The forgotten garden that inspired Charles Darwin becomes the modern-day setting for an exploration of memory, family, and the legacy of genius.
Darwin never stopped thinking about the garden at his childhood home, The Mount, in Shrewsbury, Shropshire. It was here, under the tutelage of his green-fingered mother and sisters, that he first examined the reproductive life of flowers, collected birds’ eggs, and began the experiments that would lead to his theory of evolution.
A century and a half later, with one small child in tow and another on the way, Jude Piesse finds herself living next door to this secret garden. Two acres of the original site remain, now resplendent with overgrown ashes, sycamores, and hollies. The carefully tended beds and circular flower garden are buried under suburban housing; the hothouses where the Darwins and their skilful gardeners grew pineapples are long gone. Walking the pathways with her new baby, Piesse starts to discover what impact the garden and the people who tended it had on Darwin’s work.
Blending biography, nature writing, and memoir, The Ghost in the Garden traces the origins of the theory of evolution and uncovers the lost histories that inspired it, ultimately evoking the interconnectedness of all things.
‘Jude Piesse’s beautiful piece of detective work, The Ghost in the Garden, uncovers and brings to life the place that inspired the curiosity and spirit of enquiry of the boy and man who would become probably the most influential thinker and scientist in history: Charles Darwin. What makes this book so emotionally beguiling is the way the tale unfolds of an ordinary, yet handsome provincial house with a garden — and that was all it took. It moved me because inside Piesse’s book she could be describing every boy and girl free to roam and encouraged to explore, and you can feel the melancholy ghost of your own lost youth and heartbreak for those millions without the good fortune to have that freedom. It is a small story with a huge overtone that will stay with you long after the last page is turned.’
Sir Tim Smit, Executive Vice Chair & Co-Founder of the Eden Project
View all reviews
‘There are two ghosts in the garden here: the young Charles aboard the Beagle, writing salt-stained letters to his sisters, and the figure of Jude Piesse herself, author of this tender and unexpected memoir. Slightly at sea herself in a new job, at one point marooned in her new office by flood water, she gives a vivid picture of the obsessiveness of research: the hallucinogenic quality of the trees as she paces the overgrown garden, the feel of the manuscripts as she pores over the sisters’ letters in nine-hour stints in the library, a young woman navigating a course through early motherhood and the world of academe.’
Katherine Swift, author of The Morville Hours
‘The Ghost in the Garden is intelligent, curious, and moving nonfiction. It brings together biography, history, horticulture, and memoir — and does so with style and poignancy. Like the finest gardeners, Jude Piesse has laboured to give us something beautiful but also challenging; something that offers comforts without letting us get too comfortable with ourselves.’
Damon Young, author of Philosophy in the Garden
‘Jude Piesse’s The Ghost in the Garden is a fascinating, beautifully written blend of biography, memoir, nature-writing, psychogeography, and history of science. Piesse shows us the human, quotidian world of the Darwin clan through the story of her discovery of their places and their stories, and the way they helped to seed Charles Darwin’s world-changing discoveries. In doing so, Piesse beautifully evokes what it is to be obsessed with a place, even when it no longer, quite, exists.’
‘What is special about The Ghost in the Garden is the combination of research with an empathetic imagination that enables Piesse to show how much Darwin was influenced by the seven-acre estate over which he had roamed as a boy … Piesse is a conscientious reporter.’
Miranda Seymour, Financial Times
‘Skillfully blending memoir and biography … the result is an original take on a giant of science.’
‘Absorbing … Unexpected, fresh, and revealing … a joy.’
Helen Bynum, Literary Review
‘Well written and well researched.’