Interview with Richard Littledale – author of Tales from an Under-gardener
Richard Littledale invites you to push open the garden gate and join him as he discovers the joy of gardening in his new book Tales from an Under-gardener.
A reluctant gardener, Richard Littledale took up ‘project garden’ to help combat the loneliness of bereavement, only to find that the physical transformation of his garden mirrored a real change in himself too. Follow Richard’s journey through 52 tales and uncover what gardening can teach us about patience, humility, hope, fruitfulness and the abiding goodness of God. Beautifully illustrated throughout, each tale includes a gardening story, a biblical reflection and a prayer. Whether you are an enthusiastic beginner or naturally green-fingered, this gentle and encouraging book reveals inspirational thoughts about life and God from the perspective of the gardener.
Richard Littledale is an author, preacher, pastor, BBC broadcaster and, above all, a highly skilled communicator, innovator and expert storyteller.
Richard, why did you decide to write Tales from an Under-gardener?
For me, the experience of discovering gardening has been one of great joy and depth. Sharing those experiences with others led me to believe that many would enjoy sharing those discoveries with me.
Who have you written this book for?
The book is for all who love gardening, and who believe there is more to it than meets the eye.
Why have you called each chapter ‘tales’ rather than ‘devotions’?
The ‘tales’ word is to do with two things: audience and approach. In terms of audience, my intention to reach a wider audience means that I chose to use a less overtly religious term. In terms of approach, devotional material can either write from the world towards scripture or the other way round. I chose to start this book in the more familiar territory of the world.
You admit that you were initially a reluctant gardener, so why did you start ‘project garden’, and what do you now love most about gardening?
Gardening started as a means to counter the acute loneliness I was experiencing in my second year of bereavement after losing my wife to cancer. Long summer evenings were the worst, and the garden provided a place of solace and diversion. It is very easy to feel that bereavement is something done ‘to’ you, whereas to garden is to bring about positive change in your immediate environment by your own hard work and creativity.
In lockdown, many people found a new love of gardening. Why do you think that was?
Lockdown caused many of us to ask what we could do to entertain or divert ourselves within the confines of our own home. As a result, gardening has grown exponentially, with over 40% of the adult population in the UK identifying it as a favourite leisure pastime.
You remind us that there are images of gardens at both the start and end the Bible – why is the garden so important to our faith story?
Throughout the Bible, the garden serves as something of a metaphor for the ‘dream of home’. After leaving Eden, humankind finds itself on a persistent quest for a shared space where God may be known. That dream resurfaces once again at the close of the Book of Revelation.
As you began to garden you found that it transformed you as much as the ground you were tending. Doctors are now prescribing this kind of social therapy or ‘ecotherapy’ – why do you think gardening helps our minds, bodies and souls?
For some people, gardening can serve as therapy, as it has for me. Through it, we can change our physical environment in ways that we cannot change the emotional or mental one. The needs of plants are simple ones – water, light and earth, and yet the rewards they offer to those who tend them are great. For impatient people, like me, gardening can serve as a reminder about how things take time. As a Christian, it serves as a reminder that we work in partnership with God to make things grow.
There are beautiful line drawings throughout the book, some of which are based on your own photographs of features in your garden. What do you think these add to the book?
With its 52 ‘tales’ I hope that the book will become a companion, or bedside book, throughout the year. The illustrations make it a thing of beauty, and something to treasure.
What do you hope readers will most get out of reading this book?
I hope this book will help people to reflect on faith, on God and on the natural world, but in a gentle way – a bit like strolling through a lovely garden.
In one sentence, how would you describe Tales from an Under-gardener?
Tales from an Under-gardener is an extended invitation to discover more about God in the intimate and inviting space of the garden. It is written not by an expert but a novice – who invites you to learn alongside him.