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Life in the Garden

3.61  ·  Rating details ·  872 ratings  ·  191 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
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Hardcover, 199 pages
Published November 2nd 2017 by Fig Tree
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Average rating 3.61  · 
Rating details
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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.
Melora
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
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Rebecca
(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
Trish
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
Kirsty
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
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Jaymi
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
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Steve
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
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
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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
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Patricia
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.

Gwen
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
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Cheryl
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’
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Alena
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
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Lisa
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
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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
Lori
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
Hannah
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
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.
Michael Tweed
Jul 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing
If you love gardening and also love quality literature this book by one Britain's most esteemed author's will give you great pleasure.
Sem
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
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.
Catullus2
Aug 21, 2018 rated it really liked it
A bit rambling, but in a good way.
Peter
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.
Jane King
Jan 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Read in a day! This book was written just for me! All my favourite things!
Suzy
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
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Kym
Nov 08, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Gardening. Memoir. Two words I never really thought about . . . together. As an avid gardener, I knew from the first lines of the introduction that THIS would be a book for me. (A gardening memoir! Who knew?)

Although not a quick read, I very much enjoyed Penelope Lively’s reflections on gardening – her own memories, and the meanings of gardens/gardening through the lenses of history, literature, art, and culture. (I particularly enjoyed the section on Time, Order and the Garden and found myself
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Julianne
The cover is soooo beautiful. Other editions have equally gorgeous covers. I was really disappointed that her opening essay on gardens in fiction didn't include Edith Wharton BUT! She gets there later on in an essay on gardens as social indicators. "U versus non-U" -- upper-class versus non-upper class. That redeemed the rest of the book for me.

The book desperately needed color photos though. Really truly. Quite unhelpful without them.
Kappy
Jul 29, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
3.5. A gentle book, reflections on personal gardens in history, in literature, for food, for flowers , for personal well being and more. Penelope Lively is a favorite author, and although there were many parts of the book I liked, it did not move me to rate it higher. However, in the chaotic world I find myself in, gentleness and consideration of growing things are welcome subjects.
Michele
Aug 21, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2019
I have to admit this has taken a bit of ploughing through, excuse the associated pun.
Normally I read Penelope Lively's books with speed but I'm afraid the powers of concentration required for this one were lacking at times.
Her writing is still a joy but her subject matter was maybe slightly too intense for this gardener lacking in knowledge.
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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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