GARDENING is in Sam Llewellyn’s blood, eloquently demonstrated by the extensive garden at his Lyonshall home – and now between the covers of a beautifully produced slim volume which brings together the essays he’s written about the garden for Hortus, the quarterly magazine published by David Wheeler.

Loosely described as essays, Sam readily admits that as he continued to write, the line between fact and fiction began to blur as The Duchess made herself increasingly evident.

The Duchess, Sam’s wife and fellow author Karen Wallace would like to emphasise, is not her. “She’s actually a conglomerate of a number of aunts,” says Sam.

Digging with the Duchess is not a conventional gardening book, but it is one that instantly transports the reader to the garden at The Hope

It was eight years ago that Sam was approached by David Wheeler, who, with Simon Dorrell, created the garden at Bryan’s Ground near Presteigne, to write the essays that have now been collected in Digging with the Duchess. “David had seen the garden in its early phase and he rang to ask me to write a column about it. I said yes, all right, but as I had flu at the time, I’d have said anything to get rid of him.”

The first of the pieces he wrote for Hortus opens Digging with the Duchess and finds Sam in the middle of his flu delirium, when everything was ‘like being in a nightmare. The dog woods glowed like red hot pokers and then I saw a flash of blue – a kingfisher'.

“But gardening by yourself is quite dull and so the Duchess turned up. The premise of the thing is that she’s addicted to Capstan Full Strength and Plymouth Navy Gin, and it became my duty to get her away from these not very good habits and the only way I could do this was to be hiding the gin and pandering to her slightest whim in the garden. Then you get into this whole ‘what is reality’ thing and the essays turn into short stories!”

Sam was born on Tresco in the Scilly Isles where his ancestor, Great Great Uncle Augustus Smith, was responsible for the creation of Tresco Abbey Gardens, planted in part with specimens hijacked from passing ships bringing specimens from far-flung corners of the world, persuading the captains that they’d fare much better in the temperate climate of the Scilly Isles.

Digging with the Duchess is published by New Hat, The Hope, Lyonsall, Herefordshire, HR5 3HT. Available by post from New Hat or online from