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Talk | Olivia Laing: The Garden Against Time

The Garden Museum is delighted to host Olivia Laing for the launch of her new book, ‘The Garden Against Time: In Search of a Common Paradise’.

‘A garden contains secrets, we all know that: buried elements that might put on strange growth or germinate in unexpected places. The garden that I chose had walls, but like every garden it was interconnected, wide open to the world…’

In 2020, Olivia Laing began restoring a walled garden in Suffolk, an overgrown Eden of unusual plants. The work drew her into an exhilarating 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.

The result is a humming, glowing tapestry, a beautiful and exacting account of the abundant pleasures and possibilities of gardens: not as a place to hide from the world but as a site of encounter and discovery, bee-loud and pollen-laden. Olivia will be joined on stage by garden designer and writer Tania Compton.


  • Olivia Laing

    Olivia Laing

    Olivia Laing is a widely acclaimed writer and critic. She’s the author of seven books, including The Lonely City, Funny Weather and Everybody. Her first novel, Crudo, was a Sunday Times bestseller and won the 2019 James Tait Menorial Prize. Her work has been translated into twenty-one languages and on 2018 she was awarded a Windham-Campbell Prize for non-fiction.

    Olivia Laing by Sandra Mickiewicz.

  • Tania Compton

    Tania Compton

    Tania is a garden designer, writer and contributing gardens editor for The World of Interiors whose spare time is spent embellishing a series of streamside meadows in Wiltshire and dyeing silk from plants in the garden. She is a Trustee of the Garden Museum. Portrait courtesy of Sabina Rüber.

    Image © Sabina Rüber