I had never heard of this book until I saw a picture on Twitter of the handful of new Penguin English Library editions that had been published this month. I bought it based on 2 things 1- that gorgeous cover and 2- that it was about a woman and how much she loved her garden. For like 3 years I have been a casual gardener, but this year I have really *really* got into it to the point now that I have way more plants and flowers than what can realistically fit in my tiny ex-pit-terrace house and it is looking amazing and I love it.
Elizabeth and her German Garden takes the format of a year's diary of an eccentric aristocrat living in Germany as she wrestles with the estate's neglected grounds in an attempt to tame and mold the thorny wilderness into the garden of her dreams. The garden is her escape from her three unlikely children, surprisingly introduced out of the blue, and her tempestuous husband nicknamed The Man of Wrath. Elizabeth does not appear to enjoy a happy marriage and though she seems fond of her kids (April Baby, May Baby and June Baby) it does appear that she only had them because it never really was an option not to. The book documents her struggles with her household staff (not so much struggling *with* them, as struggling to care about them at all), her interactions with friends and her general attitudes to life and society of the time, particularly the role of women. It's funny, satirical, but makes excellent points about the expectations of women by men and society, their expected behaviour, function and apparently abundant intellectual limitations.
This skinny little book is exactly what I hoped it would be. It's billed as autobiographical fiction, but I can't imagine there is an enormous amount of fiction in there. I felt like I just completely understood Elizabeth, I felt I had found A Me in a previous life, a real kindred spirit. As she's lovingly describing her plans and designs for the garden, for the various flowerbeds and landscaping, I could honestly see it all unfurling in my head- the pansies carpeting the rose beds, the shady corner with the fir tree, the spring bulb bed with muscari and hyacinth, tulips and crocus. I loved how philosophical Elizabeth was about trial and error, about learning from her mistakes.
Aside from the lush, soothing garden talk, I adored Elizabeth herself. She was such a smart, demanding woman. I loved how uncompromising she was, how she refused to be ordinary, much to her husband's frustration. I assume he allowed her 'idiosyncrasies' due to the isolated, rural nature of their location...or perhaps her idiosyncrasies is why they moved to the middle of nowhere in the first place. I found myself constantly nodding along with Elizabeth and her musings. A few choice quotes that I think we can all agree make Elizabeth One Of Us:
I think this is going to be an annual re-read for me, perhaps at the beginning of Spring to get me in the garden mood. How can you not love a 19th century woman that decides to pretty much ditch her husband and her kids and live a reclusive, blossom and bee filled existence of drinking tea and reading books in the garden? She is my hero.
"If you have to have neighbours at all, it is at least a mercy that there should be only one; for with people dropping in at all hours and wanting to talk to you, how are you to get on with your life, I should like to know, and read your books, and dream your dreams to your satisfaction?"
"It is much easier and often more pleasant to be a warning than an example"
"The people round here are persuaded that I am, to put it as kindly as possible, exceptionally eccentric, for news has traveled that I spend the days out of doors with a book, and that no mortal eye has ever see, me sew or cook"