Thursday, 1 March 2012

The Paper Garden

I am reading a very surprising book,The Paper Garden by Toronto-based author Molly Peacock, published by Bloomsbury. Why surprising? On the face of it, a book about Mrs Delaney, a real 18th century figure, who spent the last twenty years of her long life cutting out flowers from tissue paper and sticking them on black backgrounds might be a yawn. But the writing sparkles, it is written in colloquial - sometimes even slangy English, and the narrative covers far more than the protagonist's cut and paste technique. I am only on page 53, but I am beginning to see how this most unusual, clever, ground-breaking story is going to use this - quite literally - flimsy excuse to investigate subjects of enduring interest to us all, such as: marriage, ageing, families, friendship, the nature of art - in other words Life and all its challenges. Also, purely as an object, this is a beautifully-produced book, by Bloomsbury in association with The British Museum, with many pretty touches such as the typeface, expensive paper, lovely colour illustrations. A five star recommendation.

Now: a quiz question to which I genuinely wish to know the answer - where did all the woad go? We are told that our forebears decorated themselves with woad, a blue dye that is made by boiling up a plant. You would think that therefore the plant would still be found growing in many a corner of a British field or hedgerow. But no. It does not grow wild anywhere in Britain. If you need some blue woad dye, as we did 12 years ago for my younger daughter's wedding outfit 'something blue', (in her case a garter), woad seeds had to be bought and the tender plant cultivated. I will raise the question with our garden historians during Beyond the Garden Gate May 26/27.

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