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The Independent Culture
So often themed talks are a disappointment, but the South Bank's series of events on "The Garden" is undeniably meaty - if that's the right phrase for such vegetable matters. It's hard to imagine more fertile soil for discussion, and tomorrow (Sat) the series bursts into full bloom. At noon in the Voice Box the children's novelist Philippa Pearce talks about Frances Hodgson Burnett's The Secret Garden and her own Tom's Midnight Garden (remember the Seventies TV adaptation?), while later on Elizabeth Jane Howard surveys eccentric Edwardian women horticulturalists (3pm), and Lorna Sage unweeds the work of Angela Carter (4pm). The highlight, however, is the chance to see Rose Tremain (left), best known for Restoration, her soon-to-be-a-Hollywood-blockbuster resuscitation of the historical novel, but also one of the finest short-story writers in the country. Sharing the Purcell Room stage at 7pm with Penelope Lively and the French author Sylvie Germain, Tremain will be reading "The Garden at the Villa Mollini", her strange tale of a 19th-century opera singer who gets through wives like Pavarotti gets through pasta, and whose formal garden is designed to "express a simple and optimistic philosophy... that his life was a journey of discovery, revelation and surprise, and that it led forward perpetually, never back." The garden, however, is singularly unwilling to reflect the tenor's regret-free march into the future. It has a personality of its own, as sinister as the Fisher King's waste land or Sleeping Beauty's hedge of thorns. A first-rate modern fairytale, "The Garden of the Villa Mollini" demonstrates that if there's something nasty at the bottom of your well, it doesn't have to be a troll.

Sat, Voice Box, South Bank, SE1. Booking for all events: 0171-928 8800

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