Stone by stone, seed by seed, sometimes life grows, not in spite of what is broken, but because of it.
Daisy, for resilience. Dandelion, for strength against adversity. Red Campion, to ward off loneliness.
Sow thistle, to lift melancholy. Borage, to bring hope in dark and difficult times.
An intimate weaving of memoir and herbal folklore, All My Wild Mothers is a story of re-wilding our wastelands, and the transformation that can happen when we do.
At seven months pregnant, Victoria Bennett was looking forward to new motherhood after difficulties in previous pregnancies.
Life felt hopeful at last. Then the telephone rang, and the news she received changed everything.
Her eldest sister had died in a canoeing accident.
Five years later, that life feels very different to the future Victoria had imagined.
Struggling with grief, the demands of being a parent-carer for her young chronically ill son, and the impact of deeper austerity, everything feels broken.
A move to a new social housing estate in rural Cumbria offers Victoria and her family a chance to rebuild their lives.
Constructed over an industrial wasteland, at first the barren ground seems an unlikely place to sow the seeds of a new life.
Determined to see what can grow, Victoria and her young son set about transforming the rubble around them.
With no money and only the weeds growing under their feet, they begin to create a wild, apothecary garden.
‘Beautiful and subtle, it offers a perspective much needed in today’s world’
Nan Shepherd Prize
‘There are some books that you read, knowing that they will stay with you for a long time. Victoria Bennett’s memoir is one of those books ... All My Wild Mothers is one of the most achingly precious books that I have encountered in recent times’
Bookseller Scotland Debut Highlights 2023
Selected NetGalley Hot List 2023
“Prismatically beautiful in its honesty and telling, this book is a radical act of quiet rebellion. Staking a claim of belonging, loving and nurturing on unsure, uncertain ground - whether that's a life, home or land -- and making it a bewitching alchemy. Celebrating the strength, wishdom and resolve of women that carry the cradle of care, wounds and joy, this is a work about the precarity of rural living, and the wild magic of knowledge earned in the face of that. It is a wonderful book. An apothecary of love.”
“All My Wild Mothers is a stunning meditation on the joy of nurturing (and of getting your hands dirty). It is a love letter to mothering and nature and mother nature, which bursts with wisdom, humility and hope. The writing is lyrical and beautiful and feels like a haven in a cynical world - exactly the book we all need to read right now. Victoria Bennett's writing is challenging and thought-provoking yet comforting and reassuring. What a wonderful book. Do read it.”
“All My Wild Mothers is an impossibly moving memoir of gardens, herbalism, and the rigours and rewards of care. It asks what we might be willing to sacrifice for an artistic life, and what we lose of our selves when we attend to the needs of others before our own. It heralds the arrival of an exciting new voice in nature writing.”
“A fascinating, tangled read on gardening as resistance and using ancient ways to heal in the modern world.”
“Intimate and immense, it’s wrapping tendrils around my heart.”
“All My Wild Mothers is a beautiful bruise of a book. Full of technicolour pain and joy -- a bruise which you cannot help but press on and a compelling story that grabs at your heart. Victoria Bennett offers us a picked-to-the-bone honesty with the rare skill of capturing important truths we have always known but never realised until we read her words.”
“Witnessing a mother nurture her son and her garden so tenderly while grappling with grief and the responsibilities of a carer was an unexpectedly beautiful and life-affirming experience. A memoir written with tremendous care for the reader.”
“Exquisitely written, this spellbinding book is rich in traditional plant wisdom and the author's lived experience. The garden Victoria Bennett creates with her young son becomes the setting for the most moving portrait of a mother and child I've ever read: how tenacious of life and beauty they both are, even as officials keep appearing to forbid their every attempt at making things grow. This is a book of passionate resistance to everything in modern life that wants us to stay neat and small and fearful.”
“A beautiful, raw, meditative book on grief, mothering, and the wild both within and without. On what it means to tend a garden and a family alike, and on how we find our way back to the beginning, to all that we have always known.”
“Warm, questing and beautifully written.”
“Victoria’s writing is strikingly transportive, and the severity of what it means to raise a child with diabetes really comes through. This is undoubtedly a story of resilience, but also one of great hope.”
“Victoria Bennett stuns in this beautiful memoir of motherhood, loss and an apothecary garden ... a beautiful story .”
