Rosemary Verey: The Life and Lessons of a Legendary Gardener

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Rosemary Verey was the last of the great English garden legends. Although she embraced gardening late in life, she quickly achieved international renown. She was the acknowledged apostle of the "English style," on display at her home at Barnsley House, the "must have" adviser to the rich and famous, including Prince Charles and Elton John, and a beloved and wildly popular lecturer in America. A child of a generation born between the two World Wars, she could have easily lived a predictable and comfortable life, ...

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Rosemary Verey: The Life & Lessons of a Legendary Gardener

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Rosemary Verey was the last of the great English garden legends. Although she embraced gardening late in life, she quickly achieved international renown. She was the acknowledged apostle of the "English style," on display at her home at Barnsley House, the "must have" adviser to the rich and famous, including Prince Charles and Elton John, and a beloved and wildly popular lecturer in America. A child of a generation born between the two World Wars, she could have easily lived a predictable and comfortable life, devoted to her family, church, and horses, but a devastating accident changed her life, and with her architect-husband, she went on to create the gardens at their home that became a mandatory stop on every garden tour in the 1980s and 1990s. At sixty-two, she wrote her first book, followed by seventeen more in twenty years. Her husband's death, shortly after her career began, added a financial imperative to her ambition. By force of character, hard work, and determination, she tirelessly promoted herself and her garden lessons, traveling worldwide to lecture, sell books, and strengthen her network. She was a natural teacher, encouraging her American fans to believe that they were fully capable of creating beautiful gardens while validating their quest for a native vernacular. She also re-introduced the English to their own gardening traditions. Drawing from garden history and its literature, she developed a language of classical formal design, embellished with her exuberant planting style. Here is her story, recounted by a successful Manhattan attorney who worked with her as a volunteer, who saw her as both a person and a professional, and who was close to her for the last twenty years of her life. A demanding and sometimes truculent taskmaster, and a relentless perfectionist, Rosemary Verey, in her life as in her work, was the very personification of the English garden style. Her influence will be felt for generations.

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Editorial Reviews

The Washington Post
…Verey is an inspiration—not only to gardening enthusiasts but to all late bloomers. Her first book…appeared only in 1980…Verey was then 62, and 18 books were to follow before her death in 2001…Robinson, a New York lawyer by day and a gardener by avocation, writes not just clearly but also affectionately about her beloved, influential and rather spiky subject.
—Michael Dirda
Publishers Weekly
Decades before Martha Stewart, Verey was a fiercely determined, supremely talented, and ambitious gardening superstar modestly camouflaged in sensible shoes and pearls. Her laburnum walk at her home at Barnsley House is one of the most famous garden images in the world. Her roster of clients included Prince Charles and Elton John. Her books were the definitive references for aspiring Anglophile American gardeners. In this well-crafted, very personal biography, one of her apprentices, attorney and gardener Robinson, paints a loving but clear-eyed portrait of this great designer. Those who only know this doyenne of British gardening through the genteel, authoritative voice of her books will meet a more complicated character in these pages. Beneath her calm upper-class exterior was a very ambitious woman, motivated by financial pressures, troubled by family relationships, and pinched by vanity. In this intensively researched and absorbing tribute, Robinson has revealed her friend and mentor's struggles as well as celebrating her talents, grit, and graciousness. 39 color and black-and-white photographs. (Oct.)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781567924503
  • Publisher: Godine, David R. Publishers, Inc.
  • Publication date: 8/30/2012
  • Pages: 288
  • Sales rank: 961,209
  • Product dimensions: 5.60 (w) x 8.60 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

During a sabbatical from Debevoise & Plimpton where she was the first woman partner, Barbara Paul Robinson worked as a gardener for Rosemary Verey at Barnsley House. A hands-in-the-dirt gardener herself, she and her husband created their own gardens at Brush Hill in northwestern Connecticut, featured in articles, books, and on television. A frequent speaker, Barbara has published articles in the New York Times, Horticulture, Fine Gardening, and Hortus; she has also written a chapter in Rosemary Verey's The Secret Garden. The gardens can be viewed at

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Table of Contents

Introduction: Rosemary Verey: My Boss, My Mentor, My Friend ix

Chapter 1 Early Years and Marriage: 1918-1939- 1

Chapter 2 Family Life and a Shattering Accident: 1939-1953 17

Chapter 3 Creating the Garden: 1960s 29

Chapter 4 Sharpening Her Art: 1970s 45

Chapter 5 The Books Begin: Early 1980s 63

Chapter 6 David's Death; Garden Design Work Begins: Early 1980s 77

Chapter 7 After David's Death: Mid-1980s 93

Chapter 8 Leaving Barnsley House; Prince Charles Arrives: Late 1980s 111

Chapter 9 Elton John, The King of Rock: Early 1990s 133

Chapter 10 Love Affair with America: 1990s 149

Chapter 11 Garden Styles Move On: Late 1990s 169

Chapter 12 The Last Few Years: 1998-2000 185

Chapter 13 The Final Garden: 2001 197

Epilogue 209

Notes 215

Acknowledgments 229

Selected Bibliography 233

People Interviewed 235

Books by Rosemary Verey 237

Index 239

Photograph Credits 251

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Posted December 10, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    We see the woman AND the art in this deeply interesting & intimate portrait

    Verey’s gardens remind me a little of jazz musicians. A great and successful jazz musician (Branford Marsalis?) once said that great art is not completely improvised: it is creating something new within the constraints of an accepted form. I like the idea of constraints, because we all have them, and some do better than others when operating inside of them. And this is so for Verey. The gardens she created will always be lovely, but they won’t have her individual spark of genius without her. Born in 1918, she lived a traditional middle class life until her children left home, and was in her forties when she began creating gardens around the house at Barnsley in the Cotswolds that her husband had inherited as the only son of a long line of clergymen. She began with garden designs unearthed in her historical researches, and began to riff on that, adding a profusion of sometimes new and complementary plants within the formal outline. Verey had an outspoken and outgoing personality that was much prized and admired in America, though perhaps less so in Britain. She had opinions on everything, but her real focus was gardening in a particular style. And that is perhaps why her star has waned. What she brought to us was an obsession and said “you can do it, too.” We liked to think so, but alas, we could not. We hadn’t the time, the army of gardeners, the wealth, the vision, the dogged pertinacity. Robinson the author shows us Verey the woman: whatever her flaws, they are presented within the context of very basic human needs for companionship, closeness, intimacy. This is a fascinating portrait of a woman working within the constraints of her own nature, excelling in some things while doing less well on others. The trajectory of her life gives us material for meditation on our own gardens.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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