A favourite book on gardens and gardeners

A friend asked me for a list of my favourite gardening books. I didn’t have to think for too long. The RHS Encyclopedias are great reference books, but she was after inspiration. Where to start? I sucked my teeth and began to email names like Alvide Lees-Milne and Rosemary Verey, but the book I actually ordered for her as a present is Garden People by Ursual Buchan. It’s ostensibly about the gardener and photographer Valerie Finnis. She was married to Sir David Scott, one of those English figures famous for his charm, whom all women found irresistible, even when he was about 108 years old. Together they knew, and Finnis photographed, everyone who ever gardened. The book is filled with Finnis’s photographs which are wonderful, as well as lots of great anecdotes about Finnis and Scott (within an hour of being married, they were out on their hands and knees weeding), and other great garden obsessives. I still look through this book with a notepad close by so that I can steal lots of plant and garden ideas.

Nancy Lancaster is on the cover. It’s worth getting the book just to see her outfits.


The end papers make you long to plant poppies. These are Papaver rhoeas ‘Fairy Wings’ photographed by Finnis.


And these are Papaver nudicaule ‘Constance Finnis’.


Here is Rhoda, Lady Birley in her garden at Charleston. How chic? And how about her borders. The book is filled with images and characters like this.


Finnis loved alpines and was particularly good at growing them. These, in 3 inch clay pots, include drabas, dionysias, campanulas and saxifrages.

— Daisy
17th January 2011