“There are some books that you read, knowing that they will stay with you for a long time. Victoria Bennett’s memoir is one of those books ... A book that allows its structure to be formed around the breaking of a seed and uses traditional herbal medicine and folklore to signpost the sacred pilgrimage through the grief of many losses, to setting forth a mandate for the future earth, this is a piece that is astute and cleverly crafted. From the drawing of a tight, closed kernel on its opening pages, to the sharp outline of a cotyledon that reaches upward to the light that appears as the book closes, Bennett puts not one Wellington-booted foot out of place in the elegance and belief of this writing ... All My Wild Mothers is one of those books. I can’t promise that this will always be a relaxing read, but All My Wild Mothers is one of the most achingly precious books that I have encountered in recent times, and I can thoroughly recommend it”
“I am quite spellbound by it. Poetic, compelling, heartbreaking yet hopeful, it’s beautifully written and I am quite in awe of Bennett’s strength and resilience, creating something beautiful out of life’s inevitable grief and harshness”
“I loved this book, a kind of hybrid memoir that combined a passion for herbal folklore and a creative project, the building of an apothecary garden in a location where there were many obstacles to overcome, environmental and human, while exploring and healing from the loss of a loved one”
“Reading Victoria Bennett's lovely, lyrical memoir of care, motherhood, and gardening, hit me way harder than I was expecting ... Bennett writes with such grace and open-heartedness, particularly about her love for her son and their fierce determination to create a garden of vegetables, wildflowers, and trees, to make something beautiful out of waste ground. This resonates really strongly with Josie George's A Still Life, and would be great to see on the Barbellion Prize list”
“The memoir’s format – which arose in part because it was written over the course of 10 years, during stolen moments – realistically presents bereavement and caring as ongoing, cyclical challenges rather than one-time events. There are no simple solutions offered here, nothing so pat as that ‘gardening heals all hurts’, but Bennett writes into the broken places and finds joy in what comes to life spontaneously in nature or in her ramshackle yard on a social housing estate in Cumbria ... Sitting somewhere between creative nonfiction and nature essays, it’s a beautiful read for any fan of women’s life writing, especially if you share the interests in grief or gardening. I hope we’ll see it recognized on the Barbellion and Wainwright Prize shortlists alike”
“I've been struggling to find the words to review this one, they're all incoherent gibberish. I loved this book. It was full of hope, love, grief, and healing. This will have a special place in my heart forever. I was completely captivated by it and finished it with a sense of hope in my heart, sometimes even in the darkest moments of our lives we still find hope blossoming”
“A memoir beautifully told of grief, endurance, violation, humiliation, and most importably hope. It is about the joy and comfort to be found in the natural world, amongst the wild flowers ... Free-flowing, lyrical and with an insight into the author's close-knit, supportive but sometimes alternative family life - I am absolutely loving this read. I feel such a deep connection to this beautiful book, so meaningful and well written it has got to be my first 5 star read of the year”
“I was bereft at returning this book to the library yesterday. You know when you are reading something exceptional when you are hesitant to read the final pages. Wanting to savour the book and slow the reading down to extend the experience. This is a memoir filled with emotion. From grief and sadness to utter joy, it is equally heartbreaking and heart warming ... Read it and be swept away by the depth of the writing”
“This is such a beautiful, raw and real book, something I will cherish and revisit to remind me of what's important in this short life. I absolutely loved how the plants and nature entwine in the love and loss of the author's journey. A must-read for mothers and nature lovers. Thank you for this wonderful book”
“This stark and intimate memoir begins with Victoria relaying the death of her sister, the grief that came with it, and how it shaped her life. This book relates some of Victoria’s most heart-breaking life experiences. She is very honest in her descriptions of how her family was affected by debt, when her son was diagnosed with diabetes and she became his carer. The love for her son shone on each page. When they moved to a house on an estate, Victoria and her son started a new venture: their own garden. As money was tight, it needed to be cheap and wild. I absolutely loved this book. I liked how it was structured and how each chapter began with a description of a plant, its uses, and where they grow. Alkanet to lift melancholy, lemon balm to ward off evil, cow parsley to calm emotions and bring courage. I found this book poignant, beautifully written, lyrical in places. It will stay with me for a long time. I definitely recommend it.”
“Raw, sad and, so far, as chilling as the sea but it has hope. And it's making me want to heal any ailments with my garden”
“Wow. This is a book like a fine wine, to be sipped thoughtfully to appreciate its layers of flavour. I highly recommend it.”
