Q&A with Mary Keen, Author of “Paradise & Plenty”

By Shelley Pierce | August 7, 2016
Image by Pimpernel Press
by Shelley Pierce
August 7, 2016

Mary Keen is an internationally known designer who has worked in the USA, France and Corfu, as well as on many English gardens of great distinction – among them the garden she describes in this book. For twenty years she was a member of the National Trust Gardens Panel, which advises on the care of important and historic gardens. She has monthly columns in the Daily Telegraph and Garden magazine and is a regular contributor to Gardens Illustrated and the Spectator. She is also a hands-on gardener, and her own garden is regularly open to the public. The author of five books, she writes from the heart rather than to order, and this is her first book after a gap of twenty years.

Mary’s recent release, “Paradise & Plenty“, opens a window on the Rothschild family’s garden, Eythrope in Buckinghamshire which has been kept intensely private – until now. This behind-the-scenes look at the Eythrope gardens is not only beautiful but practical as it shows techniques of dedicated cultivation that can be applied to your home garden.  Read on for more information about this book and find out how to WIN ONE OF THREE COPIES from Pimpernel Press!

What inspired you to write a book on the Eythrope gardens?

It was something I felt was worth recording and Lord Rothschild was also anxious to publish a book that was not a vanity project

It has been said that the techniques used at Eythrope are old and tried using gardening methods that were developed over many preceding centuries.  Why has Ethrope maintained these traditions and why is it important that we continue to maintain these traditions in lieu of more modern gardening techniques?

Techniques have been maintained out of respect to the very high standards set by Miss Alice, the unmarried sister of baron Ferdinand Rothschild, who built Waddesdon manor . After he died, his sister took on the management of the manor,  but her own house where she gardened was the pavilion at Eythrope , a miniature version of Waddesdon . The techniques have been handed down through generations of head gardeners, but the present regime has not been afraid to try new methods as well as old.

I have read that you consider atmosphere to be a garden’s most important thing.  How would you describe the atmosphere at the Eythrope gardens?

The atmosphere of high horticultural perfection has its own charm,  the place feels dedicated to growing plants in the best possible way. If you are untidy as I am, a very ordered place makes for sighs of envy as well as admiration.

It is important to note that this book, while very picturesque, is not solely intended to be a “coffee table” book but also a horticultural how-to.   How will this book help us to become better gardeners and grow ordinary things extraordinary well?

If nothing else, it teaches us to grow thing with meticulous care. Crop failures are rare at Eythrope, but there are so many small tips for home gardeners,  that I could not begin to list them here.

You have been involved with Eythrope for a quarter of a century. Does the garden continue to teach you new things after all this time and, if so, what are some of the most surprising things you have learned from it?

I always learn something new from a visit there . Only last week I learned that the chlorine in tap water keeps seedlings from damping off .  While I was writing the book, I enjoyed learning about prolonging the life of cut  flowers, especially sweet peas and how to grow hyacinths in pots faultlessly.

What advice do you have to offer for those wishing to emulate the quality, standards and horticultural techniques that Eythrope is renowned for?

Most of us do not have time to take the infinite pains described in the book, but if you only take home a few of the tips in the book, your garden will be better. I know mine has improved a lot  since I spent so much time at Eythrope.


To enter, simply leave a comment on this blog post by midnight on Sunday, August 14, 2016 (be sure to provide a valid e-mail address) in answer to the following question:

If you could visit any garden in the world, which would it be?

Be sure to include a valid e-mail address. The winner will be drawn at random from all qualified entrants, and notified via e-mail. (See rules for more information.)

UPDATE 8/22/16: Congratulations to Rae Eippert, Deborah Rosen and Lynne Giamartino!

Tell us what you think: Leave a comment
11 people are already talking about this.
This article was last updated on
Read more about Gardening Experts
Did you find this helpful? Share it with your friends!

Get our latest eBook, “Bring Your Garden Indoors: 13 DIY Projects for the Fall and Winter”

As the seasons change, it’s time to think about bringing your garden indoors. From creating an indoor garden to using natural decor for your holiday decorations, our latest eBook features 13 of our favorite DIY projects for the whole family.

 Happy holidays from all of us at Gardening Know How.

  • Shari Jennings
    Comment added August 21, 2016Reply

    I would love to visit gardens of Charleston and Butchart Gardens. I'm looking forward to reading your work.

  • Linda L.
    Comment added August 14, 2016Reply

    I've always wanted to visit Kew Gardens. Thank you for the seedling tip! :)

  • Joanna
    Comment added August 9, 2016Reply

    I'm not sure of the name but the one in Hersey Pa.

  • Philip
    Comment added August 9, 2016Reply

    Sissinghurst in England

  • Rae
    Comment added August 8, 2016Reply

    Would love to visit the New York Botanical Gardens, esp. to see the Corpse Flower bloom.

  • Lynne
    Comment added August 7, 2016Reply

    I would love to visit gardens of Charleston. I will be looking forward to reading your work, even if I don't win it. Thank you.

  • G. Rutkowski
    Comment added August 7, 2016Reply

    If I could, I would love to visit Butchart Gardens. It is located in British Columbia, Canada.

  • Jill Hanson
    Comment added August 7, 2016Reply

    Monet's Garden, I would love to visit to see the beautiful gardens, that inspired his paintings

  • Carol Yemola
    Comment added August 7, 2016Reply

    I would love to visit the gardens in Japan. I think they are so well groomed and each one has a story to tell.

  • Deborah Rosen
    Comment added August 7, 2016Reply

    I'd love to visit the gardens at Winterthur.

  • Andrea Salgado
    Comment added August 7, 2016Reply

    I would love ti visit the Desert botanical gardens in Phoenix Arizona! Desert plants are so beautiful to me and it would be a lovely experience to take in all of the beautiful views at dusk :)

Leave a comment.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Join Us - Sign up to get all the latest gardening tips!