Insights • Inspirations • Destinations • Design

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Garden Libraries

When the late, great Stuart Rattle's estate was sold at auction by Moss Green, I wondered, with some sadness, who bought his 120 garden books valued at $7800? A bibliophile I knew believes you should never split libraries, so I hope the books were bought as one lot and not carved up into piles: Russell Page's titles over here; Gertrude Jekyll's over there.

There's been a surprising amount of media lately about garden libraries. As books become scarcer, people are stockpiling titles, esp rare or vintage books, and garden books seem to be particularly valued. 

Potterton Books in London's Chelsea has an entire area devoted to vintage, rare and antique garden books, some worth in the hundreds of pounds. It's one of the most browsed parts of the store.

When horticulturalist, gardener, philanthropist, and art collector Bunny Mellon passed away earlier this year, one of the wishes of her Will was that her enormous and celebrated collection of rare books, manuscripts, works of art and artifacts relating to gardening, landscape design, horticulture, botany, natural history and travels be available for public use. It's still early days, but many of Bunny's rare books have already been digitised and are on the website.

Other book and garden lovers are designing special libraries that are tailor-made for garden books. 

One of the most popular garden designs at this year's Melbourne Flower and Garden Show was the gorgeous Gardener's Library (above), designed by Carolyn and Joby Blackman.

Designer and author Bunny Williams (An Affair with a Houseloves her garden books so much, she created a special library in the corner of her converted stables-turned guesthouse. This is the guesthouse, above, with its own private parterre. (We'll be including this on future garden tours.) This is the equally beautiful interior, below.

Can you imagine being a guest here?

Even the dining room off the guest cottage is in a conservatory.

Carolyne Roehm also created her own library of design and garden books in her Connecticut home.

If you love books and gardens equally, consider staying at The Library Hotel in New York next time you're heading to Manhattan. The rooms are themed according to subject matter, so the Architecture Suite has architecture titles, the Poetry Suite has volumes by Keats, and so on. I'm not sure if there's a Garden Suite, but there are many rooms so I'm wouldn't be surprised. Upstairs, there's a Poetry Garden and a Writer's Lounge, with a fireplace and an enormous library – including garden books and a sunny terrace overlooking New York to read them on.

Vita Sackville West's library at Sissinghurst is surrounded by her famous garden, and in the summer when the doors are open it almost feels as though library and garden are one.

I loved this tiny garden hut in a corner of Hidcote garden in the Cotswolds. It would be the perfect place to retreat with a garden book and a cup of tea between weeding, don't you think?


  1. In building up a good wide selection of garden books, one of my new favourites, which I think would be brilliant pre reading for your garden tours ( you may have already recommended it) is 'the Garden Visitors Compamion' by Louisa Jones which is informative and very funny. The suggestions from garden owners who share their gardens is particularly good, in a section called 'what Not to say'. Cheers

  2. Thanks for your wonderful insight. I love Louisa Jones' books but have never come across this one. It sounds fantastic so shall put it on The List. And yes, it sounds ideal for our tours.

    I stayed in a lovely 'garden B&B' in East Sussex last month called King John's Lodge, and the owner, Jill, said some funny things about opening her home up to day visitors. (Have cups of tea: lots of tea! And then a toilet at the ready.) It really makes you appreciate those people who do go to the trouble of opening their gardens and homes once a year.


Thank you for stopping by. It's always lovely hearing from The Library's readers.

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