Sublime. Heartbreaking. Tender, Uplifting and Hopeful
'I adored this book. It blew my mind that out of something so sad, something so hopeful was born. There is a real sense of the need for patience and time in this writing, and a willingness to find beauty and healing in the tiniest seemingly most unpromising places. It’s gorgeous, generous writing with real heart, a strong sense of place and joy'
A beautiful, moving, hopeful book
'The structure of Bennett's memoir of mothering, loss, and healing is deceptively simple: each short chapter begins with an illustrated entry for a traditional herbal apothecary, listing the medicinal and spiritual uses of a single wildflower or "weed". Yet the text quickly develops a richness and resonance that its simple structure belies ... This is a wise and loving book that cries out at injustice and re-values the quiet and gentle and unregarded things ... It carries its spirituality and traditional wisdom lightly. I found great joy in being offered an intimate window into undramatic, imperfect but resiliently loving lives'
Spellbound - a deeply moving meditation
'This is a wonderful book - lyrical, tender and deeply moving. I was absolutely spellbound by it. Poetic, compelling, heartbreaking yet hopeful, it’s beautifully written ... a deeply moving meditation. I cannot recommend this book more highly to everyone but particularly to gardeners, mothers, poets, nature lovers and to those seeking a gentler yet wilder path'
A book that sparks your soul!
'I don't think I will ever find enough words to express how profoundly beautiful this book is. It is so loving, gentle and full of wise words of wisdom ... I feel that in years to come I will come back to this book'
'All My Wild Mothers' is almost unbearably beautiful, and I didn't want it to finish ... Two things make the book truly superb: firstly, its unflinching honesty, and secondly, its prose. The prose is never saccharine, though it could easily have been in another writer's hands. I ached for Bennett and her family, I smiled with her in happy moments. I simply didn't want to step out of her shoes'
The book we really need now
'This is the most powerful book I've read for a long time, and I read a lot. Like all really good books, it's almost impossible to list all the interwoven things that it's "about". In a nut shell, it's about working at being a truly caring human being in a time when that becomes harder and harder to achieve. As such it has clear-sighted things to say about many important aspects of day-to-day life in contemporary Britain as it staggers into the social and environmental crisis that those in power seem unable or unwilling to address. But its observations are heart-felt, honest about life's paradoxes, and it's never preachy. Ultimately a quietly positive book, and so one we so badly need right now'
I adored this
'In my top five reads of the year; such a stunning in-depth and personal book that is part memoir, part an introduction guide to seeds, wild plants and their uses in traditional healing. I felt such a deep connection to the author, her young son and their wild garden that they nurtured from seed and soil during turbulent times of grief and uncertainty ... Showing us how compassion, freedom and acceptance can be found by rediscovering our roots within nature and connecting with our wild mothers. I adored every seed and every chapter down in this graciously honest and beautiful book'
'I loved this book. It was full of hope, love, grief, and healing. This will have a special place in my heart forever. I was completely captivated by it and finished it with a sense of hope in my heart, sometimes even in the darkest moments of our lives we still find hope blossoming'
A breathtaking beautiful memoir
'A breathtakingly beautiful memoir, the best I've ever read. This is a book to take your time with, read again and again to savour every precious sentence, delight in the dexterity of the text and the moving accounts of overcoming grief and loss, marvel at the delicious insights, and emerge wiser to life itself'
Gardening in Harmony with Nature
'A powerful memoir straight from the heart, an account of a young mother’s resilience and survival through sad and difficult times. Seed by seed, root by root, she slowly transforms a barren wasteland into an apothecary garden - a place of healing for both humans and nature. A beacon of hope and a must read for our times, when far more of us need to start gardening in harmony with the natural world'
A book that I have always wanted to read
'...but did not know why I did. I cannot describe the pleasure of discovering this author. She writes with sensitivity describing the story of her life combined with her passion for nature and the love for her son, family and friends. The book is illustrated with wild flowers and herbs. This is a book to cherish. I do hope that someone from the B.B.C. will read this book and have it read on the radio. It would be perfect'
Beautiful and full of hope
'This is a beautifully written mixture of memoir, folklore and apothecary wisdom. Each short chapter begins with a beautiful illustration and description of a wild plant, each related to the unwinding of an honest memoir. Like all remembered things it winds through time, telling the story of grief, motherhood and hope in a non linear way. Wonderful descriptions of nature and the building of a magical garden'
'This book is such a beautifully written read. You get totally drawn into the text. Victoria paints such a vivid picture for the reader, it's very difficult to put the book down! I haven't read anything so good for a long time'
Magical & Life Affirming
'Beautifully written with a real appreciation of the nature that is all around us. It reminds us about the really important things in life like kindness, patience, understanding & nurturing ... I devoured this book in 5 hours on the day it was delivered & have instantly recommended it to all my friends. I am sure that everyone who reads it will find parallels in their own life. A truly beautiful book!'
