lively was before now? Man-booker prize winner for Moon Tiger and one of the most insightful voices on memory and time? Yet again, I have been hit for six by my own ignorance (however charming and Emma Woodhousian it may be).

'Life in the Garden' is Penelope Lively’s newest book and garden memoir. This sterling woman is in her 80s and is one of the most insightful, supremely intelligent and straight forward examiners of everything from archaeology to literature to
Aug 10, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
First things first: I don't garden, and I've never been particularly fascinated by, or interested in, gardening. Yes, yes, I've dealt with lawns and mulch and sod and weeds and ivy (ooooh, ivy, 20 years ago, the bane of my existence) and shrubbery and tree planting and pruning and wheelbarrows and shovels and shears and log-splitters .... but, but ... given the first opportunity, I found myself happily back in the comforts of a homeowners association with outsourced grounds-keeping. Which begs t ...more
Aug 19, 2018 rated it did not like it
Shelves: 2018-cclbc
Billed as part autobiography and part exploration of gardens in literature, this unusual book was a big disappointment for me, a beginner to the gardening world.

I had three main issues with the book. The first was the structure. Lively writes in a very conversational manner, which makes for a pleasant audiobook, but her timeline is confusing. We don't travel through gardens in a chronological manner as the book progresses, more in themes, which means a fair amount of both jumping about and repet
Penelope Lively is an author whose work I always gravitate back to. I was enraptured when I picked up her novel, Consequences in a seconds bookshop some years ago, and absolutely loved the reading experience.  I have read quite a few of her novels since, as well as her excellent memoir, Oleander, Jacaranda, which focuses upon her childhood spent living in Egypt.

Although I do not have my own garden at present, gardening is an enduring love of mine.  I was therefore most excited to find Lively's L
Beth Bonini
Dec 22, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: memoir, gardens
"We garden for tomorrow, and thereafter. We garden in expectation, and that is why it is so invigorating. Gardening you are no long stuck in the here and now; you think backwards, and forwards, you think of how this or that performed last year, you works out your hopes and plans for the next. And, for me, there is this abiding astonishment at the fury for growth, at the tenacity of plant life, at the unstoppable dictation of the seasons."

Penelope Lively is interested in time; it's a theme in all
Lyn Elliott
Apr 15, 2020 rated it really liked it
If you’re interested in gardens as places for contemplation, creativity and inspiration, this is perfect. It’s physically a beautiful book, with an embossed decorated cover, printed with flowers, and each chapter is introduced by twining line drawings, mostly of flowers I don’t recognise but then I don’t have an English garden and it didn’t matter - they are lovely without names.

But as Lively remarks, one of the things about being a gardener is that you take notice of plants, what they look like
Oct 22, 2018 rated it liked it
The enjoyable part was Lively musing about a lifetime passion, especially her own gardens and her favorite plants. The book rambles in a conversational way that was delightful at times and disconcerting at others. A few parts were worse than disconcerting, notably when she describes ridding a garden of unwanted insects and weeds as "ethnic cleansing." This book could have used more careful tending.

Andrew Howdle
Sep 24, 2018 rated it liked it
A book that is the perfect reading for a summer's day in England (or anywhere). Lively's chapters read like polished essays, witty and delightful. They are like essays in another sense: they feel like separate pieces that have been combined and unchecked. There is fair amount of repetition in the book, both of phrases and sources, which can be jarring and irritating. Lively has no like for the patrician gardeners, those who made gardens and never got their hands dirty in the soil. That is an ear ...more
Jun 28, 2018 rated it liked it
Despite the 40 years and ocean that separate us, whenever I read Penelope Lively's non-fiction, I'm convinced that we would be "bosom friends." I was reluctant to read this one though because I am no gardener. Other than planting a couple pots a year and harvesting the vegetables my husband sows, flowers, lawns, gardens hold little interest for me.

Or so I thought. In Lively's hands, gardens were lovely metaphors, beacons of hope, treasured observations and memory makers. Her ruminations on garde
Feb 06, 2018 rated it really liked it
My mother was not a great reader, but she was a keen gardener across three continents and Life in the Garden would have been the perfect birthday gift for her. Penelope Lively is a great raconteur and this memoir of her own life in gardens is nostalgia reading for any of us with memories of English gardens and of creating our own gardens, wherever they happened to be.
Lively thinks that there is a genetic element to being a gardener, and that it passes through the female line. She tells us about
Jun 16, 2019 rated it really liked it

