A Voice Above the Linn
by Robbie Lawrence, with poems by John Burnside
Alberbury, UK: Stanley Barker, 2020.
A Voice Above the Linn is remarkable. It’s not quite a garden book, though it is about a man and his garden. It’s not quite an art book, though it is filled with magical, evocative garden photographs and portraits. It is a soulful fusion of the two—and unforgettable.
Photographer Robbie Lawrence has created a transportive, dreamy, and meditative garden experience. His photographs are powerful and sensitive, emotional and emotive, melancholic and somber. Lawrence creates a haunting portrait of a man, the late Jim Taggart, and Linn Gardens, his garden of over 50 years.
There is an air of neglect, desolation and solitude about the place…and the man. There is weariness, sadness and gloomy verdure. It is, as Elizabeth Barlow Rogers once wrote, “…poetic decrepitude wrought by neglect and age.”
Yet is is the garden of a dream. There is beauty and care, romance and mystery. Through the faint, sweet fragrance of decay, sense of place is tangible, as if you’ve just folded yourself in a cloak of moss.
It is the opposite of many books. Here the images carry the story and the words are embellishment. Four poems by John Burnside ‘illustrate’ the photographs.
It is no wonder he was chosen to create the pieces that accompany the photographs here. Lucie Brock-Broido in a review of his book, Black Cat Bone: Poems, wrote of him: “His voice is shot through with its own lyric genius, one that ruptures and raptures, hunts and hurts, and haunts and heals.”
A short afterward tells a spare version of the story of Linn Gardens (a/k/a Linn Botanic Gardens and/or Linn Botanics) and its people, and explains a bit about Lawrence’s project to document them. With over 4000 taxa in the garden it could have been a very different book. I wanted more, but this isn’t the place for it. It is as it should be.
Like a soggy day, squeeze this book and melancholy drips out. It is strange, sad, and pure. It is about loss and remembrance, perpetuation and radiance. Faded, but still glowing, elegance. It is a marriage of two worlds, photography and gardening, whose overriding concern is the creation of beauty. With very few words, it makes you feel and think. What more can you ask of a book? It is the kind of book that stays out, bedside, unwilling to be shelved.
(A portion of book sales is being designated for The Friends of the Linn Charity. At the same time the book was published, the property was bought by a private party with plans for a family home and a public garden.)
Carlo Balistrieri is a botanical garden professional and former Curator of the Rock Garden at NYBG. He spreads the gpsel of gardening via his photographs and writing. He posts daily on Instagram at: carlobalistrieriphotography His photography website can be found at: www.carlobalistrieri.com