The Making of Three Gardens

 

Oh, sit back in your most comfortable chair; pour a strong coffee; open a box of the most delicious chocolates; browse this book and you will be in gardener’s heaven. From front cover to back this book is a dream and a delight; we cannot imagine that we will ever have a garden comparable to those shown on its pages but we certainly can appreciate and enjoy them. They are examples of the most wonderful creativity, imagination, architectural dexterity, installation perfection, aesthetic beauty and no shortage of disposable income!

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Jorge Sánchez is a principle partner of SMI Landscape Architecture in Palm Beach, Florida, an award-winning firm with clients throughout the United States and the Bahamas. The company is best known for its public gardens and street planning as well as large private gardens and this book presents three of these private gardens, two in Florida and one in New York. These gardens, by location and scale, are quite apart from our usual experience of gardens yet, by their art and design and planting, they transcend geographical boundaries and have a universal appeal. They are superb examples of art in gardening.

Though the gardens presented are quite fabulous and the author enjoys an enormously successful career with innumerable highly praised projects his voice, as he writes this book, is one of openness and humility where he generously acknowledges those who influenced and inspired him in his work and lavishly praises those with whom he collaborates and those who implement his designs. His accounts give an open and honest insight into his approach to each garden design – which is one of consultation and collaboration – and he explains the reasons behind his designs and changes in design as work progresses. It was all wonderfully informative and very pleasant reading.

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The Making of Three Gardens (2)

The photography is by Andre Baranowski and is quite outstanding, a perfect accompaniment to the text and, along with the design plans, gives the reader a perfect insight and understanding of the designs and the gardens.

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I suppose we might describe this as a coffee table book but it is far more than that. Yes, the photographs alone would allow it to be enjoyed without reading a word – as is the case with most coffee table books – but the text is so well written and such a pleasure to read that to relegate it to the coffee table would be a terrible disservice. Instead, read it with that coffee and chocolate for a truly enjoyable experience!

The Making of Three Gardens, Jorge Sánchez, Photography by Andre Baranowski, Merrell, London, 2017, Hardback, 208 pages, £45, ISBN: 978-1-8589-4665-8

Paddy Tobin

To find out more about the Irish Garden Plant Society visit our website or follow us on Facebook

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Head Gardeners

Ambra Edwards has given us a treasure of a book, a joy to read, insightful, informative and provocative. I have enjoyed it immensely and recommend it unreservedly.

She has interviewed fourteen head gardeners, a diverse group with only a few fitting the stereotypical image, yet all might be described as people at the pinnacle of gardening achievement with a wealth of experience, wisdom and green thumbs and, thankfully, a willingness to share their lives and insights with us.

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Those of us who are interested in this subject, this book and the people presented to us in it, are most likely gardeners ourselves and I feel this puts us immediately at a disadvantage as we begin our reading for we have a concept of gardening and what a gardener is based on our own experience and this leaves us frightfully ill informed and terribly misguided regarding the life and work of a head gardener. “Gardening” as we know it – the tending of plants and gardens – forms but a very small aspect of the work of the present day head gardener. Garden management is a major part of the job, the organisation, guidance and training of those who work with them. Gardens must not only be tended and developed they must also be sold to the gardening public so as to finance the garden work. He head gardener is the one who must look to the future, not simply a year ahead but to where the gardens will be in ten years or even one hundred years from now. And then, the head gardener will be the one who must ensure the gates are closed, the lights switched off, the staff paid, the blog written, requisites ordered and checked on delivery and the list goes on and on. The head gardener must truly juggle innumerable duties and be master of them all.

The selection of head gardeners featured in this book appears to have been chosen to present the reader with a wide range of garden types and head gardener experiences; it is certainly eclectic, interesting and entertaining. Some of the usual limelight head gardeners are here – Fergus Garrett of Great Dixter springs immediately to mind and the reader might wonder what is there left to read about him as he has been interviewed here, there and everywhere already but I found it one of the most insightful of portraits which revealed aspects of his character and practices at Great Dixter which I had not known of previously and was a perfect example of the depth of the interviews conducted by the author and representative of the others in the book.

