The Garden Against Time: In Search of a Common Paradise

An account of the abundant pleasures and possibilities of gardens: not as a place to hide but as a site of encounter and discovery, bee-loud and pollen-laden.

Front cover The Garden Against Time: In Search of a Common Paradise

In 2020, Olivia Laing began to restore a walled garden in Suffolk, an overgrown Eden of unusual plants. The work drew her into an investigation of paradise and its long association with gardens. Moving between real and imagined gardens, from Milton’s Paradise Lost to John Clare’s enclosure elegies, from a wartime sanctuary in Italy to a grotesque aristocratic pleasure ground funded by slavery, Laing interrogates the sometimes shocking cost of making paradise on earth.

But the story of the garden doesn’t always enact larger patterns of privilege and exclusion. It’s also a place of rebel outposts and communal dreams. From the improbable queer utopia conjured by Derek Jarman on the beach at Dungeness to the fertile vision of a common Eden propagated by William Morris, new modes of living can and have been attempted amidst the flower beds, experiments that could prove vital in the coming era of climate change.

On a recent instagram post Laing wrote: “This is a book about garden-making, but also about the long and dangerous dream of Eden, paradise on earth. It’s about what that dream has cost, the way that enclosures and slavery facilitated the garden of power. But it’s also full of radical alternatives and fertile possibilities, of queer sanctuaries and gardens that were refuges from war. It’s about how and why we make beauty, it’s alive with flowers and bees”.

The Garden Against Time: In Search of a Common Paradise, published by Picador will be released on the 2nd of May 2024.