ISSUE 49  |  Haute Holiday

Required Reading: The Best of Christopher Lloyd

December 03, 2012 8:00 PM

BY Michelle Slatalla

Bedtime reading. Two of my favorite words. In wintertime, I spend as much time imagining the garden as working in it. Among the pile of books on my night table is always something by British gardener Christopher Lloyd, the champion of the modern cottage garden–and of the modern gardener, by the way.

“I do believe that, numerous as the world’s band of gardeners is, there should be more of us,” Lloyd wrote in a confiding tone in the preface to The Adventurous Gardener (originally published in 1983 and conveniently re-issued in paperback last year).

I mention the confiding tone because Lloyd’s books are filled with the sort of conspiratorial confessions–”Unlike the chap with prying, eyeing neighbors, I have no inhibitions about my garden looking a mess through the winter,” he writes–that make me feel as if the master of the grand gardens at Great Dixter and I are in cahoots. It keeps me reading:

Photographs by Michelle Slatalla except where noted.

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Above: In The Adventurous Gardener ($15.56 from Amazon), Lloyd discusses the basics: pruning hydrangeas (“delay till spring”), growing violets from seed (“sow in a pot or box in autumn”), and paving a path (“square blocks look unbearably monotonous”).

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Above: Lloyd, born in 1921 in a manor house about an hour’s drive south of London, experimented all his life in the gardens surrounding his family home. For more, see “Garden Visit: Great Dixter.”

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Above: Eccentric insights abound in Lloyd’s work. “Although appearing free and easy, the best kind of cottage garden is actually well organized, otherwise nature would take over, and nature is no gardener (except in the high Alps),” he writes in The Cottage Garden.

Many of Lloyd’s books have been re-issued; for more information, see Amazon. For first editions and used copies, see ABE Books. Photograph by Kendra Wilson.

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Above: Are we turning to bedtime reading as an excuse to put off our wintertime chores? “The average gardener, whom we must conceive of as being a lazy, pleasure-seeking so-and-so,” Lloyd writes (as if he has met me), “has traditionally waited upon the Easter holiday before getting down to the annual tasks in the garden that are associated with the dormant season.”

Wretched creatures, he calls us lazy gardeners, before admitting, grudgingly, that there might be something to our sloth: “The fact is that if you do leave border tasks till early spring they go like lightning.” On to the next chapter, without a bit of guilt.

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For an intimate look at Lloyd’s gardens, see “Garden Visit: Great Dixter.” Photograph by Kendra Wilson.