As for the other thirteen head gardeners in the book, I feel I would spoil a great enjoyment on you if I revealed them to you here. Some you will acknowledge immediately as deserving of their place in the book while others may surprise you but when you have read their chapter you will understand why they were so very deservedly included. Mike Calnan, Head of Gardens at the National Trust is quoted in the introduction: “It’s difficult to imagine a class of people who have such tremendous skills, who contribute so much to society and who are so thoroughly undervalued.” I can only add that society needs to read this excellent book and this perception will be blown to the winds.

Finally, one statement which I loved and which epitomises the honesty throughout the book. When garden designers are hogging the limelight and are viewed as the stars of the horticultural world it is good to read Alistair Clark, head gardener at Portrack in Dumphries which houses Charles Jencks’ “Garden of Cosmic Speculation”: “Charles is a clever, clever man, there’s no disputing that. But he doesn’t know the first thing about horticulture. He didn’t when he first came to Portrack and I don’t think he does yet.”

Head Gardeners, A Celebration of the most exciting gardeners working in Britain today,  Ambra Edwards with photographs by Charlie Hopkinson. Pimpernel Press, London, 2017, Hardback, 240 pages, £35, ISBN: 9781910258743240.

Paddy Tobin

 

To find out more about the Irish Garden Plant Society visit our website or follow us on Facebook

 

 

Too Good to be True?

Have some entertainment gardens left the practices of normal gardening so far to the side that they have become artifices of what a garden should be? Has the desire to be a constantly perfect attraction lead to gardening in a manner and style which is far removed not alone from the practices of the common gardener but from nature itself? Of course, the reasons are perfectly understandable – the desire to attract more and more paying visitors and increased cash flow – normal gardening practices, even good taste, are often sacrificed for these gains.

Troy Scott Smith is the latest head gardener at Sissinghurst Castle Garden has made some interesting comments on the state of the garden and his future plans for it. “Sissinghurst”, he says, “has lost its way. In becoming a totem of horticultural perfectionism, it has forgotten what it really is.” On his appointment, he gave himself time to review the present situation in the garden, going back to the gardening notes of the garden’s creators Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicolson. He concluded that the garden had changed radically over the years since her death and nowadays could be more considered the garden of Pam Schwerdt and Sibylle Kreutzberger who had been employed as gardeners by Viva Sackville-West in 1959 and who continued to manage the gardens until 1991. Their successors, Sarah Cook and Alexis Darta continued to maintain the gardens in the style and manner which Pam and Sibylle had established and which the visiting public had come to expect.

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Troy Scott Smith is pictured on the cover of Ambra Edward’s book

Under their care the gardens had been brought to a level of perfection rarely seen elsewhere as they wished the garden to look at its best for every day that it was open to the public. Troy Scott Smith believes that the garden no longer reflects the style or the intentions of its creator, being too perfect, fails to show how a gardens changes through the seasons and has concluded that two thirds of the plants grown were introduced by Pam and Sibylle with several of today’s much admired features introduced by Sarah and Alexis all distancing the gardens further from its creator and that now it is time to return it to how Vita Sackville-West imagined it.

Developments at Sissinghurst will be of interest as Troy Scott Smith makes the changes he has in mind. You can read further on his thoughts in a recently published book, Head Gardeners, by Ambra Edwards, published by Pimpernel Press and you can hear Troy Scott Smith speak to the Cork Alpine and Hardy Plant Society in Cork on Thursday, 25th January, 2018 or on Wednesday 24th January 2018 in Enniscorthy at the Co. Wexford Garden & Flower Club..   Both groups welcome non-members – at a small charge.

In general and for the sake of fairness and balance we should consider this perfectionism in gardens from another perspective. We must realise that all gardens are  the construct of the gardener and are always a departure from or, at least, a control of nature. Perhaps, those who have developed gardens of perpetual perfection as discussed above have simply moved further than most along the continuum between what nature dictates and what the gardener can control. We can admire them for the lengths they have gone to in achieving such perfection though it might be a case of being happy to admire such gardens rather than imitating them. It is a question of how much control is too much.

Paddy Tobin

Head Gardeners, A Celebration of the most exciting gardeners working in Britain today,  Ambra Edwards with photographs by Charlie Hopkinson. Pimpernel Press, London, 2017, Hardback, 240 pages, £35, ISBN: 9781910258743240.

