It seems like ages since I wrote a proper Blog.
Not only does it seem like ages, it is ages. Since before the Malvern Show which is now fading comfortably into the rosy sunset of memory (fobbing you off with shoddy YouTube films is not quite the same – although I realise that it gives the more sensitive among you a bit of a rest from my drivellings).
Malvern was marvellous as always with jolly japes and the pleasure of visits to a good Indian restaurant in the town with both Matthew Wilson (i) and Mike Dilger. It was mildly disarming at first because we seemed to be climbing the stairs into somebody’s flat: not only that but passing the sort of wallpaper one finds in mid range suburban brothels (apparently).
Since then we have had the thrills of the Chelsea Flower Show (hooray for Cleve) where I loafed about doing some light filming for the BBC Red Button which was great fun but has now also vanished into the murk never to be seen again. I also rode on Diarmuid Gavin’s pink flying podulator: sadly it was very dull because we had to sit on a garden bench wearing seat belt so, rather than enjoying panoramic views and swaying gently, it was more like travelling in the lift at a high rise florists.
We also found the time to make this: which, should you be watching without any prior knowledge of British television, will make absolutely no sense at all.
I have also been to the Lancashire and to Suffolk,written some stuff dangerously close to deadline, interviewed a fashion mogul for the Financial Times (nothing to do with gardens-I don’t know why me either but it was fun), got very wet (ii) and set out an unnecessary number of plants (many of them leftovers from Chelsea gardens). The week before the show is a good time to visit Crocus as there are all sorts of interesting things lying around that the likes of Cleve and Luciano have rejected. I had to keep ringing up and asking whether they really wanted quite so many Gillenias or Dianthus cruentus. Top discovery was a yellow version of Rosa mutabilis which I had never seen before: very lovely.
Have you all voted in the RHS council elections? If not you have until June 24th. You can vote for up to five people out of seven. The result is announced on July 2nd at the AGM. I am hoping that it will be a little like the results part of the Eurovision Song Contest but I suspect that, in this regard, I may be disappointed.
On a different note: one of my more perverse amusements is to read things that I know will annoy me. Articles in the paper about minor celebrities and their life and death struggles with cellulite, opinion pieces in the Daily Mail, snippets of religious bigotry: you know the sort of thing. Into this category fits Anne Wareham’s book, The Bad Tempered Gardener. I was half considering ignoring this publication as I may be about to make myself quite unpopular in certain circles but, to concur with the author’s quest for honesty and openness in all things, thought I had better come out with an opinion: for what that is worth.
I skimmed this book as a manuscript before publication when Anne asked me for a quote , there it is slapped on the front cover “at once entertaining, opinionated and deliciously annoying”. (iii) I have now read it again between hard covers and stick with my original quotation. At times this is an amusing , entertaining and often touching book, it is undoubtedly opinionated and sometimes it is really, really annoying.
One of my problems is that I am, obviously, part of the great conspiracy of garden writers against whom Anne rails therefore my opinion is obviously suspect as most of us are, apparently, guilty of dishonesty. I happily write for many of the garden magazines and am responsible for many of the things that Anne despises for example I have written pieces about plant collections and old fashioned gardens and rather liked them all.
At the outset, however, I must emphatically state that I thoroughly and whole heartedly approve of Anne’s life work. Her dogged mission to elevate the status of gardens from a popular hobby to an art form is laudable: I would love to see garden design elevated beyond the fluffy but my argument is in the way she goes about this crusade. Rather than persuading people she seems determined to ruffle the danders of almost everybody as she goes along. This is not usually considered to be the best way to gain converts.
By the time you get to the end of the book you are fully aware of all the things that the author dislikes (too many plants, gardening, turning compost heaps, editors, show gardens, television producers, garden visitors, plants, nurseries, vegetables, mowing and almost every garden, whether public or private, in the country.) The truth seems to be that Anne does not really enjoy many gardens or any sort of gardening and yet continues to force herself to do both. I am not sure why as it seems to give her so little pleasure. It is almost an act of penance like supplicants walking across stony ground on their knees: a penance that must be served in order to gain true enlightenment.
What we do not really know is what she likes: apart from her own garden, the Veddw. It is difficult not to get a bit depressed by such relentless grinding down of almost everything and it means that many of the best points are a bit lost amongst the moans.
But we persevere because we know that, at heart, the principle is sound and we will her to convert people to her way of thinking. But there is a pervading feeling that we, the readers, are being disapproved of if we do not agree with everything – without question. There is a slight sneer to the tone of the book towards anybody who might dare to disagree with Anne’s very rigid view of the world or whom she feels unworthy of receiving the message..
The best bits of the book are when she writes about her own garden in Wales: this is obviously a place about which she feels passionately, here is a labour of love into which she, and her husband Charles, have put a huge amount of energy, artistic flair and intellectual rigour. At times she is unnecessarily defensive and there is rather to much protesting her round hole/square peg position but she is obviously as comfortable as she finds it possible to be when she is at home. And yet at the same time she wants people to come a criticise her garden, to tell her to change things and point out where she has gone wrong. This is not a puppy I am prepared to whip, if this garden is the only place where Anne is happy then that is good enough for me. After all that is why almost every other person in the country gardens, to make them happy.
This is definitely a book you should read: just be prepared to hurl it from you in exasperation every so often.
I am now off to spread plants across the Cotswolds before girding my loins in readiness for five days frolicking around the NEC for Gardeners World Live next week. I am on compereing duty with all the usual mob of notables. Come and say Hullo if you are in the vicinity.
I am listening to Come With Us by the Chemical Brothers. The picture is of Helianthemum Henfield Brilliant.
This time last year I was moaning about RyanAir.
(i) Dining in the company of MW can be disconcerting as middle aged women queue up to gaze, awestruck, upon the full majesty of his ruggedness.
(ii) Isn’t it odd how we grumble about drought and long for rain but, when it comes, we get bored of it very quickly. Especially when one has become unused to such things and leaves one’s waterproofs draped over the dustbin.
(iii) The full, unedited quote was “There is a rumour, hopefully unfounded, that Anne Wareham is actually not bad-tempered: just a bit miffed. This book bounces all over the garden world colliding with almost everything from magazines to established horticultural techniques. It is at once entertaining, opinionated and deliciously annoying. She may never work again but we are left in no doubt what she thinks.”