“A wood of one’s own” by Ruth Pavey

“A wood of one’s own” by Ruth Pavey has been out for a couple of years but I’ve only got round to reading it this month. For me, it was a bit of curate’s egg. It’s well written (there are gushing reviews in the press) but the content was rather disappointing: the gardening correspondent of the local paper in Highgate and Hampstead buys a 4 acre wood in Somerset, and uses it for gardening. Maybe that is too harsh. It’s really an orchard after all, and Pavey has a lot of awareness of what is going to set people’s teeth on edge: planting garden flowers in woodland, for instance.

Pavey has family and childhood connections to Somerset, and so it was not entirely surprising that in 1999 she ended up buying her four acres there. Mixed scrub, orchard, some big trees, and lots of brambles and nettles.

She lands on her feet with her neighbour, Ted, who nudges and guides her in sensible directions. Case in point: she buys an old workmen’s caravan from him and uses it for staying overnight. But her visits are too short and precious to spend time on caravan improvements rather than woodland work.

In other, handier, hands the Rollalong might soon have been transformed into a snug, insulated nest, bunk beds in place of the plan table, wood-burning stove with proper chimney, all the delights of the new versions of a shepherd’s hut. But my project was to plant trees; I was trying not to get sidetracked into home improvements.

But a page or two later she is buying a local cottage, which surely involves more effort than doing up in a caravan!

Getting the cottage refurbished took time, but all, by and large, went well and now the cottage is more comfortable than the Rollalong ever could be.

I found this all a bit annoying. Then she started on introducing non-native garden flowers to the wood in the hope they will become self sustaining. Invasive in other words.

Whether or not they are native to these shores, I would like various flowers to naturalize themselves so that they come up every year without further intervention. … Of all these lovable flowers, there is not one I have not tried to grow. Snowdrops, narcissus and a bold, adventurous geranium, Wargrave Pink, that I brought by mistake along with a beech sapling, are the ones that look most confident of having made themselves at home.

This is the kind of thinking which has led to the introduction of American Grey Squirrels, with their damage to so many woods and trees, and the retreat of red squirrels.

The book is padded out with anecdotes and historical digressions. The penultimate chapter is largely devoted to (non-woodland) stories about her family and the nearby village. Maybe these give colour? Plenty of reviews liked it all. But for me it just adds to the overall lack of focus.

For me, this book is not a patch on Julian Evans’ “A wood of our own” from 2003, but then I also wanted a woodland and not a big garden. In fact, reading Ruth Pavey’s book prompted me to go back and reread Evans’ book and write a review of why I like it so much.

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