A perceptive hobby-memoir might encourage even more of us to get plantingby Clara Hernanz-Lizarraga / March 4, 2020 / Leave a comment
Despite her rural upbringing, Alice Vincent says she was “fairly plant-blind” until one night, in her student room at Newcastle, the smell of basil hit her “nose as if it were a wave that had knocked out her legs.” Later, she became an avid gardener, wrote about it in the Telegraph and is now considered an expert, part of the millennial fascination with gardening and plants.
Rootbound interweaves gardening history with memoir, telling us about her passion for plants alongside the story of her breakup with a long-term boyfriend, putting it among a clutch of recent similar hobby-confessional books.
The book’s best material is the description of London’s green spaces and lively historical research. We learn about landscape designer Gertrude Jekyll, “Onward and Upward in the Garden,” the New Yorker’s first gardening column and the history of Columbia Road flower market in East London. However, readers beware: if Vincent’s debut, How to Grow Stuff, was a practical gardening guide for beginners, Rootbound is for those able to tell their verbena bonariensis from their scabiosa columbaria.
Vincent spends several pages discussing the pressures that make the life of young people in this country difficult—including finding an affordable place to live. Yet, ironically, she would make for a good poster girl of millennial success: she is a professional writer who gets paid to go to festivals, is constantly travelling round the world, has a rich social life (break-up notwithstanding) and even purchased a flat in London —“thanks to a mixture of inheritance, the generosity of others and a beyond-our-years-maturity.” The writer is quick to disclose her privilege but her commentary is sometimes predictable, especially in her feminist sloganising: “Smash the glass ceiling in horticulture.”
Overall, though, Vincent’s perceptive nature writing and knowledge of horticulture might inspire readers to start planting.
Rootbound: Rewilding a Life by Alice Vincent (Canongate, £14.99)