top of page
  • Writer's pictureHanna von Schlegell

WinH Book Club: A Gentle Plea for Chaos

Women in Horticulture held a virtual book club meeting to discuss A Gentle Plea for Chaos by Mirabel Osler on Sunday, November 8th. WinH member, Hanna von Schlegell, was kind enough to moderate the discussion as well as write a summary of the discussion. Thank you so much Hanna!

Photo by Hanna von Schlegell

In our second Zoom-facilitated book club meeting of 2020, we discussed a classic of garden literature, Mirabel Osler's A Gentle Plea for Chaos (1989), a small but lively book that challenged the prevailing gardening style of the time in the UK. It is a garden creation memoir and a keen observation of contemporary gardening mores, peppered throughout with digressions into horticultural history and practices.

As she writes: "This book does not offer helpful advice, rather it is a collection of ideas originating from making a garden.... What I want to do is let in a cold blast of high-altitude air to make some gardeners gasp from either indignation or pique or, better still, agreement."

Together we discussed Osler's timeless and evocative descriptions of plants, wildlife, and the changing of seasons as well as the places in her text that makes it obvious that its author was someone born in 1920's Britain. A quote from the first chapter "The very soul of a garden is shriveled by zealous regimentation.... A mania for neatness, a lust for conformity - and away go atmosphere and sensuality" lays out one of the central themes in this meandering book, and we discussed how Osler’s plea is still relevant in today’s landscapes.

A Gentle Plea for Chaos was already a favorite of some of our members for Osler's employment of the English language; the writing is in turns vivid and dreamy, at all times flecked with dryly amusing turns of phrase and many decided opinions on plants. We enjoyed ourselves pointing out favorite passages and talking about whether we agreed with the text or not.

Another of the themes woven throughout the book is the pleasures of reading: “Reading books about gardens is a potent pastime; books nourish a gardener's mind in the same way as manure nourishes plants.” I know our book club agrees and I am excited to keep reading and talking with WinH.

Written by Hanna von Schlegell

Lively discussion at the book club meeting!

Looking forward to curling up this winter with a new book? What should we read next? Email us at to suggest a title. Read more about our Book Club here. Sign up for our newsletter and follow us on social media to find out what the next book will be!

131 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page