The Cork Alpine and Hardy Plant Society meets at the Lavanagh Centre, Ballintemple, Cork on the fourth Thursday of the month.

The Orchid Hunter

This is book bursting at the binding with enthusiasm and an almost obsessive love of our native orchids. Leif Bersweden, a precocious botanist who fell in love with native wildflowers as a child, was unsuccessful in his initial application for a place at Oxford University and decided to use his gap year to track down and photograph all the native orchids of Great Britain and Ireland in one year (with one forgivable exception, The Ghost Orchid, as it is so very rare) a feat which had not been completed previously.

THE ORCHID HUNTER

The first ticked off his list was the Early Purple Orchid and his last Autumn Lady’s Tresses which, by coincidence, were my own first and last of this past season though I must confess that I didn’t come across the other fifty in between.  Our native orchids are extraordinarily interesting and it is not uncommon for those who take an interest in them to find they are willing to go to some extremes to view one not found previously. With a group of friends I made several such journeys during this past season and one suggested we ought to dub our group the Fellowship Of Orchid Lovers with the appropriate abbreviation of F.O.O.Ls. Leif Bersweden would have been a very welcome member!

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Orchis mascula, The Early Purple Orchid – the first of his list found by Leif Bersweden

 

His year was certainly a madcap adventure and how wonderful that we have eighteen year olds who have the interest and enthusiasm to do such things. His travels, in a none too reliable car, ranged from the south of England, to Wales and to the north of Scotland, to the Island of Jersey and to Ireland. He has since completed his degree in botany and, with such enthusiasm, I can only imagine and hope he has every success.

As he works his way though his list of orchids and his accounts of finding them we are treated to general historic notes on each species, when it was first recorded, what previous authors and authorities have said about each, the origins of the name and vernacular names applied along with the excitement of the search and the eventual find. We are treated regularly to idyllic bucolic descriptions of the various locations in which he found himself and these read a little a little sweet at times – “Chaffinches were trilling from the hedges and sheep bleated in the fields down in the valley. A barge chugged silently past on the river below cutting a wide “V” shape into the otherwise glass-like water.”

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Spiranthes spiralis, Autumn Lady’s Tresses – the final orchid of the search. 

The subtitle to the book is “A Young Botanist’s Search for Happiness” might first be assumed to refer to the happiness he would achieve in locating all the orchids but there is a regular parallel narrative through the book where the author expresses his thoughts on personal matters. As a child with an interest in wildflowers he felt apart from his peers and, as a teenager, regrets that his hobby is so often one engaged in alone. He wishes for a friend who might share his interest and had the company of a lady for part of his summer pursuit but, as the saying goes, he blew it. Most will choose this book for what it has to say on orchids – I cannot imagine too many are overly concerned about the author’s happiness though, of course, we would wish him well – and this thread in the book is incongruous. There are also some comments on those who helped and advised him which might kindly be described as juvenile humour where the editor’s red pencil might have been justifiably applied.

This book will be of little use to anybody wishing to learn more about our native orchids; it will certainly not become a book of reference but it will be a light read for those already interested. Indeed, I found the many quotations and references to earlier books especially interesting and enjoyable. Though he mentions taking a very large number of photographs in the course of his adventure, very few are used in the book – one for each species recorded and these gathered as one group in the centre of the book. There is a scattering of line drawing through the book, some illustrating orchids and others various views and vignettes mentioned in the text.

THE ORCHID HUNTER

The author has since completed his degree in botany and considering orchids as a topic for his PhD. It is heartening to see young people taking up botany and Leif Bersweden, with his enthusiasm and single-mindedness, is likely to make significant contributions to the depths of our knowledge in years to come. I wish him the best.

[The Orchid Hunter, A Young Botanist’s Search for Happiness by Leif Bersweden, Short Books, London, 2017, Hardback, 352 pages, £12.99, ISBN: 978-1-78072-334-1]

Paddy Tobin

To find out more about the Irish Garden Plant Society visit our website or follow us on Facebook

 

 

The Selection!

