I have just spent an interesting hour reading some back articles on line by Robin Lane Fox who writes the weekly gardening article for the Financial Times. I have a cold hence the luxury of languishing in bed reading.
I haven’t read his writing before and it was like a breath of fresh air. Here is a gardener after my own heart; someone who isn’t afraid to say what he really thinks about this trend and that trend. So much garden writing these days is samey and in my opinion pandas to whatever trend is being promoted by the middle classes or maybe the gardening media think people are or should be interested in. We have had: grow your own, wildlife gardening, meadow planting, prairie planting and like sheep we all nod our heads and follow along. But I have dabbled in these trends and they do not fulfil my gardening urges or needs. The glossies and newspaper articles do not address my desire to learn about plants, to discover what is out there beyond the ubiquitous plants that are on trend.
After reading only a handful of articles I find that Lane Fox is critical of the notions of wildflower meadows, wildlife corridors in gardens, the planting of lots of grasses. For him the highlight of the Chelsea flower show is the Floral Pavillion and not the big show gardens, although he laments at the lack of funding nurseries and plants men get and how this has impacted over the decades on the quality of displays.
I couldn’t agree more. I am all for wildlife in the garden but not when my lawn and bulbs are turned upside down by a stray badger that visits on a regular basis presumably from the wild area along the edge of a nearby golf course. The badger can forage to its hearts content across a large area if it went in the opposite direction from his sett but no it chooses to dig up my garden. Meadow planting looks lovely in the right location and when done on a large-scale but come the autumn they are dire and in a small suburban garden they just don’t work much better to plant a late summer border full of Asters and Helianthus – good for the soul and the pollinators.
What has happened to plantsmanship, real horticultural knowledge and practice. It seems to me that the trend these days is for what people like to call ‘slow-gardening’ allowing things to decay and rot down in their own time etc. Whilst I don’t agree with the extreme prescriptive approach that we inherited from our Victorian/Edwardian gardening ancestors I truly believe that if you are really interested in gardening, in horticulture, then you will want to ensure that your plants are healthy and well maintained. You will want to look out, at this time of year, on a garden where the beds are mulched and the dead perennials are cut back and tidy, with bulbs beginning emerging between them not on borders of tired and decaying perennials smothering the bulbs. The majority argue that the decaying plants are good for wildlife – really? I never see birds on the decaying plants I have left for them, however the extensive range of bird-feeders is another matter. It appears the birds prefer the quick-stop approach rather than having to work hard looking for seeds amongst my slowly decaying perennials. Come the Spring my borders, with the exception of a little weeding and dead-heading of spring bulbs, will look after themselves, leaving you to concentrate on growing new and interesting plants from seed or cuttings – after all to me that is what gardening is all about.
I wish I had Lane Fox’s courage and maybe that should be my New Year’s resolution – to say what I really think rather than keeping quiet in order to avoid the backlash that challenging the trendy norm provokes.