Meet Jackie Bennett, gardener and former editor of The Garden Design Journal, the English Garden Magazine and Gardening with the National Trust. When we heard about Jackie’s new book, a story of the gardens of 20 of our greatest writers – from Virginia Woolf to Roald Dahl – we were quickly onto her publisher to see if she would come to speak at NiddFest, and were delighted when she said yes. What we love about Jackie’s book is that she doesn’t just talk about the gardens the writers created, she tells the story of how the gardens influenced the their work.
Jackie’s event is on Sunday 26 July, 10.00-11.00, at the Memorial Hall, Pateley Bridge
Here is her Q and A:
1. What inspired you to write your latest book?
So many classic authors used gardens and landscapes in their work – or as a backdrop to their work. Visiting a garden and knowing that an author lived there gives it a special atmosphere. And we are really lucky to have so many gardens still existing – Virginia Woolf’s Monks House, Agatha Christie’s Greenway and Rudyard Kipling’s Batemans – to name but three.
2. What is the relationship between your writing and the natural world?
My first interest was in wildlife gardens and I was very inspired by the work of Chris Baines. The most quirky garden I came across for The Writer’s Garden book was Shandy Hall in Coxwold, near York. It was the home of Laurence Sterne, famous for writing ‘Tristram Shandy’ and it’s a wonderful natural space where the curators are identifying all the visiting moth species – some of them first time appearances in Yorkshire.
3. Do you have a favourite author whose work celebrates nature, or piece of writing about the natural world?
I have followed Richard Mabey’s writing for many years. I also loved Mark Cocker’s book Crow Country as we have a rookery at the end of our garden. I was recently introduced to WG Sebald who is a very complex character. InThe Rings of Saturn he wrote about getting lost on the tracks of Dunwich Heath in Suffolk – somewhere I’ve walked and could totally identify with – there are very few landmarks to help you.
4. Do you have a favourite wild place or natural landscape? (What? Do you mean it’s not the Yorkshire Dales?!!)
I grew up right on the boundary of Lancashire and Yorkshire so I have always liked places that are on the edge of things. It’s moorlands that really draw me – the wilder the better.
5. What is your earliest or fondest memory of being out in nature?
A very solid gritstone wall around the garden, which had few flowers. I soon learnt that the interesting things were just beyond it.
6. Do you have a passage of ‘nature writing’ (in the broadest sense) from your own work?
This is a bit of memory writing (work in progress) – which relates to that idea of crossing boundaries:
Beyond the walled garden there was a lawn that disappeared into infinity. It felt like a tipping plain, the edge of the world, a slope of possibilities, the dividing line between the allowed and the not allowed. We crossed the divide and no one noticed. Through the fields full of cows, down to the River Ribble – here in its mid life, neither charging down the fells, nor winding sleepily on the plains towards Lytham Sands. Just deep enough and wide enough and clear enough. And looming over everything, the hooked-nose outline of Pendle Hill – unknown and still untrodden.
7. Do you ever write outside?
Never. I like to shut out the outside world when I write. It’s far too distracting.
8. What are you working on at the moment?
I have just finished a writer’s residency with the Hosking Houses Trust and the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust in Stratford-upon-Avon, working on a book about Shakespeare’s gardens (Frances Lincoln 2016). It’s a biographical journey through the gardens he lived in and those we know he visited. Revisiting his home ground explains so much about why he was able to write so precisely about plants.
9. What are your three ‘desert island’ reads and why?
To remind me of the landscape where I grew up it would be Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights which I can read over and over again – my old school copy has a few of her poems at the back as well. It’s a bit of cliché but a collected Works of Shakespeare (big type). It is challenging to read Shakespeare, but it would never be boring. And maybe a book of British and Scandinavian place names – I’d have plenty of time to study the etymology.
That’s not a very cutting edge selection is it!?