Friday, 20 May 2011


What ho, my hearties!  Still no rain, nasty cold winds, aphids building up and bloody Chelsea next week.  Can it get any worse?  Probably not.  [CLICK ON PIX TO MAKE THEM BIGGER]

The garden at Coton Manor where the PG and I  spent a delightful day last week.

If I walk into my greenhouse, I'm in danger of contracting a serious lung disorder from breathing in clouds of whitefly.  The sticky yellow strips which I hang seem only to catch non-target insects like stray ichneumans and also stick to my face, whenever I give my disease-ridden plants too much attention.

The June display is done, weeks early, so there's nothing to see but dead grass, a few dusty succulents and the bare soil where some evil creature – possibly a capybara sized rodent or a vegetarian bird that would dwarf an emu – has ruined my lovely sweet peas.

But I'm getting bad tempered, and that won't do.  Because the purpose of this post is to comment on Anne Wareham's new book The Bad Tempered Gardener - and two bad tempers on one blog post would be excessive.

Now, to Anne's Magnificent Octopus. . . but be warned.  This is not a review - it's merely my personal reaction.

I see from the cover that several good and great ones have done dutiful plugs.  James the Hat has place of honour on the front but Germaine Greer who seems able to opine about absolutely everything, includes a belter of a comment on the back of the dust jacket.  It runs thus:

'[Anne Wareham] invites intellectual engagement. . .'  Well dam' me, that's a bloody surprise!  The only book that could possibly not invite intellectual engagement would be one with blank pages.  And even then, one might ponder over the paper quality, grammes per square metre, whiteness, possible dot-gain and so on.  And if that isn't intellectual engagement, I don't know what is.

Ms Greer goes on to say 'gardens should have ideas in them and the ideas should be perceptible.'  May be, but perceptible to whom?  I can imagine a bemused visitor, looking at one of my many garden cock-ups and saying 'what on earth are you trying to do here?'

'Ah,' I might reply, ponderously,  'that is the execution of an idea which is perceptible - but only perceptible to me.'  And with luck, that would shut the bugger up.  If it didn't, I'd go for less subtlety and say, 'none of your business.  It's my bloody garden and I'll do what I like with it'

Digressing again - although not really.  Hang in there.

I must begin by saying that I greatly enjoyed reading Anne's book.  I like her articulacy and her acerbic style and although the structure is a bit random, I loved that and got the sense of reading a series of loosely connected, sometimes rather cross essays.  And I hugely enjoyed Charles Hawes' pictures. They, and Anne's eloquent descriptions make me long to visit The Veddw.

The BOOK, along with tools needed to create an exemplary lawn edge, faultlessly trimmed and with essential bare soil separating plants from turf.  (Shot by me, in my garden which is the one (and only) place in which I'm never bad tempered.)

The Bad Tempered Gardener gave me a series of sharp jolts.  I felt like a small boy caught doing something he shouldn't and receiving a stern reprimand.  I was slapped about quite a lot, as a child, and I felt some of my old scars stinging at times.  It quickly became obvious that many of my loves and passions are Anne's pet hates.

Here are a few:
She loves garden centres; I abhor them.
She is not endlessly fascinated by plants; they are the core of my gardening existence.
She is scathing about gardening experts; I am one - of sorts, so can't hate them too much.
She detests neat, clipped lawn edges; I regard them as essential in certain places.
She hates roses; I love them

But we are both in concert with rose gardens and agree that they are horrible.  And I'd go one further and say that they are also horticulturally suicidal - reservoirs for pests and diseases.

We both have big reservations about hellebores, too.  But she appears unable to make cut hellebore stems take up water.  Anne - here's how: take a jug of water out with you, cut the stems quickly and immerse them within two or three seconds to prevent air locks.  While they're still under water, split the bottom inch of each stem on one side.  (A simple tip but it works for me every time.)

Perhaps the biggest conflict we're likely to have is this:

Anne suggests that obsession with plants is the ruination of British gardens; I believe the one quality that lifts British gardens above most others in the world is our love of, respect for and deep knowledge of plants.

In good gardens, plants are allowed to speak, to proclaim their wonderful diversity.  They are what drive a garden's dynamic, ensuring sweet change from season to season, providing surprises, changing emphasis, cheering miserable winters and enriching the mad extravagance of May and June.

The more plants you can have, the better a garden can be. Anorakish collecting can, in itself, become the main driver for creating gardens and THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH THAT.  I've seen superb collections of single genera, made to look ugly because they're clustered in pots on a concrete pad.  And I've seen similar collections, in beautiful and naturalistic settings which are as moving and intellectually engaging as anything designed by such talents as Tom Stuart Smith, Mr Hat,  the Lutyens-Jekyll gang or  Repton.

