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.