Friday, April 26, 2013

Gardeners' Proust

Horse-Chestnut Flower (Aesculus hippocastanum)
Swann abounding in leisure, fragrant with the scent of the great chestnut-tree, of baskets of raspberries and of a sprig of tarragon...
 The 267 plants in the writings of Marcel Proust is a terrific book written by Adelaide author Dr Brian Morley. It was published late last year by New York publishers Edwin Mellen Press who have the dubious Wikipedia entry of "publishing books which often prove to contain quite extraordinary gibberish". Perhaps this comment could also be labelled on much of Proust's In Remembrance of Things Past (A la Recherche du Temps Perdu) , the first volume of which, Swann's Way is having its 100th anniversary of publication this year.
I have to admit to reading it in fits and starts. The perfect book to read at bedtime because it sends you to sleep after just a few pages, or, as Roberto Bolle in the video below describes, it ..." the perfect book to take to heaven as you would have eternity to read it".
 For garden lovers however it is a source of inspiration. The grandmother of the young Marcel who gardens at "Combray" (Illiers in the real world) strides about surreptitiously removing rose stakes to make them look more natural and even goes out in the 'rain-lashed garden, pushing back her disordered grey locks so that her forehead might be freer to absorb the health giving draughts of wind and rain', a true gardener indeed, though this may in fact be more of a reaction to her well regulated bourgeois life with maid Francoise always at her heel.
The big Horse-Chestnut tree under which the family gathers to share a meal or gossip is central to the Combray garden. A true temperate climate tree its large seeds or 'conkers' are not edible like the familiar Sweet Chestnut but are used in France to wash linen and fabric after being ground and mixed with water. 

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