Originally published in 1935, my edition dates from the following year, and is the first “cheap edition”, cloth bound and slightly foxed, but a lovely thing nonetheless. Basically this is an account of Leighton’s purchase of a piece of land in the Chilterns, and her efforts to transform it into a garden, bounded by the Four Hedges of the title.
It follows (appropriately) the gardening calendar, beginning in April, and passing through twelve months, encompassing all aspects of gardening and the natural year. The text is descriptive, engaging and informative, and is very much about a return to the rural lifestyle prevalent in a number of artists of the time , presumably looking for some certainty in a difficult period, with the Great War still a recent memory (her elder brother perished in that awful conflict when she would have been just seventeen), and with gathering storm-clouds over Europe at the time of writing.
Perhaps searching for some kind of truth, something fundamental to hang on to – Leighton really shines in her illustrations for the book, showing sinuous powerful figures sensuously engaging with the landscape, working hard, but being themselves things of beauty, at one with the landscape. Here a young female figure gathers windfalls in her apron,whilst here a hatted male figure is mowing with a scythe, the stubble perfectly created with short stubby cuts of the burin, with the longer un-mown grass shifting subtly from white strokes in black to black on white. Her treatment of his shirt is equally effortless. Leighton is just as interested in the wildlife she encounters in her garden, and there are many small illustrations scattered through the text of hatchlings and plants and flowers, but here she shows the indignant pride of the blackbird caught on its nest, and look at the beautiful work on the flowers and buds in the foreground.
Leighton’s skill in use of light and dark is evident, she is unafraid to leave large areas barely touched to bold effect, scattering the lightest of marks to hint at feathers.
Finally a smaller piece to show the effort which has taken place, but which is now ended, the axe and the woodsman’s block.
I am delighted to see the book is still in print, available for a reasonable sum from amazon, but I bet it’s not printed from the original blocks! Neither will it come with an inserted bookmark knitting pattern for children’s socks (with fancy turnovers) – price 3d – as mine did when I picked it up from a lovely bookshop in Helmsley (is it still there – do hope so).
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