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Dr Jude Piesse

Academic and writer

Dr Jude Piesse is a wonderful writer and her book, The Ghost in the Garden, a beautiful book. Blending memoir, biography, and nature writing, it reveals how Charles Darwin's childhood home, The Mount in Shrewsbury, shaped his life and ideas. I was given it as a birthday present and on the back of that got in touch and asked this lecturer in English Literature at Liverpool John Moore's University if she wanted to feature as an early anthophile. Happily she agreed.

The garden that inspired Charles Darwin becomes the modern-day setting for Jude's book

Your three favourite flowers?

Cornflower, iris, delphinium.

Tell us about your childhood garden?

The first garden I remember was a sunny oblong of grass at the back of our house in Ramsgate. There was a contrastingly dark compost heap that I liked to climb. I have a watercolour of myself in this garden painted by my mother, in which I am wearing a pink bonnet and what looks like a lacey red and black Flamenco dress from the dressing-up sack. We moved to a different house when I was five but this first garden is a very clear place in my memory.

Who or what inspired your career choice?

I don’t know what inspired me to want to write, but I went straight to it from very young: making tiny books, writing diaries and poems, and then typing longer, usually unfinished stories on a clunky old typewriter that my grandparents’ friends gave to me when I was about nine. I became an academic because I wanted to learn more about literature and the world and to polish up that sharper side of myself.

What is a typical day in the life of Jude?

Not very exciting, I’m afraid! A typical working day involves taking the kids to school, going to my university office, writing emails, teaching or preparing for teaching, and maybe doing some writing. Then, I’ll come home, see the kids, eat dinner made by my husband, bath the children, and put them to bed. I might read or watch TV after that. A typical non-working day is a different beast. Alongside childcare, it might include swimming, writing, going to my still relatively new allotment, going out for coffee, or walking around the park by our house.

No garden is complete without …

Children aren’t essential, but they make a nice addition. Otherwise, sunflowers.

Something we’d find:
  • On your bedside table:

Three or four books and some fancy bookmarks. A tin can wrapped in ribbons that my daughter made for me at school. Usually, more dust than I would like.

  • In your flower arrangement:

I often buy flowers from a lovely shop on Penny Lane called A Slower Space and my latest bunch included roses and pussy willow. I don’t really arrange flowers, but I like to put them in two jugs: one that used to belong to my grandmother which is decorated with tulips, and one that seems to be from the early 1900s with a picture of a horse and a girl on it, above the caption ‘Pals’. I have white blossom left over from pruning a plum tree in ‘Pals’ at the moment.

  • In your garden shed:

I don’t have a shed in my yard, but I am slightly obsessed with getting one for the allotment. I can’t decide whether to have a shed, a potting shed, or a greenhouse, but I am veering towards the latter. Ideally, I would like a space that I can do a bit of writing in. So, at the moment, my shed/greenhouse is a bit of a fantasy – but I hope to fill it with garden tools, tomatoes, and a chair.

The flaw you wish you didn’t have?


What would you be in another life?

If my other life was a lucky one, I would be an illustrator or make prints.

Guiding principles?

A bit hard to say, but as a rule I value community and creativity.

Who is a naturalist or botanist you admire?

I admire Joseph Paxton for his talent and for pulling off what was a pretty meteoric rise through Victorian society. I also admire Charles Darwin for, amongst other things, his meticulous and lively eye for detail.

What is the one flower or plant you’d never plant in your garden, but don’t detest when you see others plant it?

I quite like other people’s rhododendrons, particularly very old ones that have grown as big as trees.

If there was a fire, and you could only keep one book on plants and/or flowers, what would it be?

I tend to treat books in general a bit more like tools than treasures so I wouldn’t rescue any from a fire. I do like a beautiful plant book, though, and one I enjoyed recently was Sarah Whittingham’s Fern Fever: The Story of Pteridomania. I am also getting a lot of use out of my allotment handbooks.

For posterity, what would you like your work to be known for?

I doubt that my work will get a look-in with posterity, but if it does, I’d like people to think that it is well written.


Twitter: @JudePiesse

Book website:

Favourite painting: Jude likes the wood engravings by Gwen Raverat, one of Darwin’s granddaughters.
Quick fire: some favourite things

Book (fiction): It’s very changeable and eclectic. In the last year or so the fiction I’ve most enjoyed includes John Berger’s Pig Earth, Harvest by Jim Crace, Great Expectations (again), and the short stories of Tove Jansson. I also loved reading Simon Farnaby’s very funny The Wizard in My Shed: The Misadventures of Merdyn the Wild to my eight-year-old daughter.

Film: I am a lifelong fan of The Wizard of Oz.

Painting: When I was researching my book, I got to really like the wood-engravings of Gwen Raverat, who was one of Darwin’s granddaughters. I used a bit of my advance money to buy one of her prints: an image called ‘Flying’ in which a winged figure is carrying a woman.

Smell: Bread.

Meal: Mediterranean.

Travel Destination: I’d like to go to India. I enjoyed going to New York.

A cause near and dear to me: Environmental causes (complicating the above).

Place to go for inspiration: Gladstone’s Library in Hawarden, Wales.

A great walk near where you live: It’s all about Sefton Park and Greenbank Park in my neck of the woods.

Thing to collect obsessively: China bowls and dishes.

Museum: I really liked the Turner Contemporary in Margate for its combination of seascapes and paintings.

Favourite person to follow on Instagram: I’m not on Instagram.

Garden in the UK: Plas Cadnant Hidden Gardens in Anglesey and The Garden of Cosmic Speculation near Dumfries. Both are amazing.

Garden anywhere else: A public garden in Paris with a lake and toy sailing boats springs to mind.

Dr Jude Piesse
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