Finding a voice

2012_10210025I 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.


18 Comments on “Finding a voice

  1. I think the most sensible way of gardening is to take all the trends, think about which ones fit your personal preferences and then adapt everything so it somehow fits together to become YOUR personal garden. I love having the deer in the garden from time to time, so I accept that the roses might suffer from it, but at the same time I do try to protect some of my plants from the local fauna, either by fencing or by traps (for slugs).

    It’s all a matter of looking at the trends as inspiration and discarding 90% of them and then be inspired by the last 10% that makes sense in the sort of garden you want to have. I love flower meadows, but I don’t have an acre of land to set aside for it, so I enjoy them elsewhere – in the wild. I don’t have the time in the garden to really grow my own veg, so I sow a few peas and leave it at that – and enjoy the wild blackberries and the apple tree that happened to be here when we bought the garden.

    It’s like decorating a home; who really – REALLY – wants to have a home like a design feature from a magazine? It would be outdated in a year, whereas a comfortable, homely home with beautiful things (and some things that are just practical necessities) will always be pleasant to come home to.

    • Hi Flaneur – I totally agree that you should just take what works or interest you but what I hate is the way the media and other gardeners seem to preach about this or that and make you feel as though you have committed a cardinal sin for spraying something, or having a neat garden, or cutting your grass or not growing your own, whatever the latest fad is

    • Personally I don’t think herbicides or pesticides are necessary in private gardens, so call me a preacher if you like. 😉

      However, any garden that isn’t paved over in concrete is bound to be a haven for wildlife in some way or another – and they definitely help reduce the flooding issues we have in Denmark these years – so just growing something/anything is a great thing in my book. Neat or untidy, whatever you enjoy, right? After all, the only reason gardeners pour money and/or work into their little plot of land is that we achieve some sense of happiness from it, and there are so many ways to do this. And fads rarely satisfy anybody completely…
      (My mother uses Round-Up on her stubborn weeds, and I could only object to this if I was willing to volunteer to do a monthly weeding of her lawn and borders, so it’s not like I am a born-again anti-sprayer. I recognise that her garden cannot – at her age – be the way she wants it to be without some chemical help – or a LOT of volunteers.)

  2. I’m glad your brain hasn’t been affected by your cold – it seems to be on top form. A very thought-provoking post.
    I put up bird feeders in my new garden a couple of weeks ago and immediately attracted all kinds of birds – blue, great and long-tailed tits, chaffinches, goldfinches, nuthatches. It was as if they swooped down from nowhere! I’m still wondering whether they were always there, but not so obvious, or whether the feeders have actually brought them into the garden.
    As for meadow planting, I was incredibly disillusioned when I looked at the pictorial meadow seed mixtures being sold by the guys at Sheffield (the people who did the Olympics). Their advice was to kill off everything (in the area to be sown) with glyphosate before sowing the seed. Then, when the meadow annuals had died back, to clear the ground again with glyphosate before replanting the following spring. Er no, I don’t think so!

    • Hi Victoria
      Its like growing your own, there was an interesting article in the Telegraph (I think) this week about the number of uncared for allotment sites where people have taken them on in the belief of veg growing is easy and given up. Many of these things look easy and wonderful but the reality is another thing

  3. I agree with Flaneur, everyone should garden the way they like, it is their garden after all. I tend to be a messy gardener. I leave plant material to rot in place from time to time, it does feed the wildlife, mostly those that live in the soil. While I prefer my natural style of gardening I often look at the ‘tidier’ gardens and appreciate their beauty and wonder if it is time to change what I do.

  4. Meadow garden is a bit of a flawed concept, but what’s wrong with a cottage garden with lots of grasses as well as annuals and perennials? To me, gardening for wildlife just means having herbaceous and woody plants with seeds and fruit that the birds will eat, as well as flowers for nectar and host plants for butterflies. (And having some sort of water feature.) This should not conflict with what most would consider a “normal” garden. As to tidiness, I can appreciate a more formal garden (with some exceptions), but I prefer mine to be more relaxed. I cut back some perennials in the fall but most in the spring. Birds do feed from the seed heads and some butterflies overwinter in the stems and plant debris. If others prefer something tidier I have no objection. It seems self-evident to me that people’s gardens should reflect their preferences, and those preferences require no justification.

    • Hi Jason
      I totally agree with you but I am tired of the way the media, in the UK, keeps on with the same trends regardless to the point that you feel you are a bad gardener is you dont follow them. No one really challenges anything

    • Well, that would be annoying. Major newspapers here no longer have garden writers. As for the gardening magazines, they are pretty eclectic, at least that is my sense. The native plants/wildlife theme is common but does not dominate and does come in for some criticism, especially on blogs.

  5. There’s a lot of snobbery involved in gardening sometimes and I for one pay not one bit of attention to any of it. The best thing anyone can do is garden the way that’s right for them, grow whatever it is YOU like and not care one jot what anyone else thinks! After all, it’s YOUR garden. 🙂

    • Knitting Gardener – I second that!

      The only time I have been really annoyed with the UK media was when a few (shoddy) newspapers outright claimed we should only use peat based compost – very irresponsible. Most of the time I actually avoid UK media to be honest, it just winds me up. However, I do think that promoting gardening is generally good. I love gardening and take great pleasure in everything I do and if others find the same joy from whatever brainwashing the press choose to push at them, then I think it’s ok.

      I’m happy you have found a writer you clearly think has some balls Helen.

  6. Helen, I think you have already, very eloquently, said what you think without waiting for the New Year – so well done you. Your article was very thought provoking (and prompted me to have a look at Robin Lane Fox’s writings) and well argued. It is easy to feel rather intimidated by all these new fads and styles when I am sure most of us are happier doing our own thing in our own little plot.

  7. I too admire Robin Lane-Fox and his writing in the Financial Times although in my case it was his writing 25 years ago- Unfortunately, I don’t read the paper any more. I loved his provocative approach, especially as he embraces using the benefits of modern technologies in his gardening and his refusal to follow modern trends. He was only surpassed by his predecessor as garden correspondent for the FT, the late and great gardener Arthur Hellyer.

  8. Look out for Robin Lane Fox’s book ‘Variations On A Garden’ on your travels Helen – I think that you would enjoy it. He also has a newer book which is in my to be read pile. I think that with gardening as with all aspects of life, you have to choose what you feel happy with and not worry if you are in a minority. Hope that you are soon on the mend.

  9. I agree about admiring Chelsea display pavillions over the gardens. I remember seeing a display of various clematis a few years ago that was just outstanding, I had hardly rated these plants before.

  10. Merry Christmas Helen! and thank you for all the brilliant insights, horti-info, fun and sheer enjoyment that you’ve brought to my inbox throughout this year! 🙂

  11. Interesting Helen as the trends you talk about are very American which could be the problem. I agree that you need to garden not by trends but by what you want. As you know I am a wildlife gardener and it works here as does my meadow. It is a different style of looking at the natural beauty. My wildlife enjoys the spent blooms and does forage the seed heads as shown by the half eaten seed heads. It is great to find new voices…

Please feel free to leave comments as its always lovely to get feedback. I try to respond to comments as much as possible but sometimes life and work get in the way but I will do my best to respond especially if your comment is a question.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: