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Christopher Lloyd: His Life at Great Dixter

Christopher Lloyd,Stephen Anderton,Great Dixter It’s taken me a long time to get round to discussing Stephen Anderton's biography of Christopher Lloyd, Christopher Lloyd: His Life at Great Dixter, and I apologize for that. But, in spite of the fact that I collaborated with Christo on our book Garden Flowers from Seed, for many many months I just couldn’t finish it.

The problem, as Irish Times regular Jane Powers put it her review, is that “Talk of famous peoples’ sex lives is absorbing, especially when the person under discussion is as oddball and iconic as Christopher Lloyd. But the homosexual theme rears its head so often, and in so many ways, that the reader becomes fatigued and puzzled.” Certainly, it began as “absorbing” but soon became exasperating. I was soon more than “fatigued and puzzled”, it made me cross and then made me put the book down for months.

“OK,” I kept thinking to myself, “I get it; let’s move on. Enough!”

But then, in the second and shorter part of the book, we get to Life After Daisy. His mother is gone and we find Christo the gardener and garden writer blooming. This section is full of fascinating detail about Great Dixter and its plants, Christo's travels, his friends, his cooking and introduces us to Fergus Garrett who now runs the garden.

His most influential book, The Well-Tempered Garden, was written while his mother was still alive (we just can’t escape her) but for me it was its successor, Foliage Plants, that gave me the jolt. Because it’s funny. And I hadn’t, back in the 1980s when I first came across it, realized that garden writing could ever be funny. Because, apart from Christo, it just wasn’t.

That book changed the way I thought about writing about plants and gardens.

So, for anyone remotely interested in late 20th Century gardening, Christopher Lloyd: His Life at Great Dixter, in the end, proves invaluable. And, I must be sure to point out, Stephen Anderton writes very well, very engagingly, and draws us along briskly.

But don’t be afraid: if all that mother/sex/gay stuff wears you out, don’t hesitate - move on the second half of the book.

Finbd out more about Great Dixter, and the Trust which now supports it, at the Great Dixter website.

* I’ll be taking a look at the other book about Christopher Lloyd, The View from Great Dixter, soon.

                                

Comments

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jodi DeLong

Well, I'm very glad you've posted this review, Graham. I have read a variety of opinions on Anderton's book, and because I have no interest in other people's sex lives, I didn't think it would be something I'd want to read. I may do so now, though I shan't buy the book--if I can find it in a library I'll read it but it doesn't sound like something I need permanently. I do rather like The View from Great Dixter, as I of course never got to meet Lloyd and this gives me a bit of a glimpse into the man behind the garden writer.

Helen/patientgardener

Your view of the book accords with mine. I sound it slightly obsessive about Christo sexuality. I have enjoyed Dear Christo though.

I will look out Foilage Plants as I havent as yet come across a funny gardening book - well not one thats meant tobe funny.

Graham Rice

Thanks for your comments Jodi and Helen. I'll be taking a look at The View from Great Dixter before long, as I re-introduce posts about books; they've been missing from this blog for too long.

Victoria

I felt that, in his role as a biographer rather than a garden writer, Stephen Anderton was right to consider the relationship between Christo Lloyd and his mother, and the issue of Christo's sexuality.
I think the problem is that there are many people still around who knew Christo and find that approach intrusive and distasteful. It's a bit like overhearing someone gossiping about a member of your family: your instinct is to bristle defensively.
However, for all of us, upbringing plays a part in who we become, and what happens in our personal lives can often inform our professional and creative lives. We all know gardeners who talk about the childhood influences that turned them into horticulturalists, from Alan Titchmarsh to Carol Klein.
It would be very odd today to read a biography of Vita Sackville West that didn't mention she was gay, or that she had a difficult relationship with her mother, or felt she had been denied what she considered to be her rightful inheritance. Because these things are relevant to the person and the gardener she became.

Graham Rice

I have absolutely no problem, Victoria, with Stephen discussing Christo's sexuality, it was a vital part of the way he was and certainly influenced everything he did. And you're right about VS-W. I just found that there was a dramatic imbalance between discussion of that part of his life and of everything else. It was as if Stephen included all that detail not because it was crucial to do so, but because he could.

So, as I said in my post, I just kept thinking: I get it, I understand, that's fascinating - now let's move on. Instead of which there was more.

Victoria

Yes, I know what you mean. He did seem to rather enjoy dwelling on it.

Graham Rice

Yes, Victoria, that's really what I had so much trouble with. The View from Great Dixter, on the other hand, is a completely different kind of book!

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