Tender, Captivating. Left me hanging on every word
'Loved it. Just loved this book. So tender and gentle, hinting at deeper tragedy and giving just enough info to make me want to know more but know that it's best to move on. I felt for the author so many times, being able to imagine what you were going through as a mum. Utterly captivated by the garden. This book is wonderful. I want everyone to read it so I can talk to them about it! Will be recommending it to my book club.'
An evocative and beautifully written book
'Skilfully and sublimely written; like waves rhythmically crashing onto the beach - Victoria's memoir takes you through the entire range of emotions possible, but always leaving a strong taste of hope for you to digest. Each memory begins with a plant from Victoria and her son's apothecary garden described in wonderful detail and accompanied by a gorgeous, hand drawn, linocut image. I can definitely recommend this memoir, especially if you're looking for something special to read.'
A moving account of loss and laughter
'This will be a book that I will definitely re-read. It is beautifully written, full of love and tenderness, but also without sentimentality. I often found there were tears in my eyes, as there was so much in Victoria's life that would fell the strongest of us, but she doesn't mask the difficulties she encountered. The love of nature shines through from both her and her son, I am in awe of his open hearted approach to all living things ... Even when my eyes were tired from reading, the next plant would draw me in; the little illustrations just perfect.'
Transformative power of grief
'Everything about this book is beautiful, the words and ways the author finds to articulate so many of our abstract and at times challenging emotions from grief, loss, love and joy which speak from one heart to another; the sensitive illustrations punctuating each section; the carefully considered structure which I especially enjoyed as each segment opens with the old knowledge and folk beliefs associated with particular plants with themes that resonate within each section adding even more depth and layers to the stories unfolding within. This is a love story to life, sisterhood, motherhood and self.
A rejuvenating read.'
A beautifully written memoir
'A beautifully written memoir about the grief suffered from the loss of a sister, but also about the author’s attempts to create a garden with her young son. It is a very raw, emotional book and so honest. The author has a wonderful way of expressing her internal thoughts and feelings and I really felt like I was there with her. It is a book full of both heartache and uplifting moments and I never felt like it pulled me down because it is such a hopeful book.'
Full of honest truths
'I loved reading this book. Full of honest truths about being a parent, daughter, sibling and of day to day life. It reminded me of all those moments we think are insignificant but actually stay with us as memories. A reminder of how special every day is.'
'This is a beautiful book. The writing is beautiful , entwining the writers story with the planting of her garden.
I loved the tone of the writing and combined with the descriptions of the plants, it created such a magical and at times heart rendering read. A book you will want to share.'
A really special book
'Read over a few days, devoured really, the right book at the right time. A really different and rich approach to writing about motherhood, I loved the wild flowers lens and weaving of plant knowledge with exploration of personal relationships, deeply touching and emotive.'
Perfect from start to finish. Loved the plants opening each section, learning about their medicinal and traditional uses. Thoughtful, sad, hopeful, interesting. I actually cried with happiness at the chapter on the County Fair/Show.
Best memoir I’ve read.
Rediscovering wonder in the small things
'Lovely book, gorgeous little plant drawings. It has made me super aware of the richness around me as I perambulate around the neighbourhood or take myself on longer walks. It’s a book about growing hope out of loss, about resilience and keeping going, one step at a time. It’s sad and funny and heartfelt and inspirational. It’s about rediscovering wonder in the small things we see and do. It’s about love and belonging, creating something out of very little, the wonder of nature, our bodies, family dynamics and dealing with uncomprehending bureaucracy and modern life’s antipathy to the natural world. Read it, read it slowly, and reflect on your own relationship to the other lives / life forms on this planet.'
Victoria Bennett was born in Oxfordshire in 1971. Having left school at 16, she returned as an older student to gain a BA (Hons) in English, and an MA in Creative Writing from Lancaster University in her 30s. A poet and author, her work includes non-fiction, poetry and games-based storytelling. Her writing has received a Northern Debut Award and Northern Promise Award, the Andrew Waterhouse Award, and was long-listed for the Penguin WriteNow programme and the inaugural Nan Shepherd Prize for under-represented voices. She founded Wild Women Press in 1999 to support rural women writers in her community, and curates the global Wild Woman Web project, an inclusive online space focusing on nature, connection, and creativity.
When not juggling writing, full-time care, and genetic illness, she can be found where the wild weeds grow. All My Wild Mothers is her debut memoir.
Substack newsletter -- Wild Woman Life
(Photo credit Annabel Williams)
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