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Cottage Industry

Dishing with Candida Lycett Green, a top British gardening writer who just published her first novel.

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LONDON — Candida Lycett Green gardens from the gut.

One of England’s premier gardening writers — who recently published her first novel, “The Dangerous Edge of Things” (Doubleday) in the U.K. — Lycett Green learned about plants the hard way and has never really bothered with Latin names, special effects or complex architecture.

“When I first started I didn’t know what I was doing — it was appalling,” she says from the window seat in the kitchen of her 18th-century Oxfordshire cottage. “I got it all wrong. I didn’t realize that when you cut down nettles, they grow back stronger,” she adds with a smile and a roll of her eyes.

Those early mistakes clearly paid off, for outside the kitchen window are the fruits and flowers of decades of experience: a green lawn edged with spring bulbs including daffodils, narcissi and camassia; trellises covered in crab apple, and, off to one side, a potted garden filled with irises, lavender, sage, fennel and thyme.

For a specialist writer — Lycett Green cowrote “The Garden at Highgrove” with her friend, Prince Charles, and other books on gardens — her own patch is homey, unpretentious and efficient. She and her husband of more than 40 years, Rupert Lycett Green, a former Savile Row tailor, tend to the garden themselves.

“I believe in gardens working for you. You can get a lot of food out of a small garden; for example, from the apple, pear and peach trees. And I wanted to make it so we could look after this garden without any outside help. My other gardens had been so big. We’d have to be outside constantly looking after them.”

Lycett Green, 62, says her garden, with its hawthorn hedge and hollyhocks that climb as high as the bedroom windows in the summertime, is like a child’s drawing — colorful, welcoming, spontaneous and unfussy.

In the vegetable garden at the back of the cottage, the Lycett Greens grow lettuce, broad beans, tulips and raspberries. The gardens are fully organic, and Lycett Green says she learned a lot from working with Prince Charles, a longtime champion of organic farming.

Lycett Green is the daughter of England’s late poet laureate, John Betjeman, whose letters and prose she has edited. A mother of five, she has spent a lifetime planting and writing books on English cottages and houses. Lycett Green has now made her first foray into fiction with “The Dangerous Edge of Things,” based on her carefree childhood in a Berkshire village not far from where she lives now.

“I couldn’t have had a better childhood,” says Lycett Green, whose bohemian mother nurtured her love of nature, taking her on journeys through the English countryside on horseback and in a horse and cart.

“My mum was a terrific wildflower expert. She was a good natural gardener — whatever grew, grew,” she says.

Lycett Green has a similar stress-free approach to her own gardens. “In the end, what is a garden for, but for feeling peaceful and for pleasing the senses?”

Tips For An Instant, Low-Maintenance Garden from Candida Lycett Green

  • Box: Its instant architecture gives order to a garden, like a picture frame.
  • Apple, pear, peach trees: You can live off the fruit, and a pear tree trained onto a wall looks wonderful.
  • Arches: In wire or wood, they make good divisions, and you can train crab apples and pears over them.
  • Water: The sound of water is idyllic and pastoral. There’s something primal — and comforting — about it.
  • Picket fencing: This is for cottages mostly, and gives a certain childlike satisfaction.
  • Terra-cotta pots: They’re like cushions on a sofa. If you group them correctly, their plants and flowers add shots of color.
  • Stone and tin: I like stone garden gnomes and tin watering cans, and I don’t like anything plastic.
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