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The Gardening Coach

Catharine Howard is the Gardening Coach. Contact her for gardening advice and visit www.thegardeningcoach.co.uk for more information.

Provoked to think by the Bad Tempered Gardener

I have been reading Anne Wareham’s recent blog post “It must Go” and it ties in with thinking about garden criticism – rolling the idea round like a pebble in the mouth.  Beginning with two questions: What is a garden for? What is a good garden?  I’ve had undistracted leisure to do so on a long walk across the north spanish landscape.  My memory plumped up with a recent trip to The Veddw, Abbeydore and The Laskett.  Plenty to feed on as I sweated up yet another hill.  Oh and Rousham too, and that one is like the source book from which all others take their text.

(No pictures follow: I put them in an earlier post: http://tinyurl.com/on2tcge )

The point about Rousham is that it is an early example of the English landscape – set out by William Kent and left alone since.  The house has been in the same family since it was built in 1635.  Here is what was innovation, settled mighty comfortable into its re-routed river, parkland and wall garden with dove-cote and church.

Longevity puts the place on a pedestal.  I  couldn’t help noticing the workaday lavishness of the kitchen garden with enough dahlias to drown in,  but productive.  Too many visits to Walled Gardens recently that are managed by the principles of OCD or worse – pretending to do a job.

To Veddw next.  It is not as big as I expected and rather more intensively managed (all that precision hedge-cutting) than Anne’s public persona as a hater of gardening would have you believe.  Anne and Charles have taken  the lives of hill farmers, subsistence dwellers, as the inspiration.  (Check out Bruce Chatwin’s ‘On the Black Hill’  to get the mood).

Which brings me to the thought that occurred to me as I walked a very long landscape giving  the see to geology, topography, architecture, urban growth, suburban aspiration, history, agriculture, viniculture and a feeling of being grounded.  I can’t tell you how many allotment plots we passed.  But never anything I would call a garden unless a few dahlias or chrysanths do it for you.  Northern Spain of the Camino Francese  is pretty glorious – 70-80 percent of it.  So why would you want a garden at all?

We make gardens for different reasons and so from Anne’s which lies in a drippy bole of the Forest of Dean and scouts a gaze out at rolling Monmouthsire.  It’s pretty glorious and  the garden reacts to this.  On to Abbeydore which had our co-group griping about the weeds.  Here was the work of a compulsive plantswoman.  Now this plant collecting is not to everyone’s taste.  But at Abbeydore you do not get a polite glass cabinet to look breathily into.  Unusual plants are used (the trees in the newest meadow section were A Level plants) – but they are in sweeps paying attention to foliage, form and effect.  In short, sure planting that chooses just the right place and the cohabitants.  Charis Ward, although 84, will not stop planting.  Why should she?

And then The Laskett. I have avoided reading any reviews till I type my few words.  At home there is a colour supplement magazine with  Roy Strong dressed in black velvet and ruff.  I had also seen his hedgework at Highgrove.  The knives of disappointment were already sharpening up in the car park.  He appeared, bearded and in green Nikes and charmed the birds out of the trees.  Not least, by giving off a strong aura of vulnerability.  The garden-making was done by his late wife, Julia Trevelyan Oman, a bigwig in the world of theatrical design.  So what did they make it  for?  It is a retreat from public life in London and an idyll.  For every over-royal or garish mannikin, there was a counterfoil of sublime satisfaction in the planting.  My epiphany, the teazle and eucalyptus walk.  I guess this is an accident of nature that has been allowed to stay.

I felt as if I had been taken onto the set of Greenaway’s Draftsman’s Contract and loved the overall feel of the place.  It loses on you all sense of scale. The only view of the surrounding land is to be had by climbing on to a balcony sort of poop deck.  That to me is rather weird, but hey this is, as I already told you, a retreat.

Perhaps this is  coloured by the fact that all 3 owners were on hand and ready to engage with their audience.  I’m nosey and love this – I need to visit  formal public place to stop me climbing to the sun.

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