“Can this be my gardenin’ book?” asks Littlest Weed. I was sent a review copy of A Big Garden by Gilles Clément and Vincent Gravé by Prestel a few months ago and it has taken me a while to get round to reviewing it. But for the last few weeks, Littlest Weed and I have spent several happy sessions poring over Gravé’s beautiful, surreal pictures of giant bugs and tiny gardeners, unfurling ferns and flowers that look as though they would eat you up, as well as renowned landscape designer Clément’s gentle meditative text.
Littlest Weed, who is four, is a big fan of “spotting books” and at one level A Big Garden falls into this category, asking: “Where is the hungry giant caterpillar? What is a shark doing in a field? Can you find him.” At another level, it taps into the way in which for children a garden is a magical place where the imagination can run riot. There is a gardener sat on a huge raspberry leaf on the back of a ladybird watching television; giant seed-like megaliths with faces; hosts of winged flying machines and scores of miniature gardeners engaged in weird and wonderful activities: shooting off into space in a mushroom rocket; catching jewels under the earth; releasing a rainbow from a suitcase. Littlest Weed does not bat an eyelid.
Each month has its own illustration, so May is simply ‘Garden’, June is ‘Fruit’, August is ‘Forest of Flowers’, December is ‘Gaze of Winter’ and so on. I love how the author and illustrator have taken the subject of the garden and played with it, so that children will come away thinking that gardening is full of endless possibilities rather than a boring activity for grown-ups with lots of rules. Here the rules are broken.
Last night when he got home from nursery, Littlest Weed spent an hour dancing around on our lawn, waving a stick in the air and singing and talking to himself. I don’t know what game he was playing, but this book gives an insight into the worlds Little Weeds can create in the garden if they are set free to do so.