In an over-designed garden, plants are often imprisoned, hacked or beaten into submission.  That can work, of course, but to plant lovers it can also be hateful to the eye and painful to the soul.

I believe that gardens are highly personal things.  That's why I don't particularly enjoy other people seeing mine, unless they're close and understanding friends.  And why I HATE show gardens at Chelsea and howl with boredom if forced to look at parterres or knot gardens.

I also think it wrong-headed to try to preserve gardens, after the owners have gone, and awful to develop a National Trust attitude of sanctity about them, forbidding change and thereby killing the dynamism. The core quality of some gardens is their ephemeral nature, their fluidity and the little quirks that make each unique. Such things usually die with their owners, and that's probably no bad thing.

I draw virtually all my inspiration from nature.  I try to study landscapes with my own eyes, and not to be  too influenced by authoritative voices which tell me what I should see, rather than allowing me to see for myself.

And to me, gardens are relatively artistic, but they are not Fine Arts.  Great, soul-jerking, earth-moving art, for me, is Michelangelo, Wren, the Chrysler building, Wagner, Ely Cathedral, Beethoven, Shakespeare, Keats, Ingmar Bergman, Dürer, probably Antony Gormley and one day, maybe, Lucien Freud.

I do not consider gardens as forms of great art.  They can be beautiful, though, and inspiring and challenging and glorious.  But let's not - please, let's not - make them bigger and more important than they really are.

Anne's book is one I commend you to read.  Whatever your beliefs, I can guarantee that not only will you become intellectually engaged, you'll also probably experience a strong reaction one way or another.  What more could one ask, from a book.

This week's film was El Secreto de sus Ojos (The Secret of their Eyes.) From Argentina, directed by Juan Jose Campanella, a superbly told and well-filmed story about a retired legal counsellor writing a novel about an old, unsolved case and thereby solving it and also re-kindling a long but hitherto unrequited love.

I'm listening to Beethoven's early quartets again.

This time next week, I'll be thankful that Chelsea is done for another year.

Gawd - what a long, boring, rambling, railing post.  If you've read all the way down to here, you deserve a really good drink and a decent meal.  Now go and get those edges clipped, AT ONCE!  I WON'T TELL YOU AGAIN!


  1. Ha! 'Anorakish' what a fabulous word.

  2. Nothing like saying it as you see it Nigel!

    And I have to agree with you.

  3. The intellectual of content of gardens, for me at least, only stretches as far as trying to figure out just why some precious plant has snuffed it.

  4. I love roses, but have them in very mixed borders, and I hate edging lawns but feel that I must every now and again.

    Not read the great book yet, but have it on my pile of books awaiting my attention - must get on and read it!

    I agree totally that gardens are highly personal and I feel very territorial about mine. Don't think I could ever actually let strangers walk around it (not that I am daft enough to think that anyone would want to).

  5. Reads like a review to me - first I've ever enjoyed.

    It's also the longest review of a dust-jacket reviewer that I've read. (Germain Greer is a gardener as well as a feminist.)

    I've not been visiting for a while. I find my humour isn't quite as . . um . . basic as some other gardeners. Maybe I need to try again.

    If I were Anne Wareham - I'd be delighted with your not-a-review.

    Greenfly - Greenfly (rather than whitefly) - if you have an explosion, you are probably stuck with them - but I do find they object to garlic.


  6. That is one most inspiring blog post title *giggles helplessly again*

  7. I do think Miss Anne would be delighted with my part of the world. She detests garden experts, we haven't any. She hates neat, clipped lawn edges, we haven't many of those either. She loves garden centers, we have at least three or four in our state.

    Perhaps I shouldn't be reading this guilty pleasure of a book. I've been caught (drat) doing two things I shouldn't this week: shopping online and eating jelly beans.

    Might as well make it an uneven three, eh?

    Christine in Alaska, no blooms yet

  8. I've just finished Anne's book and have been cogitating whether to mention it on my own blog ... I've keep my views under the parapet up to now, which is probably the best place for them.

    I came away slightly amused by some of her comments and opinions, disappointed by the writing - frankly I thought it was sloppy and careless in places, but overall with a sense of sadness. Sadness because however Anne dresses up her views with the excuses of pragmatism and practicality I came away with the feeling that she really isn't enjoying this gardening lark at all.

    Sorry Ms Wareham, if you're not enjoying yourself then stop doing it and stop complaining about it.

  9. Blog reading without Silvertreedaze is like a broken pencil....pointless.