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Comments sought on a gardening book proposal


Dear All,

I am in the process of structuring a book, which I will be writing about our garden, Shadowlands. Since it is aimed at all those interested in gardening – ‘middlebrow’ – if you will, I would be most interested to hear of any suggestions that people have about what would be most appealing to you in terms of format/content. For instance, whether a chronological account or thematic account would be best; whether anecdotal episodes should be integrated into the text, or put as textual asides, and so on? Below is the rough intro, and any comments/suggestions would be very much appreciated. I think it would be fairly unique to the literature, and of interest to people, but I may be wrong, and in that case, I imagine GoY members are the people to tell me.

Thanks very much,


Shadowlands: Garden Notes from the Volcano’s Edge


Shadowlands follows the first three years in the establishment of a half-acre private garden, set eight-hundred and forty metres above sea level on the side of an active volcano, deep within the Hakone-Izu National Park, Japan. It is a story of personal horticultural discovery set against the backdrop of the Tohoku Earthquake of 2010; fuelled by the idea of regeneration, and supported by the first flushes of cultural awakening. The colourful horticultural journey combines a rich, surprising, and often humorous account of the many obstacles, difficulties and pleasures that arose, with original genuflexions on the many plants growing wild in their native habitat that are much celebrated in the leading gardens of America and Europe today. Shadowlands offers a distinctive and personal gardening philosophy that has developed organically – as is almost always the case – from trial and error, but more importantly through willingness to compromise, taking the reader on a journey from the excitement of initial stock surveys to a sober reconciliation with the climatic peculiarities and environmental limitations of the area. Above all, it is a sustained argument in support of the catharsis of gardening. Anecdotes of cultural misunderstanding in the early stages progress to a more mature appreciation of Japanese gardening styles that, through experience, are shown to be more rooted in practical aspects of gardening than the more celebrated (yet undeniable) concern for aesthetic harmony.


I scarcely remember naming it: I mean the house and gardens. It was never a process. Never was there recourse to the gardening equivalent of baby naming books (though I see some scope for such a publication to exist). It was always going to be Shadowlands. That is not to say there were not influences. Shortly after I first arrived in Japan in 2002, in a delightful antiquarian bookshop, I stumbled across a bound volume of Shadowlands theatre magazine – a short lived publication published between 1919-1923. Its art deco covers by Hopfmuller were so powerful and surrealistically evocative, that they helped to fix the name in my head, and I carried it around with me for weeks. The 1993 film of that name depicting the life of C.S. Lewis – which I had heard of, but not at that point seen – also seemed to imbue it with the bohemian promise of a literary life. But in Freudian retrospect, it has an imaginative and poetic connection with the house in rural Sussex, England, in which I grew up called Meadowlands. To this day it continues to conjure up the Elysian days of childhood which set-firm my love of nature, the English countryside, and of gardening.

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I am concerned about the word 'active' before 'Volcano.'
Good luck, and remember to include lots of photographs.
Personally, the input into Growsonyou website is so good I wouldnt bother, as there will be a limited global interest in cultivation of valuable and much loved plants in these conditions.

23 May, 2013


Hi Ptaro, I,ve read quite a few books where people write about their adventures into ownership of the unusual be it farms, gardens, Islands........

The best for me are those that write like a novel, as a story and from the heart, the reader begins to feel part of it and all the ups and downs, usually they are written at a fast pace with long explainations at a minimum, long complicated words too.....
Lots of photo's as well.......

The non fiction part of the library is good to find them.

Some of the farm ones have hilarious anecdotes......chasing after the pig as it legs it into next doors garden, and sad ones re foot and mouth.
With the good books(not famous authors just ordinary folk with a passion for their subject)

Sorry Ptaro I seem to be writing a book here myself!

Good luck to you x

23 May, 2013


I wouldn't dream of telling you how to write your book Ptaro, just write it from your heart, the way you speak and what you have seen first hand surely are the best critics? Take a look at the blogs you have written on here too. Include many photos, befores and afters etc. It will be facinating to see it in print, i wish you very good luck in your new venture, x
ps. It's nice to hear from you :)

23 May, 2013


Thanks for your messages of encouragement everyone. I'm hoping to write it over the summer - giving me one more season of full growth for photos/being taught by the garden etc. Your suggestions to keep it real, fast-paced and heartfelt, are very helpful. I've done academic articles and books, but I really wanted to write an informative book that would nonetheless entertain and offer something new. Kind regards, ptarotuos

23 May, 2013


I wonder if you could get it on kindle?

