The Morville Hours: The Story of a Garden by Katherine Swift - review by Charles Elliott

Charles Elliott

A Blackbird’s Nest

The Morville Hours: The Story of a Garden


Bloomsbury 384pp £17.95

This exceptional book is billed as garden writing, but it is garden writing only in the sense that Moby-Dick is a treatise on whales. There is no need to have the slightest knowledge of or interest in horticulture to be enchanted by it. The author calls it ‘this blackbird’s nest of cobwebs and sheep’s wool’, which while unflattering and imprecise, does in its own idiosyncratic way convey a bit of its flavour.

It was in 1988 that Katherine Swift and her husband (an Oxford bookseller whose presence is curiously evanescent here) took a twenty-year lease on the dower house attached to a Shropshire estate called Morville Hall, a National Trust property. She quickly became obsessed with the place – its history, its setting at the head of Corve Dale, not far from Wenlock Edge and the Clee Hills, the village and countryside life going on around it. And as a veteran garden writer (as well as a rare-book librarian and historical researcher) she decided to create a serious garden on an acre or so of adjoining rough grassland. 

The making of this garden is the ostensible subject of her book. With a good bit of hard labour – and some local help – she plants hedges, lays out parterres and a maze, introduces new trees, flowers and rose beds, even constructs a long, narrow, stone-lined canal and a

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