Christopher Lloyd: His Life at Great Dixter by Stephen Anderton
|Christopher Lloyd: His Life at Great Dixter by Stephen Anderton|
|Reviewer: Sue Magee|
|Summary: Half of the book is essentially about Daisy Lloyd, but until you understand her you can never understand her youngest son. It's an affectionate but not sycophantic look at the 20th century's greatest gardener. Recommended.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 256||Date: March 2011|
When I first had a garden I did what I always do with a new project: I turned to books to see what help I could find. There were any number which told me how to do the basics and what I needed to know to make the right decisions. It was rather like cooking only with a few more uncertainties thrown in. Then there were the books which didn't really bother about the basics but provided limitless inspiration. At the head of these writers, if not way out in front, was Christopher Lloyd who gardened throughout his life at Great Dixter, producing colour combinations which stunned and probably one of the greatest gardens of the twentieth century.
Lloyd did appear on television but it wasn't his milieu. He was home in his own or other people's gardens so it was easy to admire, to love his work, but harder to feel that you knew the man, who could appear quite rude in public. Stephen Anderton knew Christo Lloyd for over twenty years and Lloyd had asked him if he would write his biography. Normally this would fill me with horror – the 'authorised biography' is rarely a balanced read – but Anderton didn't write the book until after Lloyd's death in 2006 and it's a warts and all look at the man based on the hundred year archive at Great Dixter.
Initially I wondered if I would warm to the book as the first half of the book is essentially about Great Dixter and Christo Lloyd under the influence of his mother, Daisy Lloyd, but it would be impossible to understand anything about Lloyd if you knew nothing of his mother. She brought him in to gardening and taught him the basics – and then manipulated his life along with those of his four brothers and one sister until her death in 1972. Lloyd undoubtedly had a great influence on the garden at Dixter – but it was perhaps his great good fortune that his father bought the property in 1910 - and then hired Edward Lutyens to renovate and extend the gardens.
Anderton was a friend of Lloyd's but he is dispassionate about his failings and not inclined to overplay his strengths. In consequence the book is a easy and enlightening read. He's clear when what he's saying is based on information in the archive or comes direct from friends (such as Lloyds feelings about his 'departure' from Country Life and equally open when he's speculating, for instance about Lloyd's relationship with other men.
The biography is affectionate but certainly not sycophantic and it brings to life the shy genius who contributed so much to twentieth century gardening. I knew how it all ended – but it was still a difficult book to put down.
You can find out more about Great Dixter here.
I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to the Bookbag. You can find out more about Lutyens and his work here. For another biography of a twentieth century icon we can recommend The Surprising Life of Constance Spry by Sue Shephard.
You can read more book reviews or buy Christopher Lloyd: His Life at Great Dixter by Stephen Anderton at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy Christopher Lloyd: His Life at Great Dixter by Stephen Anderton at Amazon.com.
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