Monday 16 December 2013

Come into the Garden

Walter Fish wanted paths, lawns and a symmetrical line-up of dahlias. Margery wanted Jekyll-like drifts, wild flowers and informality. Walter laid his lawn with a very narrow strip of earth down one side where he said she could have flowers as long as they didn’t encroach on the grass. He banished wisteria…
London Review of Books Dec 2013 on gardening writer Margery Fish. When Walter died, she got her garden.

My father sneered at next door’s garden because they had crescent-shaped beds with sharp edges, as in a park. “Half of us get upset if next door’s garden is a jungle”, says the Daily Mail. The other half get upset if next door’s garden is too neat. (June 2012) Or if someone in the street goes all Zen.

Vita Sackville-West (of Sissinghurst fame) sneered at writer Leonard Woolf for putting statuary and a water garden next to a cottage, like a mini-Versailles. Virginia Woolf was caustic about his “leaden cupids”.

The Royal Horticultural Society Encyclopedia has some hilariously snobbish gardening advice: A crazy paving path does not go with an 18th century cottage; “informal” planting should all be the same colour. And “...make sure the furnishings do not ruin the effect. A wrought-iron bench, for instance, might be too elaborate for many gardens, whereas a simple wooden one would rarely jar… A decorated Italian urn is probably too grand for an informal, suburban garden, even if planted with humble daisies… Slight deviations [from original concept] will create a sense of clutter and all your planning will have been in vain…. Avoid crowding the basic pattern with a 'liquorice allsorts' sprinkling of plants.”

Very trendy Rowena Upward has a genuine cast iron “rustic twig” Victorian garden bench, circa 1850.

Granset’s advice on moving to a village warns against immediately cutting down your trees or putting up a two-car garage.  And don’t try to join everything – but do turn up to all the events.

Upper-middle-class Samantha Upward encourages spiders to keep down flies, middle-middle Eileen Weybridge runs screaming, lower-middle Jen Teale thinks spiderwebs are so untidy, Sharon Definitely sprays bugs with Insectrol – which Sam could never do because a) it’s cruel b) it damages the environment and c) CFCs are destroying the ozone layer.

Rockeries and dahlias are beyond the pale (though dahlias may be making a comeback as some gentleman is growing rare varieties). People grow them on allotments, says gardener Alan Titchmarsh, adding “don’t spurn the dahlia – it’s worth a second look”.

In Victorian days, stately homes had acres of greenhouses for raising bedding plants: these were planted in geometric, brightly coloured arrangements by teams of gardeners. The plants were replaced as soon as they were “over”. The bright colours are somewhat out of date (though this kind of planting can still be seen in the centre of roundabouts, at the seaside and in some London parks). Unfortunately, the suburbs copied, and by the early 20th century bedding plants were flourishing in Metroland, the Arts and Crafts suburbs beloved of John Betjeman. These days, bedding plants are bought at garden centres, not raised in your own greenhouses, and are thrown out when they cease flowering. Samantha finds the whole process unnatural. She likes the new style of planting, with tightly packed alchemillas, Chinese grasses, purple loosestrife and herbs.

Upwards can’t have a garden that’s “overlooked”, and Sam turns up her nose at those who turn an entire small back garden into a deck, trampoline, swimming pool or carp pond.

What gadgets can you have in your garden? Is a Kadai fire bowl posh, but a pizza oven nouveau? An outside area with Flintstone walls, an outside hearth and a hot tub is very vulgar indeed.

More here, and links to the rest.