December 7th, 2010
The Ivington Diaries

Ivington Diaries book cover

A reader left a comment on my review of another Monty Don book, The Sensuous Garden that the two of us obviously have personality differences and that I should just leave it at that. What? Not me! I really don’t see any point in reading only people I agree with because I learn so much more from people I don’t agree with. If someone shows me a demonstrably better approach, I’m always open to changing my mind. Besides, I don’t think our differences are irreconcilable. Monty Don and I just are reacting to different environments. I live in a land where expertise is a dirty word. He lives in one where pedantry drains the passion from the art of gardening. See how alike we are.

“My second [New Year’s] resolution is to make a point of learning something new…if you have been gardening for awhile it is easy to become fixed in your likes and dislikes and to dismiss things of which you are ignorant. I want to challenge my own ignorance…”

I’m glad I didn’t give up so easily because the third time’s a charm. The Ivington Diaries is just the kind of gardening book I find to be the most readable: a personal adventure in creating a garden. Monty Don moved to a new house in 1991 and the book draws on journal entries written over the subsequent 18 years. There is one entry per day, beginning with January 1st, for almost the entire year. The interesting twist is that the years are not in chronological order. The first entry is January 1, 1998, then January 4, 2004, followed by January 5, 2002.

I really like this layout because it focuses on the gardener’s year rather than on the chronology of building the garden. I received this book as a Christmas present last year and I have read it bit by bit as the seasons changed in my own garden, comparing observations and differences in climate with Monty Don’s. The book has color photos of the garden every few pages which help the reader to visualize the layout and special features of the garden. The photos aren’t glossy printed so they never distract from the text. This is a very readable book, not just a flipping-through-the-pictures book. (That is, it’s meaty not just eye-candy.)

Like a garden blog, the journal entry for each day has a theme and a title. The themes are quite varied. Sometimes Monty Don details some project, problem, or success in the garden. Sometimes, he muses on his observations of the nature and the garden. Often he describes people who have influenced him over the years as he became a gardener. He describes in detail his experiences with many plants, his desires, his trials, his successes and his failures.

I marked scores of passages in this book and will go back and dip into it again and again. Because the entries for each day are fairly short and because chronology is not important, The Ivington Diaries is an ideal book for delving into at odd moments when one wants to be entertained and informed by someone who really thinks about and is passionate about gardening.

by M Sinclair Stevens

5 Responses to post “The Ivington Diaries”

  1. From Jenny Austin:

    Thanks for bringing this to my knowledge. I ordered my copy yesterday, but as it is coming from England I shall have to be patient. A similar book, which you can just pick up and read a chapter- out of sequence, is The Seven Deadly Sins of Gardening. I think you would enjoy that one too.

  2. From Dee @ Red Dirt Ramblings:

    Sounds tempting MSS. I love what you wrote about learning more from those you disagree with. So true. If we only hear from or read those with whom we agree, we’re just doing our own fan club.

    Thanks for the reminder my friend. I hope your holidays are merry and bright.~~Dee

  3. From Yolanda Elizabet:

    I bought this book earlier this year and liked it for the same reasons as you do. I used to watch Monty Don for years on Gardener’s World (BBC). Monty is coming back as the head presenter next spring. Am looking forward to that. BTW am planning to re-read his book next year, one month at the time so January when it’s actually January.

    Season;s greetings, Melissa and a very happy and garden filled New Year!

  4. From Esther Montgomery:

    It suddenly struck me I haven’t visited in ages – and I’m glad I’ve turned up for this entry. I’m not really a gardening book person and, despite all the reviews I’ve read on gardening blogs, this is the first book which appeals to me as a pleasure rather than for its use or educational value. (I’m very under-educated and even reading biography seems like work to me!)

    I do hope you have a happy 2011.


  5. From fer:

    Thank you for the heads up on that book, I will be on the lookout, maybe i can find it around some english book stores here.
    and thank you very much for the comment on my blog too