Dan Pearson’s book, Natural Selection, draws on ten years of his columns for the Observer newspaper and are arranged in a calendar format, a diary of gardening notes.

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As with all such compilations, the individual parts, while all excellent in themselves, do not add up to a unified book. The organisation of the selected articles into a diary layout is no more than a book format and does not ring true as a genuine recording of events or thoughts. We are then presented with a book which is uncomfortable to read, without a strong thread of thought or theme running through it, with a great deal of repetition and with little of great import to hold the reader. However, it might be said that this reflects the nature of gardening which is series of minor events, often repetitious and humdrum, and joys are generally small but, nonetheless, treasured and enjoyed.

Dan Pearson is enjoying a very successful career as a landscape and garden designer with commissions around the world while he has also been successful as an author and contributor to several national newspapers and magazines. His interest in gardening stems from childhood, the home garden, two parents who were keen gardeners and a neighbour who was an inspiration.  While professionally successful he continues to find time and enjoyment in his own gardens, one a city garden and the other rural, and many of the entries report on plans, progress and plants in these.

What might be considered significant is that while Dan Pearson is a very successful professional gardener, he still gets great pleasure from what we might consider the more mundane aspects of gardening. He delights in developing his new garden in Somerset, in the discovery of the features of his new plot, in the clearing of ground, the selection of plants, their first appearance and flowering, the planning, dreaming, digging, successes and failures that are all part of the making of a garden. So, it is perhaps the insight the book gives us into Dan Pearson, the person, which is significant here rather than the book’s contents for gardening is a simple pastime, with small pleasures, and it can be enjoyed by amateur and professional alike.

As with our gardening this is a book to be read a little at a time – to attempt to read it cover to cover will ruin it for the reader. And, as with your gardening, be patient and take it bit by bit, section by section and in a relaxed manner.

[Natural Selection, A Year in the Garden, Dan Pearson, Guardian Book/Faber and Faber, 2017, Hardback, 421 pages, £20, ISBN: 978-1-78335-117-6]

Paddy Tobin

To find out more about the Irish Garden Plant Society visit our website or follow us on Facebook

 

A “Blooming Marvellous” Book!

Zoë Devlin has never lost that childhood delight in the beauty of nature whether it be the excitement of seeing a flower new to her, being entranced once again by the daintiness of a daisy or the fluttering beauty of a butterfly – “wisps of aerial delight”.

Her childhood love of wildflowers developed into a lifelong pastime and in her “retirement” years it has become an all consuming passion which has her travelling to all corners of the country in search of our natural wildflower beauties.

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What runs through the book is the excitement of it all, of this love of nature, the sense of joy and happiness which is intricately bound up in Zoë’s adventures – “something like a Christmas Eve as a child, the stocking at the end of the bed, hopes high as a house.”  As she says, “It was pure magic!”

The book is arranged by the months of the year with each month introduced by a note on the origin of the month’s name, a spread on the butterflies “on the wing” at the appropriate months and then to her first love, the plants…but not as we might know them. These are all plants with stories, with memories, with recollections and connections, with adventures and misadventures, with people and places; each, especially the first encounter, irrevocably etched in her memory and recounted here with an infectious and entertaining humour.

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“On the Wing in September” 

A visit to the Rock of Cashel was significant only because “there was a beautiful Rue-leaved Saxifrage on top of one of the walls there.” The office staff war game came to a sudden end when she spotted an Early Purple Orchid and left her boss undefended – his demise did not reflect well on her. Picnic entertainment has varied from watching a prancing stoat to a horse being shampooed in a river. Pete, her constant companion, husband and roadie on her treks, was the one who stood to ward off bulls or feed donkeys with Marietta biscuits though his actions shocked her on one occasion. I could not repeat the circumstances of her finding her first Fly Orchid on The Burren but she certainly would not wish to have had the occasion photographed. There are many, many “added value” moments in this book – along with the beautiful descriptions and photographs there are the personal stories that bring such things to life and make them memorable and even more enjoyable.

