Rough Trade Books X Garden Museum – Pamphlet Series
I have a soft spot for the Garden Museum. Way back when my daughter was young and we were on the circuit of ‘every museum in London’ through the seemingly endless school holidays we hit up the Garden Museum and she drew some kind of gnome at a display they were having and stuck it on the wall there. A month or two later she got a box through the post and it included a certificate and a small gnome she had won for her drawing. That gnome’s still kicking around. Last time I saw it it was hacking its way through a patch of wildflowers (aka weeds) at the bottom of the garden. That was last year so it might have moved to a tidier garden by now.
The Garden Museum is one of those often overlooked little gems that lies waiting to be discovered by the curious Londoner. A similar thing might be said for Rough Trade Books and their perfect jewels of slim fact and fiction and art and everything that make up their “editions” imprint (full disclosure, such is the impeccable style and taste of RTB they published a story by me). So a collaboration between the two is an exquisite treat. As you’d expect the four pamphlets in the series are a joy to read. Erudite, engaging and beautifully designed, with covers recalling the fontadelic curlicues of Victorian seed packets.
Though everything is connected after all and there are shoots and roots that wend their way through all of the titles, on the surface the pamphlets pair themselves up. Two look at the historic ownership and exploitation of people, their land and its fauna and flora. How indigenous discoverers, users, scientists and the guardians of lands went unrecognised, uncompensated and were made invisible by their colonisers. Addressed by Zakiya Mckenzie in her pamphlet Testimonies on The History of Jamaica Vol.1: Or a General Survey on Things That Have Been Said About The Ancient and Modern State of That Island an imagined revisionist testimony from voices that were silenced. And in Horticultural Appropriation: Why Horticulture Needs Decolonising Claire Ratinon and Sam Ayre discuss how attempts to decolonise institutional collections can aide us in understanding Britain’s colonial legacy.
The two other titles take a more personal/ practical perspective. Susanna Grant and Rowan Spray’s From Gardens Where We Feel Secure is a contemplation on gardening in the city and the radical possibilities of community gardening with suggestions on how to green your own space. Nat Mady & Catmouse’s foraging guide Enjoying Wild Herbs: A Seasonal Guide with Hackney Herbal is a hands-on manual for the identification and utilisation of plants you may otherwise ignore.
The latter pamphlet reminded me of Richard Mabey’s classic hippie-era book Food For Free (1972) and indeed all of the writers would’ve found a welcome in the short lived alternative Albionic eco-magazine Vole co-founded by Mabey in 1977. There’s often talk that we are seeing a resurgence of “nature writing”, I’m not sure that it ever really went away but it can’t be argued that the past decade has seen some beautiful, wise literature informed by the natural world as this new series shows.
As Susanna Grant’s pamphlet is named after the excellent Virginia Astley album we asked her to be the first in our new “A Bunch of Five” series and select five things. Here’s five songs that work when you’re gardening (or just thinking about getting around to it).
Durutti Column - Otis
This is the sound of the end of the summer for me. Not sure why but it feels like a garden when everything’s just going over.
Karen Dalton – Are You Leaving for the Country?
One of my favourite musicians. This sums up the eternal dilemma of whether to leave the city and live in the country. Something I wrestle with on and off, more and more.
Wendy Rene - After Laughter (Come Tears)
Despite the melancholy title, this for me is perfect gardening music. I can’t whistle but if I could, I’d be whistling this.
Aphex Twin - Avril 14th
Gardening in the rain is inevitable and if it’s raining, and I’m gardening, this is very good to listen to.
Anderson Paak (feat. Snoop Dogg) - Anywhere
I don’t need any help zoning out when I’m gardening but just in case, there’s always Anderson Paak and Snoop.
Rough Trade Books x Garden Museum pamphlet series is available now from Rough Trade Books. Each pamphlet contains a seeded, plantable bookmark.
Visit the Garden Museum.
Main Image: Achillea by Rowan Spray
Kirk Lake is a writer, musician and filmmaker. His published books include Mickey The Mimic (2015) and The Last Night of the Leamington Licker (2018). His films include the feature films Piercing Brightness (2014) and The World We Knew (2020) and a number of award winning shorts.
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