In 2007 David Wheeler asked if I would write an essay about the Hope, where we live, for Hortus, Britain’s most beautiful and least illustrated gardening journal, of which he is the editor.
The Hope is an ancient house with a garden that is somewhere between gigantic and uncontrollable. I had flu at the time, and was too weak to argue. I therefore wrote an essay based on what I could see from the sickbed, which included scarlet dogwoods and blue kingfishers. Then I wrote another, then another, until we had discussed about seventy per cent of a decade of the turning year in the garden at the Hope, and quite a lot about gardens and people elsewhere. These essays are the basis of Digging with the Duchess.
During the writing process it became clear that gardening on your own is all very well, but it is better with companions. I therefore decided that I would enlist the Duchess. Since the day I found her slumped against an item of lawn furniture she has infiltrated the garden like bindweed in an asparagus bed. Sometimes I try to write understandingly about her horticultural whims and her tussles with life, gin and cigs, in the vague hope that some sort of second-hand confession may cleanse her dark soul. Most of the time, though, I speak as I find. And so, Heaven help us, does she.
A garden book like no other – 112 pages of funny, erudite, deeply unconventional essays based on a garden the author has made with the hindrance (frequent) and help (occasional) of an itinerant Duchess. It is packed with useful ideas and wide-ranging observations, some of them horticultural. It is the ideal gift for the gardener who has read everything.
‘You can buy every grown-up you know a copy of Digging with the Duchess by Sam Llewellyn. And no. He’s not a relation. I’ve never even met him, though I’d like to. He writes a column (always the first thing I turn to) in an excellent quarterly magazine called Hortus, which is where he first began to spin stories about The Hope, his place in the Welsh Marches.’
Anna Pavord in The Independent. Full review here
‘The quirkiest little garden book I’ve read for years. It is offbeat, beguiling, maddening and wickedly observant, and the writer is endowed with a prose style unique among garden writers. I loved it; but Sam Llewellyn won’t get a job on Gardeners’ Question Time.’
Sir Roy Strong in the Spectator. Full review here
‘This account of gardening in the Welsh Marches in the menacing company of the Duchess is a treat for any light-hearted gardener with a taste for the unexpected. Vivid, irreverent and hilarious, it is informative, richly evocative and full of surprises.’
Helena Attlee, garden historian and author of ‘The Land where Lemons Grow’
‘To be honest, I didn’t really understand what was going on – who the Duchess is, when this is happening, if it’s even real or not – but I didn’t really care. I read it twice.’
Someone at the American Horticultural Society