You will probably have gathered that my passions include gardens, history and writing. However, I started life differently studying sculpture at the Slade. Writing came later when I wrote general features for the newspapers including the Guardian and Sunday Times. I took up gardening when we moved from London to the country and I had a garden of my own for the first time.
Deeply ignorant but greatly inspired by neighbouring Sissinghurst Castle, I took the garden design course at the English Gardening School. The course was a revelation and hooked me into garden design. I greatly enjoy creating green architectural space in gardens, playing with the colours and textures of plants and putting in focal points to make surprises around corners.
I was commissioned to write the first book on allotments out of the blue. Practical Allotment Gardening was quickly followed by The Allotment Handbook which hit the best-seller list for gardening books, the two combined selling 145,000 worldwide. Four other allotment books came on the tail of these, leaving just one last book I wanted to write on the subject. It was to help to add the weight of history to the allotment cause. Of Cabbages and Kings – the History of Allotments (2014) goes back to their very roots when even the lowliest serf, had a stake in the land. It traces how the life- saving right to common land was taken away from the farm labourers, causing dire hardship, and was only finally returned in reduced form as allotments. The War was the heyday, marking a dramatic a U-turn with the ‘Dig for Victory’ campaign.
For the last fourteen years I have also edited Topiarius, the journal of the European Boxwood and Topiary Society (www.ebts.org). This has been a more princely pursuit and has now brought forth my latest book Topiary, Knots and Parterres which was published in 2017 and won The European Garden Book Award, 2018. The book is a romp through garden history, covering Rome, Byzantium, the courtly medieval gardens, the great formal parks of the Italian and French Renaissance through to the Arts and Crafts Movement and today’s elegant, minimalist designs. It was a delight to gather the views on topiary from the poets, designers, architects, humourists, diarists and commentators through the ages – even though some pour bitter scorn on topiary. I hope that, by contrast, this book will help to persuade gardeners as to the unique charm and usefulness of clipped greenery in its myriad forms in gardens both large and small.
Since then, I took on an MA in Garden and Landscape History at the Institute of Historical Research (IHR), University of London. It’s a top-quality course, fascinating and I heartily recommend it (click HERE for course details).
As a result, I now feel more qualified to carry on. For example, I now edit the newsletter of the Birkbeck Garden History Group (BGHG) , a not-for-profit society dedicated to promoting an interest in garden history, which provides lots of interesting information and does extremely reasonable garden visits.
Caroline Foley is a member of the Garden Media Guild.
For enquiries or comments, please email her on: firstname.lastname@example.org