Olivia Laing: The Garden Against Time

33 min listen

A garden is a lovesome thing, God wot! On this week’s Book Club podcast I’m joined by Olivia Laing to talk about her new book The Garden Against Time: In Search of a Common Paradise. Olivia explores what it is we do when we make a garden, through her own experience of restoring the beautiful garden in her now home. She tells me about what gardens have meant in literary history and myth, how they have occluded certain real-world injustices even as they stand in for utopias, and why Candide‘s injunction cultiver notre jardin will always be an ambiguous one.  

Solar panels in, swimming pools out: 2023’s property trends

Inflation has finally dipped a little but is still riding high, and mortgage rates may still rise further: Britain’s households are suffering a pay squeeze. But what are home-owners still spending their money on – and what has fallen out of favour? Here is Spectator Life‘s guide to the winners and losers in the property market this year so far… The winners… Solar panels High energy bills have kickstarted British householders into going green. During the first half of this year, sales of solar panels were up 82 per cent on the same period last year, according to MCS, the standards body. The hot spots of solar installations? Cornwall, Wiltshire

The growing appeal of the outdoor kitchen

For most of us the main ingredients of outdoor cooking are a smouldering barbecue grill, slabs of alternately under- and over-cooked meat and a light sprinkling of frustration. But these days, it seems, there is another option on the menu. Ever since the pandemic, more and more homeowners have been investing in lavish outdoor kitchens – keeping up with the Joneses with garden wine fridges, rotisserie grills, pizza ovens and professional-quality prep areas so they can cook and eat outside in comfort. The concept has been enthusiastically adopted by the likes of David and Victoria Beckham, who are reportedly awaiting a verdict on a planning application for an all-singing, all-dancing

Chelsea Flower Show: the winners, the losers and the weeds

If you’d read the advance coverage of this week’s Chelsea Flower Show, you might be forgiven for thinking the entire event had been choked by bindweed, dandelions and nettles. Yes, there are some show gardens that use plants commonly called ‘weeds’ as part of their designs, but the show gardens this year really aren’t radically different to the traditional Chelsea model. And regardless of the planting choices, there are some real gems to be seen. The highlights The RHS’s Best in Show award went to Charlotte Harris and Hugo Bugg’s magnificent Horatio’s Garden design. This is the eighth garden provided by the charity to hospital spinal injuries units across the

Blooming expensive: the growing cost of a garden

As Cicero is often (mis)quoted as saying, if you have a garden and a library, that is all you need. And since the pandemic, our love of a garden has only got greater. Yet these days it’s often less about getting your hands dirty in the flowerbeds and more about having somewhere to kick back and enjoy a good book or drink rosé with friends. But while visitors are swooning over raised beds and begonias at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show this week, the price of having a garden of one’s own is higher than ever – especially if you want a generous one. According to the latest research by

The English summer gardens worth a visit

The RHS Chelsea Flower Show is mere weeks away – the floral spectacular that inspires us all to head out into gardens once again. In May and June a host of British flora comes to life, with dabbles of bubblegum peonies, shocking fuchsia azaleas and the syrupy smell of lilacs in the air. So why not draw inspiration for your own backyard by visiting some of the UK’s best and most beautiful gardens. RHS Chelsea Flower Show, London Rather than confining yourself to visiting one garden, head to this year’s Chelsea Flower Show, which brings together more than 30 – curated by some of the world’s leading landscape architects and designers.

The strange death of the English garden

Gardening is dead. It had been ailing for a long time and it sometimes looked as though it might pull through. But I knew it had finally kicked the bucket when the last of the three patches of grass I used to be able to see behind my house was replaced with a plastic lawn. Then there was a ghastly death rattle: plastic ivy was draped over an electric gate which serves to let the owner’s car into the paved area formerly known as the front garden. And that came after the arrival of dozens of plastic balls in the neighbourhood. They are supposed to be imitations of Buxus sempervirens

Buttercup the cow was so convincing I felt quite moved: Jack and the Beanstalk reviewed

This pantomime was filmed by ‘legendary Blue Peter presenter’ Peter Duncan in his back garden over the summer. It was intended for online release only but it’s also gone into cinemas because this is the world we now live in. Oh no it isn’t. Oh yes it is. Oh no it isn’t. Seriously, it is. Why are you arguing like this? Stop it. As many theatres are still closed, and as most pantomimes have been cancelled, it makes sense to show it in cinemas and for cinemas to have something to show. During normal times the Christmas period is The Favourite and Portrait of a Lady and, while we’re at

In lockdown, green privilege is real

Long ago, a friend warned me I was living in a J.G. Ballard novel, but only in lockdown has the plot of High-Rise started to unfurl on the banks of the Thames. Developers are forced to build a certain number of homes for Londoners who could never otherwise afford anything, and height comes at a premium. So we’re stuck on the lower floors, in small, airless flats, overlooking land we’re not allowed to stray on to, as the rich exist in splendid corona-isolation above, peer down from their balconies and call security — to persecute us by making hints and suggestions. Ten days ago, a letter was stuffed underneath my

The lie of the land: we’re not all in this together

There’s a friend of mine who likes to torture me occasionally. ‘I really don’t like to tell you this,’ she trills, ‘but I’m looking out on to a field of daffodils. In the hedge just outside the kitchen window there’s a blue tit nesting.’ If she wants to go for a walk, she heads into the woodland behind the house. She’s in her oather home in Wales (normal residence: Fulham) and rather fancies staying there, having got the hang of the whole working-from-home thing. Another friend, who’s getting on a bit, is in her other home (this isn’t just a holiday cottage, but a proper estate that they’ve had for