Testament of Youth, one of my favourite books. Later, I came to know Clare Leighton as a wood engraver. Early editions of the Persephone Quarterly were illustrated with beautiful woodcuts, many by Clare Leighton, including the lovely one on the cover of this reprint of Four Hedges, called A Lapful of Windfalls.
Four Hedges is the story of a year in the garden of Clare & her partner, Noel Brailsford, in the 1930s. The garden was on a slope of the Chiltern Hills, exposed to ferocious winds & the soil was an unforgiving chalk. The four hedges were a necessary shelter for the plants within. Yet the struggle to cultivate the soil & grow anything at all is a part of the charm of the book &, I suspect, to Leighton herself. I don't think she would have been happy in an easy garden with fertile soil & no problems to overcome. She returns home from a visit to such a garden even more determined to succeed with the challenges of her own place. The hard work of the garden is welcomed & appreciated just as much as the fruits of the garden. Clare & Noel take delight in planning, reading catalogues & making lists as well as mowing the meadow & weeding. Their ambitions are lofty but realistic. The delight of the book is Leighton's intimate descriptions of the plants & animals that live in her garden. I'm not going to rhapsodise about the writing, I'm just going to let you enjoy a few passages along with some of the many woodcuts that illustrate the book.
We should never take our gardens too seriously. It is hard to curb ourselves in this, if we have any love for our plants, even as it is difficult to take a walk round the garden without pulling up weeds... It is better to have a few weeds and untidy edges to our flower beds, and to enjoy our garden, than to allow ourselves to be dominated by it. To be able occasionally to shut our eyes to weeds is a great art. Let us relax in our gardens, and as a dear old countrywoman used to say, let us "poddle" in them. We waste else the very beauty for which we have worked.
My copy of Four Hedges is a reprint from Little Toller Books, an imprint of The Dovecote Press. It's a beautiful object as well as a delightful read, with lots of woodcut illustrations, and French flaps. Little Toller specialize in books about the English countryside & they have some very tempting books on their list. My only disappointment was that my copy of Four Hedges was misbound so I ended up with two Octobers & no December.
Without planning it, I've read two illustrated books in the past week. By coincidence, the other book was also being read by Lynne over at Dovegreyreader. I'll be reviewing it in a few days.