Digging Up Paradise: Potatoes, People and Poetry in the Garden of England

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by Sarah SalwayDigging_Front_Cover

In Digging up Paradise, Sarah Salway takes us on a tour of the Garden of England, from mermaids’ palaces in Margate Shell Grotto to garden pianos at Finchcocks. By way of journal entries, letters, poems and photographs, Salway charts the gardens’ physical selves, the sensations they conjure, the memories they stir up and glimpses of history. A reminder that sometimes all we need is to relearn how to look at a garden.

Sample pages (PDF files, each of about 1Mb): The Shell Grotto, MargateFinchcocks Musical Museum, GoudhurstMarle Place Gardens and Gallery, TonbridgeRed House, Bexleyheath

sarahSarah Salway is a novelist and poet living in Kent. She grew up surrounded by gardens as the daughter of garden historian and writer, Elizabeth Peplow, and is now a full member of the Garden Media Guild. Sarah is the recipient of Fellowships from Hawthornden in Scotland, the VCCA in the USA, and was the Royal Literature Fund Fellow at the London School of Economics and Political Science. This book started during her term as Canterbury Laureate, and more gardens and photographs can be found on her website, www.writerinthegarden.com.

Paperback; 160pp; 203×203 mm; 978-0-9926485-6-5; June 2014; Cultured Llama; £15.00

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On this poet’s garden tour, Sarah Salway writes of the gardens’ physical selves, of course, but also of the sensations they conjure, the memories they stir up and the glimpses of history that colour her perception. Each description is rich, layered, personal and moving. It is more like the way we all experience gardens than any garden writing I have come across.

Sarah has a unique combination of a garden lover’s eye and a poet’s imagination, and it is a delicious treat to watch her exercise them on this group of gardens. She makes a fascinating and unpredictable virtual garden companion, always drawing your attention to some unexpected detail, or taking some half-told story, exploring it and breaking your heart with it. At the end I desperately wanted to set her onto my own favourite gardens and see what happens.

I read this book sometimes with a silly smile on my face, sometimes gripped and anxious, often with a tingle running down my spine. Sarah’s poetry has always moved me, and now she writes about my favourite subject, gardens. How lucky we gardeners are to have her in our midst. This could not be a lovelier book.

Lia Leendertz, who writes about gardens
for The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph and others


In Digging up Paradise, Sarah Salway has drawn thoughtful and imaginative pathways for the reader through the horticultural persons, places and histories of Kent. Through an arboretum of writing these spaces come alive on the page, providing a moment of instant verdant escape for the committed armchair traveller.

Part-travelogue, part-poetry collection, part-guide-book, Digging up Paradise moves from landscaped castle grounds to shell grottoes, from desolate public parks to topiaried views, gathering creative seeds and espaliering the stories so that a sense of each place can be quickly understood and enjoyed. Reading this book has inspired me to take my own notebook out into my local green patches, and left me with hopeful plans to visit the Garden of England that these ‘cuttings’ make sound so enticing.

Viccy Adams, writer and literary artist


Sarah Salway’s new collection is an original and engaging take on a perennial theme – pun intended! Gardens have occupied the imaginations of poets for generations, from Hafiz writing in ancient Persia to Rudyard Kipling declaring that ‘All England is a garden’.  In moving, engaging and often surprising reflections, Sarah Salway takes the reader on a tour of the Garden of England, introducing us to the stories of Kent’s astonishing variety of well-known and tucked-away gardens.  As we’d expect from this widely praised and published writer, her prose is expansive and generous and the poems distilled and precise. As a bonus, both are illustrated by Sarah Salway’s own photographs.  This is a book to treasure and to carry on summer picnics to these captivating and ever-changing oases – a worthy paean to gardens and the gardeners who created them.

Victoria Field, author of The Lost Boys


This remarkable creation – part guided tour, part literary and history essay, part poetry – is rich testament to Salway’s entirely passionate and insightful observations as a writer and self-confessed, lifelong biophile.

In Digging Up Paradise, Salway charts interior and exterior journeys as she travels through Kent’s gardens. From Margate Shell Grotto to Sissinghurst Castle, we travel with her via an eclectic mixture of photos, journal entries, and exquisite poems, often to our own real and remembered gardens, and the people in them. This book surprises and delights us with what we never knew, or knew and had forgotten, reconnecting us with our own public and private spaces. With characteristic lightness of touch and lively enquiry, Salway explores our relationships with the natural world: how we live and create in it, and how it lives and breathes in us.

Patricia Debney, author of
Littoral and How to Be a Dragonfly

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