Extolling the written garden, it’s authors, (often real gardeners) and that painted (ditto) Lively embanks on a tour of bouquets, from Virginia Woolf to Beatrice Potter, then introduces the creators: those manipulators of Mother Earth that create the perfect visual “Ahhhh” we do serenely absorb.
Historically noting gardens of bygone eras, some still maintained (and some with original trees) nods are given and thumbs turned downward. Quoting critics, explaining styles, addressing locations, it’
Sep 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Gardeners everywhere!
I do not consider myself a gardener. Those that have known me for any length of time would laugh at the thought of anyone considering me a gardener. I've always LOVED beautiful gardens or even a well-planned "yard" as they are called here in the states, but an incredibly busy life left me with little time for "gardening" beyond noticing that, once again, that plant purchased not so long ago was on the brink of death, perhaps water?...no...too late. My black thumb history never kept me from enjoy ...more
Aug 16, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
5 stars for the heartfelt and well-researched subject matter

Penelope Lively has inherited her love of gardening down through her family’s generations, as well as a wealth of knowledge and mad skills. She shares her unique perspective and first-hand experience of gardens and gardening throughout history in six chapters.

- Reality and Metaphor
- The Written Garden
- The Fashionable Garden
- Time, Order and the Garden
- Style and the Garden
- Town and Country

I loved what she had to say and learned a lo
I started reading this book while staying with my aunt who has a spectacular, well established garden of large proportions. I finished it at home, where pots 3 or 4 deep line all sides of my courtyard. And while these gardens are opposites in many ways, at their core is a love for growing and creating. A wonderful example of the great variety that exists in gardens. No two are the same, but a love for the act of gardening itself (and not just the pretty garden that results) is what binds gardene ...more
Ruth Brumby
Jan 10, 2018 rated it liked it
Someone should have told her not to include 'ethnic cleansing' as a light hearted term for getting rid of slugs. Otherwise her opinions are delightfully expressed and the sense of personal history compensates for their lack of contemporaneity; it does feel like an old person's writing. It's a bit variable; parts have the excellent simplicity and clarity that I associate with Penelope Lively and parts feel a little under-researched and under-edited. I enjoyed reading it though, learned some inter ...more
I'd have enjoyed this more had it just been about gardening (though I deplore her taste for white flowers) but as so much of it was about writers and gardens and I don't care for most of the writers she references it was a bit of an up and down affair. I'd thought that the garden parts would carry me through but I became irretrievably bored somewhere around Nancy Mitford and Edith Wharton. I can imagine that many readers would love this book and, certainly, I like the sort of book it is, but in ...more
Julia Nock
Jul 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Lively writes a sort of gardening memoir, from memories of childhood gardens in Cairo and the English countryside, through the limited patch of garden in old age. At the same time, she considers the meaning of gardens through history, literature,art, and present day culture. While sometimes the book has the feel of someone assigned a school theme, it is full of gems of acute perception and insight. Lively is a companion that I want to keep with me.
Low-key history + low-key racism + a deep love of her subject (with particular swooning attention to English gardens). Some beautiful descriptions which cannot rescue the rest for me.
Melody Schwarting
A splendid little book about the glories, mundane and extraordinary, of gardening. Lively is a winning writer, frequently humorous, often literary, always delighting in the smallest beauties. An essential piece of writing about gardening, pointing me to some other choice works in this field. As this is my first book by her, I'm intrigued by her other work, too. ...more
Sharon Huether
Penelope Lively now lives in London,England. When she was growing up in Cairo Egypt. She made comparisons in gardening, which is Night and Day. The Cairo garden needed water,water and more water; where as in London the climate is much cooler and the gardening there is quite easy
She compares the flowers in artists painting to different gardens with the same flowers.
In this book Penelope muses about the past, present and future with humor.
I won this Free book through Goodreads First-Reads.
Aug 21, 2018 rated it really liked it
A bit rambling, but in a good way.
Sophy H
This book enthralled me from start to finish.

I love books that make you want to google everything to see what it is and this book had me googling in spades! (Gardening pun not intended!!)

I found plants that I'd never heard of but now want badly! I found gardeners whose books I now covet! I found gardens and NT properties that I want to visit and have saved on my maps. I feel energised, reassured, and comforted by the writing in this book like Lively is an old friend who has come round for after
Aug 30, 2018 rated it really liked it
A rich, detailed, and thoughtful look at gardening, especially English gardening, and all the ways a garden enriches a person's life. A person cannot come to love plants and gardens without becoming a different person, and Lively navigates this transformation with nuanced historical commentary and excellent writing. Highly recommend to anyone who takes pleasure in the existence and craft of gardening, whether it is a flower box or a ten-acre masterpiece. ...more
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Penelope Lively is the author of many prize-winning novels and short-story collections for both adults and children. She has twice been shortlisted for the Booker Prize: once in 1977 for her first novel, The Road to Lichfield, and again in 1984 for According to Mark. She later won the 1987 Booker Prize for her highly acclaimed novel Moon Tiger.

Her other books include Going Back; Judgement Day; Nex

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