To Stand and Stare- Book Review

How to Garden While Doing Next to Nothing

By Andrew Timothy O’Brien

Dorling Kindersley. Spring 2023

Hardback. 287 pages. £16.99

ISBN 978-0-2415-4401-3

Andrew Timothy O’Brien describes planting a tulip as ‘like planting hope and promise.’ I rather like this idea. In fact, the whole book suits me, with its gentle, encouraging, quiet style of gardening. There is nothing shouty about this book. It’s something to take to a corner, curl up, forget the world, and just ‘be’ for a while, immersed in the glory of plants, gardening and the process of growing beauty.

The title is part of the ‘how-to’ message in the book. There’s how to sow a seed, how to water a plant, deadhead a rose, hear a bird. And of course there’s how to ‘stand and stare.’ It’s a contrast to all the urgent, bossy, fast-paced, singing and dancing, ‘must-do’ messages we see every day on social media. Sometimes it’s hard to keep up. It’s hard not to feel left behind and out of touch. O’Brien, with his gentle philosophy reminds us to reflect on why and how we garden. It’s not to compete and keep up, but to find the joy in growing food and flowers -our way.

O’Brien writes; “ When it came to writing this book, I didn’t think the world needed another ‘How to Garden’ title- there’s a wealth of information out there expounding upon the many tasks that it’s all to easy to make your garden about. But there’s not so much about how you might like to be when you’re out there, at one with the plants and the wildlife and the weather. I’ve come to appreciate that an understanding of natural processes is the key to accessing the transformative power of the garden, and replacing feelings of confusion, overwhelm, and stress with focus, a sense of inner peace, and an increased facility to deal with what life throws at us on a daily basis. With a view to this, over the next few hundred pages, I’m going to invite you to think like a plant. And we are going to start from the ground up.”

Contents pages
Inside front cover
I’ve been reading Andrew’s writings on his blog and listening to the podcast for around 10 years. I suppose, although I’ve never met him, I feel as if I know him. He has the ability to write in such an accessible way that you feel as if he is familiar voice, a wise and trusted friend. And we can never have enough of those, can we.

When planting bulbs, O’Brien reminds us to “Breathe in, hold for a moment then, slowly and with some noise, breathe out. Open the bag; by rights it should be labelled ‘Hope & Promise’, but something like ‘Tulips’ or ‘Lilies’ is perhaps more likely and, really it’s all the same.”

O’Brien strikes just the right note in a world full of conflict and worry. I can conjure up the scenes he creates. I’m happy to stand and stare with him. It’s a balm for our times, and very soothing for the soul. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

“A pause. A breath. A moment for a thought.” Wise words. Don’t you agree?

Illustrations by Ariel Lee.

The publishers have offered one copy for readers of this blog. Please leave a comment below to be entered in the prize draw. Thank you, as ever, for coming to my blog and reading my reviews and musings. It’s much appreciated. You are among 300 people taking a look here each day. And I’m am very grateful for your time.

36 thoughts on “To Stand and Stare- Book Review

  1. Karen, That sounds like a splendid book. I do need to be reminded to Stand and Stare, as I begin my long journey back from my recent covid bout. This, coupled with my ME will amke my energies spend with horticulture very carefully selected.
    Thanks for the reminder.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Suella, I’m sorry to hear you have been ill. As you probably know I had to cancel my talk for the hardy plant society. It’s been a nightmare. I’m also having to reconsider this year’s gardening plans and downgrade all my expectations. Take care and keep in touch. Love karen xx


      • Karen, How dreadful for you to feel so ill. Acceptance and replanning what we can safely and consistently do on a daily basis with saving 50% of our perceived energy for healing works for ME/CFS. Maybe for you? Sending love and many healing vibes from down the road. Suella

        Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Cathy! I didn’t know about that poetry site. I haven’t heard that poem for a long,long time and had quite forgotten about it! Well this book, and now the poetry has made me radically re-think my plans this year. I have cut in half all my projects- all of them. I will only grow essentials, as I get so caught up in the frenzy of activity I hardly have time to enjoy anything! I’ve looked at my calendar and struck off half the things I really don’t want to do. Im not going to Chelsea flower show this year as it was just too much for me last time. I can watch it on the television with my mum without having to wear myself out. This year is looking quite different now! And I will absolutely make sure I do have time to stand and stare! Take care Cathy and have a fabulous week! Karen xx


  2. Thanks for drawing our attention to this book, Karen. Looks a really interesting read. Like Anna, I thought the title might have been inspired by the W.H. Davies poem ‘Leisure’ which brings back many memories. I know I don’t stand and stare often enough!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Mary, neither do I! We are very alike! I’d forgotten about that poem. I’m going to print it out and put it in the potting shed as a reminder. I’ve also halved all my projects for this year and re-written my calendar of events. I’m not going to Chelsea after all, having really struggled to cope with the journey and standing up all day last year. I can watch it on the tv with Mum. I’m reassessing everything I do and deciding which charities I’m going to continue to support and which to let go. Someone else will take over what I do, I’m sure. I often think we believe we are superhuman- and we are not. Have a happy week. Karen xx


  3. Thanks for your thorough review Karen. I have enjoyed Andrew’s blog, podcasts and Instagram account for some time. He has a magical way both with words and photos. I wonder if the title was inspired by the W.H.Davies poem ‘Leisure’ which is one of my favourite poems 🤔 I would love to win a copy of this book.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Anna. Thanks for reading my blog and for reminding me of the poem. I haven’t read it for a very long time! And when I first read it I didn’t have any reason to understand its meaning. But over the years I’ve allowed myself to get caught up in ‘doing too much’ in everything in life. This year will be different as I take a massive step back and reassess everything I do, not just in gardening. Thanks again for reading my blog and good luck I’m the draw. Karen


  4. My garden is mainly an “ornamental” one, rather than a food-producer. I sometimes think the whole point of the work I do is to be granted moments when I just stand and look at it and feel grateful that it is what it is.
    It’s lovely to discover a good philosophical garden book!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Audrey. I absolutely agree with you. I’ve had moments like this all week as the wild primroses pop up all over the garden and the first tulips unfurl their petals. We have frogspawn in the pond today only because we spent months renovating the pond and making it actually hold water! I’m happily planting foxgloves and marsh marigolds all around the edges and looking forward to seeing the tadpoles thrive. Thanks for reading my blog. Have a happy week. Karen xx

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much Anne for your kind words which are always appreciated. We are thinking the same! I stood and drank in the sight of my deep purple crocus this morning, knowing the icy storm would bash them to pieces in the afternoon. I’m glad I took the time to appreciate their brief moment of glory. Do hope your tulips survive. Xx


    • Thank you Gill. It’s lovely to discover new people to listen to and read about. You won’t be disappointed. Thanks for reading the blog. All the best. Karen xx


    • I bet he does Cathy. And I’m doing the same at the moment- willing them to grow nice and straight and not go remotely leggy at all, please! Thanks for reading the review. Have a great weekend. Karen xx

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Oh this book looks fantastic. What a great review Karen. I’m definitely going to make sure I spend more time sitting and enjoying the garden and taking time every day to just take everything in – especially this time of year in spring when the garden changes daily if not hourly.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for reading the blog Kate. It does indeed change by the minute. I’m watching the crocus today, they were open like balloons this morning, but torrential rain this afternoon has closed them up. I’m glad I found time to just stand and marvel at their beauty this morning, in case that’s it, and they are gone tomorrow. I shook a bumble bee out of the washing on the line and it went straight into the crocus flowers, sleepily bumbling about half conscious like a newly-awake child.


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