In Conversation Olivia Laing & Philip Hoare

Join Olivia Laing and Philip Hoare in conversation as they discuss Olivia’s new book, The Garden Against Time, an extraordinary investigation into garden-making and the search for paradise on earth.

The conversation will be followed by an audience Q&A and book signing.


In 2020, Olivia Laing began to restore a walled garden in Suffolk, an overgrown Eden of unusual plants. The work drew her into an exhilarating investigation of paradise and its long association with gardens. Moving between real and imagined gardens, from Milton’s Paradise Lost to John Clare’s enclosure elegies, from a wartime sanctuary in Italy to a grotesque aristocratic pleasure ground funded by slavery, Laing interrogates the sometimes shocking cost of making paradise on earth.

But the story of the garden doesn’t always enact larger patterns of privilege and exclusion. It’s also a place of rebel outposts and communal dreams. From the improbable queer utopia conjured by Derek Jarman on the beach at Dungeness to the fertile vision of a common Eden propagated by William Morris, new modes of living can and have been attempted amidst the flower beds, experiments that could prove vital in the coming era of climate change.

The result is a humming, glowing tapestry, a beautiful and exacting account of the abundant pleasures and possibilities of gardens: not as a place to hide from the world but as a site of encounter and discovery, bee-loud and pollen-laden.

About the speakers:

Olivia Laing
Olivia Laing is a widely acclaimed writer and critic. She’s the author of seven books, including To the River (2011), The Trip to Echo Spring (2013), The Lonely City (2016) and Everybody (2021). She’s a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and in 2018 was awarded the Windham-Campbell Prize for non-fiction.

Philip Hoare
Philip Hoare’s books include Serious Pleasures: The Life of Stephen Tennant and Noël Coward: A Biography; Wilde’s Last StandSpike Island, and England’s Lost EdenLeviathan or, The Whale won the 2009 BBC Samuel Johnson Prize. It was followed by The Sea Inside (2013) and RISINGTIDEFALLINGSTAR (2017). Philip is co-curator of the Moby-Dick and Ancient Mariner ‘Big Reads’, and is Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Southampton.

Presented in partnership with SIAH, Southampton Institute for Arts and Humanities at the University of Southampton.

All proceeds from book sales help to keep John Hansard Gallery free. Your support ensures that we can continue our engagement and outreach work, making the very best in contemporary art accessible to all.

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