3 out of 5 stars
Both of Alice Vincent’s grandfathers liked to garden, and she loved to spend time in their gardens, in particular, the greenhouse. Having gone through Newcastle University, she made a name for herself writing about bands, concerts and festivals. But what she really liked to do was head home to her flat in London and potter about on the tiny garden that she had on her balcony.
She had been with Josh for a number of years and was very settled, as she puts it, their lives had folded into each other and they knew precisely how each other ticked. They had been in a position to buy a small flat in London, unlike most of their generation who were reliant on rented rooms and crap landlords. The favourite part of the flat for her was the balcony.
It was here on this 4m by 1m space that she started to grow little pots of herbs that suffered somewhat at her hands. More plants were acquired from the Columbia Road Flower Market as well as bargains from supermarkets. Some of them died, others drowned in her enthusiasm for watering. But every now and again, a plant would thrive. She had begun to rediscover her gardening genes.
She volunteers at the Brockwell Park Community Greenhouses. It is hard work removing the bindweed and couch grass but by the time she left at the end of the day she was grubby and really happy. Mostly she loved working in the huge greenhouses there, they are full of huge tropical plants and row upon row of pots of seedlings.
Most of her friends weren’t interested in plants at all, they were often too busy working and playing hard, constantly attached to screens that demanded more attention every day. Life was good. Then one day her relationship with Josh came to a sudden end; as he put it, he was falling out of love with her. Later that day he packed a small suitcase and left for a friends sofa. Waking up alone in the bed was almost too much to bear.
What kept her going in the days soon after was the tiny balcony and the plants she had filled it with. Arriving home one wet day soon after she saw that two poppies have bloomed. They didn’t care how she was feeling, they just needed a little care. She wasn’t going to garden her way to happiness, but it gave her hope that there was a way through this.
They decide to share time at the flat, each spending a month there until they can decide what to do with it, so some of the time she is staying with friends and counting down the days until she can get back to her balcony. But things change and she finds someone else who she gets along with, but the rawness from her breakup holds her back from making a commitment immediately. It takes a little time apart when she visits Japan for her to know what she wants.
This is very much a memoir about the life of a millennial. Her love of gardening is there, but it feels either side of the path that she is walking rather than central to the book. A sizable chunk of the book is about her relationships and life in general. She talks about her family and memories of childhood too. Also tangled in are snippets of the botanical history of the part of London where she lives and the discovery of tiny patched of London that has been cared for by others with green fingers.
On balance, I did like this book, Vincent writes with an economical style, probably because of her background as a journalist, but intermingled with them are passages of beautiful writing, like finding an unexpected flower in a hedgerow. However, I personally would have liked to have had more about the gardening, but others may disagree.