Thursday 25 November 2010

Come into the Garden

Trellis is "twee" and timber garden sheds are "flouncy". Guardian Sat June 28 08

For these berserkers it's not enough to mow the existing grass and prune overgrown trees, and just live there. In some anal need to banish nature, they'll chop down the trees, take down hedges that gave privacy to the neighbors... banish anything that might attract a bee or caterpillar, rip out everything but chemically tended grass, and throw Round-up around like salt on popcorn. I'm not talking about renewing an old garden, or making space for a new one but of deliberately disappearing any semblance of a garden. They are not NON-gardeners - they are ANTI-gardeners.

Caroline Stow-Crat thinks rockeries and crazy paving are “suburban”. And as for gnomes! But “the earliest gnomes arrived in Britain during the 1860s at Lamport Hall in Northampton where they inhabited a large rockery.” (Museum of Garden History website) She also despises chrysanthemums (which the Definitelies call "mums").

Why the fear of suburbs? All English houses aspire to be a country house with grounds, but in the suburbs there is only room for a strip at the front and a patch at the back. Even in cities, Victorian terraces were built with a strip separating them from the pavement. Today the strips are home to dustbins and overgrown Victorian shrubs (cotoneaster, privet, spotted laurel) selected more for their resistance to soot than their beauty - if they haven’t been turned sensibly into parking spaces. According to the Evening Standard (Jan 30 08), “suburbia is the most popular residential location of choice for about 60 per cent of households”.

Samantha Upward takes country house Sissinghurst or country opera venue Glyndebourne as her gardening model, despite having only 30 feet of back garden. She tries to reproduce an all-white garden, or crammed herbaceous borders. Primary colours are out. She thinks it’s suburban to tarmac your drive (gravel’s OK), and fulminates against those who concrete over their front gardens to create a parking place - nowhere for rain to soak in, we’ll all be under three feet of water in a few years. She doesn’t know whether to create a Mediterranean/ Dungeness dry garden to save water or plant a lot of rushes and watermint and wait for the floods.

If Samantha lives in the city she creates a jungle in the back yard with several large sculptures. She can’t have anything variegated, unlike Eileen and Howard Weybridge. Shrubs in clashing colours (robinia and copper beech) surround their Orpington home, where Virginia creeper only partly conceals the pebble-dash. Their patio is paved in York stone and somewhere there’s a bird bath or sundial, or both. They go so well with the concrete shepherdess. Sam bans shepherdesses and cupids, but her sculptures (by living artists) are just as sentimental in their own way.

If you’re the Countess of Northumberland you can do whatever you like and have a treehouse, giant waterslide and poison garden - but there was an awful lot of huffing while work was in progress at Alnwick (pronounced “Annick”).

There’s a snobbery of rose varieties: they have to be old roses from the right suppliers. (Pale pink and rumpled, with a sweet scent, they’re like 30s underwear.) Jen Teale has hybrid teas roses called Ena Harkness and Waltztime, scentless and firmly scrolled, and orange or salmon-pink (the colours of mid-60s lipstick, which is probably when they were bred). She also has a shaved lawn with no moss or weeds (Samantha sneers at people who cut their grass too short). Jen used to have either a clump of pampas grass or a laburnum in the centre of her lawn. Christine has a water feature and solar-powered garden lights. Both are common because electricity in any form (it powers the water feature) is unnatural. She also has decking, herring-bone brick paths and a circular patio in the centre of the back garden. And a brick-paved drive. When she bought the house she cleared the garden of any plants that were growing there.

Some Weybridges have a Spanish colonial mansion outside Haslemere with green curved roof tiles and wrought iron balconies. The grounds were laid out c. 1920 by a follower of Gertrude Jekyll and incorporate a small wood and lots of vivid rhododendrons and azaleas. Otherwise, or as well, Eileen has a mature monkey puzzle tree (araucaria), and (if she lives in the West Country) palm trees. In the 60s she had a vast lawn with a small heather garden, or a collection of dwarf conifers, at the end. In fine weather she relaxes in a padded 3-seater "swinging hammock".

The Nouveau-Richards’s garden is mainly oceans of lawn that comes right up to the house with no shade trees or shrubs – They’re very proud of their “landscaped” grounds. “Landscaped’” means cleaned up, tidied and shaved - hoovered, like the house - with trees dotted neatly about and maybe a bright blue pool with carefully selected white rocks around it. It’s wipe-clean nature. Mr Nouveau-Richards still mows the grass using a sit-on lawnmower.

There’s a deck or patio with chairs, seed-packet sun loungers and umbrellas huddled near the house, a tennis-court over here, and a wishing well plonked in the middle of a field-size lawn. It’s not for the agoraphobic. Somewhere in the middle distance there’s an elaborate kid’s adventure playground cum tree/wendy house with pointed gables that’s much more attractive than the McMansion itself.

In the front there’s an area of gravel the size of a football pitch for all their friends to park, with a ten-car garage at the side. (There must be firms selling d├ęcor to the superrich, but why has no one persuaded them to lay out their grounds in imitation of Versailles? It’s kinda disappointing. They could at least have herbaceous borders full of canna lilies and clashing bedding plants. Apparently they’re now buying Zen gardens… or being sold them.)

More here, and links to the rest.

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