Sunday, 19 April 2015

Elizabeth and Her German Garden by Elizabeth von Arnim

Some years ago I read a biography on E.M. Forster; A New Life by Wendy Moffat. Excellent The Sleepless Reader' and she had a review of the book.
biography. There is the first time I encountered the name of the above book and the name of Elizabeth von Arnim. Forster was, at a time, tutor to her children. Just a little bit later I was checking the blog of my friend Alex '

As so often happens, once you hear about someone or something, it usually pops up everywhere. So when I ventured down to the local library, which book screamed "take me, take me" if not Elizabeth and Her German Garden. It has got fantastic reviews wherever you read about it. You are just to encounter another one!

This is such a charming book, that you are totally drawn in from the first page. It is a funny, witty account on how Elizabeth, an English lady that married the German Count von Arnim. After some years of socialising in Berlin, they went to visit the 'summerhouse'. From the first moment Elizabeth was lost to the derelict and wildly grown garden. She decided that from now on she would live here and put the garden in order. The book tells in a hilarious way of her efforts.

We follow her during a year and the different seasons in the garden. There are also stories of neighbours and visitors and the impact they have on her. Her very understanding husband she calls 'Man of Wrath' and her three daughters are called the April, May and June daughters.


The name of the house and garden is Nassenheide. The books was written in 1898 and the places was then situated in Germany, today it is Poland. It seems it is today in private hands, and a note from a visit in 2008, said that the garden was terribly abandoned.

Would like to quote a few paragraphs, just to show you how it is written. However, I could easily quote half the book, but will limit myself to a few. I realised rather early in the book that she is a twin soul of mine.

June 3rd. This is such an out-of-the-way corner of the world that it requires quite unusual energy to get here at all, and I am thus delivered from casual callers; while, on the other hand, people I love, or people who love me, which is much the same thing, are not likely to be deterred from coming by the roundabout train journey and the long drive at the end. Not the least of my many blessings is that we have only one neighbour. If you have to have neighbours at all, it is at least a mercy that there should be only one; for with people dropping in at all hours and wanting to talk to you, how are you to get on with your life, I should like to know, and read your books, and dream your dreams to your satisfaction?

I have been much afflicted again lately by visitors  - not stray callers to be got rid of after a due administration of tea and things you are sorry afterwards that you sid, but people staying in the house and not to be got rid of at all. All June was lost to me in this way, and it was from first to last a radiant month of heat and beauty; but a garden where you meet the people you saw att breakfast, and will see again at lunch and dinner, is not a place to be happy in. Besides, they had a knack of finding out my favourite seats and lunging in them just when I longed to lounge myself; and they took books out of the library with them, and left them face downwards on the seats all night to get well drenched with dew, though they might have known that what is meat for roses is poison for books; and they gave me to understand that if they had had the arranging of the garden it would have been finished long ago - whereas I don't believe a garden ever is finished.

Whilst preparing for the Christmas celebrations with visiting friends:

I don't like Duty - everything in the least disagreeable is always sure to be one's duty. Why cannot it be my duty to make lists and plans for the dear garden? "And so it is," I insisted to the Man of Wrath, when he protested against what he called wasting my time upstairs. "No," he replied sagely; "your garden is not your Duty, because it is your Pleasure."

There were a few paragraphs to show in which way this book is written.

Elizabeth von Arnim
Elizabeth gave birth to four daughters and a son, whose tutors included E.M. Forster and Hugh Walpole. In 1908 debt forced von Arnim to sell the estate. They moved to England, where the count died in 1910. Elizabeth bought a site in Sqitserland and built the Chateau Soleil where she worked on her books. She wrote 22 in total. She socialised with friends like H.G: Wells, Katherine Mansfield, John Middleton Murry and Frank Swinnerton. At the outbreak of the war she managed to escape to England. She went on to marry Francis, second Earl Russell, but it turned out to be a disastrous marriage and they eventually separated. On the outbreak of the Second World War she moved to America and died two years later at the age of seventy-five.

What a life, worthy a book itself. She did write her autobiography, All the Dogs of My Life in 1936. I have to try to find this. If her other books are like this book, they will be a pleasure to read as well. Hopefully, some of them have been re-printed.


  1. I'm so glad you liked it! I was ready to bet it was up your alley. I also read by her The Pastor's Wife and Enchanted April. Both very good, especially the first one, although a tinny but darker. Have "Love" and "Christopher and Columbus" in the to-be-read. I absolutely agree with you: the whole book is quotable! :)

    1. Great, it means that there are books available. I will try your recommendations.