Book Reviews: Zeals by Jennie Elias and Roman Gardens and Gardening by Mark Faulkner

It is very difficult for me to resist books that combine country houses, gardens and/or history, so when I was asked to review these two very different books, I could not say no.

Zeals; a biography of an English Country House by Jennie Elias
Zeals is not really a book about a garden per se, but about Zeals House in Wiltshire.  A house with a grand history but an uncertain future.  Now I have to admit I had not heard of Zeals House, but once I started to read the book  I realised what a fascinting place it is.  It has a history that mirrors many of our Country Houses, an illustrious past reaching back over 500 years with new generations adding to the house until the 20th century decline that hit so many of these families leading to decline and fall.

The house had its moment of great historical import when Charles II hid there whilst escaping to France.  Members of the family played their parts in society as MPs and reverends.  There are ghost stories, legends and myths about the house: including that the black dogs on the pillars that support the main gate come down and drink at midnight. 

This book is a history of the house told through its occupants.  The diaries, letters and historical documents of the Chafyn-Grove, Troyte-Bullocks who kept the thread of this house together until it was sold out of the family in the 1960s.  The book takes us from Zeals House's high days to the sadder days when land and possessions were sold off to keep the house running.  Yet the chipping away at the estate meant that the money was no longer coming in to support the house.  Once the spiral was started, the end was inevitable.   The house has now changed hands a few times more and now stands empty and officially 'at risk'.  A sad moment for this house and I can only hope that it's fortunes change soon.  I would love to be able to visit and see this grand manor house.

Whilst this is a history, it is engagingly written and soon draws you in to find out more about the family and the house.  There are lots of photographs of the house and family members as well, which helped me personlise the histories.  How could you not love a book where one of the chapters commences with "[17th October] After tiffin we sallied out on one or two matters of business....."*

Zeals House is published by Amberley Press 

Roman Gardens and Gardening by Mark Faulkner
This is a first for me, I have never reviewed a Kindle book previously.  Full disclosure, I am not a massive a Kindle fan, I like what I would call 'proper' books and audio books.  When Mark contacted me and asked me if I would like to review his book I had that moment of 'I don't do Kindle'.  This was a ridiculous moment, I find myself more and more reading magazines online so why not a book?  I know I am so many years (did someone mutter decades back there? - shush) behind this curve, I might as well be a Roman gardener myself!

This is a gem of a book,  I found it fascinating.  History of gardens is not easy as by their nature they die and compost away.  Mark takes us to Pompeii with its rich insight into Roman life delivered by the lava-induced stasis.  We can also see historical gardening in art from the period.  Frescos were painted on interior walls and exterior walls showing nature and gardens and of course there are descriptions in writings from the time that have survived.  

I expected this book to be interesting from a historical perspective, and it did not let me down on this; but it is also inspirational for thinking about gardening now.  The recreations shown in the book and the surviving remnants are quite thought provoking.  One of the examples: the Canopus water garden at Hadrian's Villa, Tivoli, I have actually visited way back in 2016

This is an excellent book, Mark goes into great detail on all facets of Roman gardens and gardening you could think of: from the features to the symbolism, the public and private gardens, the rich and the not so rich.  I enjoyed it considerably and it might just have converted me to reading more on Kindle.

Roman Gardens and Gardening by Mark Faulkner is published on Kindle.

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  1. Thanks for these great book reviews. I will put them on my "check into these" list. :)


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