Since we last spoke I have mostly been talking. I know that to some of you this will come as no great surprise: “Huh” you might say “That is no great surprise, the man seldom shuts up with his drivelling and whiffle”.
You have a very good and valid point but let me explain….
When I first started on my journey as a gardener my days were spent very simply in the company of Radio 4 (or loudly, and very pretentiously: Wagner (i) ), the odd Robin and the whirring clunks of my own brain. Then I started employing the odd person and there was chatter but life was still mostly peaceful. Then people started asking me to design stuff instead of just put up fences and that involved pleasing gossip around kitchen tables. Then I was asked to give lectures: more words, more chat, more talk.
All of this still goes on which is lovely. The added extra that is nudging into my life are MEETINGS. In capitals. I spend a lot of time in MEETINGS. Client meetings, magazine meetings, show meetings and, above all, RHS meetings. I even had a board meeting the other day: it made me feel very grown up and slightly queasy at the same time. The saving grace was the supply of very good cakes from Patisserie Valerie.
This week in particular has been very talky. It began at Grand Designs in Birmingham where I made a good start by falling off the stage. In my eagerness to point at something on the screen I fell into a barely concealed void. I felt much like David Douglas toppling into the animal trap (ii). Except that, fortunately, it was not occupied either by a wild bull nor decorated with sharpened stakes. The Grand Designs audience is interesting because they are not really gardeners: most of them are more interested in home improvements, enormous 3D televisions, solar panels or catching a glimpse of Kevin McCloud. That is not to say that they are not appreciative but the questions are more straightforward.”Can I grow roses in my garden?” was one “How do I make a raised bed?” asked another. To those of us who have been doing this gardening lark for a while these seem so basic as to be not worth asking but there are plenty of people who are eager and curious and completely in the dark. The other advantage is that I can be pretty sure that I know most of the answers and am unlikely to be caught out too often.(iii)
Secondly I went to Gloucestershire to give a talk in aid of the Maggie’s Centre in Cheltenham in the company of the journalist, Bon viveur and twinkle toed dance floor diva, Stephen Lacey and internationally renowned garden designer, Tim Rees. Tim has the added distinction of having been my course tutor at the Inchbald in 1984. He is polite enough not to remember the time I fell asleep on my desk and dribbled of the pages of the Gertrude Jekyll’s winter planting guide (iv) nor to recall my frequent absences. The three of us talked and had lunch.
But the day was not over: I delivered another lecture on the way home. This time at Armscote Manor in aid of the Shipton Home Nurses. I was the Dan Pearson body double as he was supposed to do it and was suddenly confined to bed with a soaring fever. My halo is glowing so brightly that passing aeroplane pilots have to wear sunglasses.
The next bit of talk was in Wales at the Llanover Garden School where I shared the bill with the redoubtable Matt Biggs who talked about fruit. I talked about Triumphs and Disasters. Another very good lunch. I have been to Wales twice this year and on both occasions the sun shone, the hills glowed, the sheep wandered around picturesquely, the rivers flowed and there was absolutely no sign of any rain at all. I don’t understand what everybody is complaining about and suspect it might be something invented by the Welsh to keep out the English.
I have also laid out a lot of plants and tried to see all my clients as I am about to vanish into partial purdah for a bit while I begin to grow my Movember moustache. If I remember rightly the first couple of weeks are really horrible, I have one lecture to deliver on the 5th November (for the London College of Garden Design where I am championing a potentially iconic garden). I apologise now to anybody considering this as I will look a fright. But in a good cause.
The picture is of a particularly dramatic sunset hitting the branches of a gnarly chestnut. I am listening to nothing as I am in Cornwall loafing around and everybody else is having a Sunday afternoon snooze.
(i) I remember particularly playing the Ride of the Valkyries at top volume while digging a hole in the garden of Florence Welch’s (as in Florence and the Machine) mother’s garden. I imagine it was quite as annoying for the neighbours as Radio One.
(ii)David Douglas discoverer of the Douglas Fir, Sitka Spruce.Lodgepole Pine and others died in Hawaii in 1834 by falling into an occupied pit trap.
(ii) The answer to Question one is Yes.
(iv) I still have the book. With stains. And library label.