Book Review: The Landscapes of Anne of Green Gables

It was encircled by huge old willows and tall firs, beneath which flourished flowers that loved the shade. Prim, right-angled paths, neatly bordered with clam-shells, intersected it like moist red ribbons and in the beds between old-fashioned flowers ran riot.

In her new book, The Landscapes of Anne of Green Gables (Timber Press, 2018) Catherine Reid describes the gardens and landscapes that inspired Lucy Maud Montgomery and connected her to her most iconic character, the irrepressible Anne Shirley.

cover of anne of green gables bookAnne (quoted above), like Montgomery, enjoyed “old-timey” gardens filled with peonies, Scotch roses, columbines and bouncing Bets, wild gardens that were neglected just enough and woodland gardens like those that bloomed along Lover’s Lane. Montgomery found an abundance of all three types to inspire her on Prince Edward Island, where she grew up and many of her novels are set.

The Landscapes of Anne of Green Gables is one of series of books published by Timber Press on writers and the landscapes that permeate their literature. A few years ago, I reviewed Beatrix Potter’s Gardening Life (Timber Press, 2014) by Marta McDowell, who is also the author of The World of Laura Ingalls Wilder: The Frontier Landscapes that Inspired the Little House Books (Timber Press, 2017).

Like the other books, The Landscapes of Anne of Green Gables weaves biography of Montgomery with insights into the gardens and wild landscapes of Prince Edward Island that appear and re-appear in her books. Reid artfully weaves quotes from Montgomery’s journals and her novels throughout the text, demonstrating how the landscapes and literature fed each other.

Like Anne, Montgomery was essentially an orphan (her mother died before she was 2 and her father left her with her strict maternal grandparents for most of her childhood). She took refuge in the natural world and in her imagination, keeping extensive journals of her nature walks and her response to trees and flowers. Like many women of her time, Montgomery struggled to find independence. Eventually, she married a minister, but his lifelong struggles with mental illness burdened her enormously. Reid, like more recent biographers, believe Montgomery died of a drug overdose brought on by depression.

Montgomery was a prolific and poetic writer, always looking for what she called “the flash”—an insight or feeling that took her from her mundane life into a more imaginative place. In her journals, Montgomery wonders if  she might have “been a tree in some other state of existence.” Gardening was a second love for Montgomery, and as Reid notes, “she wrote and she gardened, the two creative acts reinforcing each other.”

This book will not give you instructions on how to plant a garden like the one Lucy Maud Montgomery had or one’s she imagined for Matthew, Marilla and Anne at Green Gables, but with its lush photos of Prince Edward Island today as well as period pictures from Montgomery’s time, it is easy to imagine the feel of those places. It will give you insight into the relationship between a writer and her homeland.

What are your favorite garden-ish books this season?

 

 

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