23 May, 2013


Its me again. Might be a good idea to read 'Snowball Oranges' by Peter Kerr ISBN 1 840024 112 8. £7.
This is a very good 'framework' of constructing a working farm in a strange country, by a Scottish Farmer.
You would not expect this gentleman to be cheated over money, but he was. Over and over again. These incidents carry the story along. Also the descriptions of the people he came into contact with, most of whom didnt cheat him.
Writing the book was obviously a way of recouping the money he had to part with to make good his losses.
He, his wife and sons decided to stay in Mallorca when the readers were expecting them to get back to their farm in Scotland as fast as possible !

23 May, 2013


Are you not concerned about gardening on a volcano that might ruin it all?

Its a great idea.
It could be a lovely book with lots of photos, and different from a lot of garden books in that lots of the plants you can grow will be ones that wouldn't be happy in the UK.s Also look up the meaning of genuflexions - did you mean reflections?

Agree with Pamg -An unfolding story told fairly informally, lots of anecdotes would be good - you will surely have plenty along the way!

23 May, 2013


It seems to me there are a lot of books on this 'My garden' subject and making yours different and more likely to attract interest is the Key? Therefore I would suggest you play to your strengths which is gardening on a volcano?
Sadly I think the title will work against you as Shadowlands is so well known already for a different subject and any publisher will either be put right off or insist you change it.
While lots of photos are good they are often seen as 'coffee table books' whereas a well written experienced/researched content tends to sell better?
I too prefer those that read as a story from the beginning to present day, how it first came about, the trials and tribulations, romanticising the story does not work for me as the failures are just as interesting as the successes. I would suggest that most successful gardening books on a specific garden are published years after the garden was started, so I think you may be rushing this? Perhaps make it a longer term project so it has time to develop and be more interesting to the reader.

23 May, 2013


Thank you Pamg, dianebulley, Drc726, Streagram, Grandmage, for your comments. Just the sort of input that helps.

Luckily, and unusually for me (who always appears in the family photos because it never occurs to me to take any), right from the outset nearly 5 years ago now, I took large quantities of high res photos, and continue to do so. I'm confident I have more than enough good ones to illustrate changes and so on.

Drc726, I think you make a very good point about the title (only a working-title of course). I'll run with the sub-title for now. I also take your point about good gardening books tending to be retrospective and based on well-established (popular gardens): but I'm not convinced that a garden-in-progress type book would not work at all. However, for the time being - over the summer - I think I'll work on the first few chapters only with a two-three years’ time-frame.

Several of you have commented on uniqueness being the key (as well as it being well written), and I think this is without a doubt one of the very great strengths of the book idea. It is slghtly troubling to think that it all might one day disappear under ash or worse - more troubling still to think we might also - but there we go. Sometimes on still nights there is this pungent sulphurous odour, and about half a mile away is a vent that regularly vents itself (in my mind actually quite reassuring - at least it is releasing the pressure). We went through the monster Tohoku quake in 2010, and it does remind one of the forces of nature.

I should have perhaps mentioned that the book will also be translated into Japanese (there being so little knowledge of English gardening practices and aesthetics here - but great interest): and while the garden will be a combination of my own personal aesthetic and the constraints and possibilities of the surrounding environment, it will tend towards - at least to Japanese eyes - a 'Western' garden.

I have had plenty of failures, and have a confessional bent that sometimes makes it hard for me to see the successes: so don't worry about a ‘warts and all approach’.

While writing the first couple of chapters over the summer - and gardening furiously - I'll also try to be a better blogger on GoY. My next entry will be on that horrifying topic of Japanese Knotweed, of which I have quite a lot of experience.


ps. Steragram, well spotted, the autocorrect didn't like my archaic spelling of reflexions.

23 May, 2013


Me again, I think you should aim for the Japanese market only. Thousands of them have to live in overcrowded cities, they would understand your geographical situation more easily. Look for 'characters' in the people you meet, and include them, especially the ones who make fun of your limited knowledge and the mistakes you make - it lightened the text in 'Snowball Oranges' and kept the interest of the reader.

24 May, 2013


Oh I wanted to read it Diane. :0)

24 May, 2013

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