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The Cowslip – a childhood favourite for Zoë Devlin

She credits and recalls those who inspired her generously: her grand-aunt, the watercolourist, Gladys Wynne; her cousin Dr. Kathleen Lynn and another grand-aunt Winifrede Wynne who introduced Primula ‘Julius Caesar’ which I grow in my garden and now value all the more as I hadn’t realised its connection with Zoë. She also thankfully acknowledges the assistance she has received from many other plant enthusiasts, for she is one of a network of friends who keep each other informed of current flowerings and notes of locations.

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The Marsh Helleborine – one of those plants which send shivers of delight when found

Plants evoke memories and childhood recollections for Zoë and this calendar of anecdotes brings together fond and happy days over her lifetime and, given the interconnectedness of nature, it ranges beyond flowers to birds, insects, history, herbal practices, literature and poetry. Invasive plants are a concern and the children of today are her hope for the future – introduce them to flowers with a hand lens, she recommends, and they will be enthralled by their detail and beauty. Her love of flowers has lead her to make a wildflower meadow at home and also elderflower  cordial, jams, tarts and sloe gin but Pete baulked at her Ramsons pesto – there is only so much a loving husband can endure!

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Blue-eyed Grass – one which delights all wildflower lovers

Though this book is very informative for the plant lover it is above all a collection of light-hearted and humorous tales from Zoë, arranged in a style which allows one to dip in for a short read or to see what might be of interest in any particular month. Above all it is infected with her enthusiasm and love of plants and it is a delight to read.

[Blooming Marvellous – A Wildflower Hunter’s Year, Zoë Devlin, The Collins Press, 2017, Hardback, 295 pages, €16.99, ISBN: 978-1-84889-327-6]

Available online at The Collins Press

Also by Zoë Devlin:

 

Paddy Tobin

To find out more about the Irish Garden Plant Society visit our website or follow us on Facebook

 

 

 

 

Gardening for Wildlife

The countryside is no longer the haven for wildlife that it once was. Changes in how land is used and managed along with other factors have lead to an alarming fall in the population of all wildlife species. Accommodating the needs of wildlife into how we manage our gardens may smack of desperation and futility but not to do so will have far reaching consequences not alone for wildlife but also for the planet and for us.

The enthusiastic gardener will be immediately reassured by the author’s introductory chapter which dispels several commonly held misconceptions or “myths” as he calls them about adapting our gardens to suit wildlife. All need not go to nettles, brambles and of rotting log piles and every garden, of whatever gardening approach or style, has something to offer and every gardener can add to their garden in many simple ways so that the space around the house is even more beneficial to wildlife. This book will show you how to do this.

Gardening for Wildlife

The author recalls the experience of one person who gardened with wildlife in mind. Jennifer Owen has an average suburban garden in Leicester and set out to identify and record every species she encountered in the garden. Over the course of thirty years she met with 2,673 species, among these were 94 species of hoverfly, 375 species of moths and 442 species of beetles. She even came on one little wasp which was a species new to science – a first record and that was in a small garden. We really don’t know what lives all around us!

There are four sections in the book. The first deals with various wildlife groups – birds, butterflies, bees, moths and mammals – and outlines their habitat, food needs and how we might provide such in our gardens. Not surprisingly, greater attention is given to birds as they are the  most popular of our wildlife groups, being more visible, generally pretty and often entertaining – and useful to the gardener when they remove another range of wildlife – garden pests!

Another section gives guidelines for creating different habitats – woodland, shrubland, wildflower meadows, wetland and ponds along with recommendations for compost making and keeping compost heaps and all this in a manner which seeks to accommodate wildlife within existing garden areas. In other words, the author does not call for a demolition of our existing garden but rather some tweaks within this framework which would be of benefit to wildlife – and to the gardener, I think.

We are given a listing, with illustration and description along with benefits for wildlife, of the top 500 plants we might use in our garden to benefit wildlife and also a calendar of gardening for wildlife.

All in all this is a book which is well organised, well presented, and very attractive. The information is presented in a very easily accessible manner which makes the book a very convenient source of information and the illustrations are perfectly clear which is a wonderful help to recognising and identifying many of the species we may encounter on our patches. Perhaps this was not the immediate aim of the author but one could quickly become proficient at identifying quite a wide range of birds, insects etc from reading this book and that is may be the start of a lifelong interest.

This is a good book with the important message that we can, through many small ways, have a very positive effect on our environment and the creatures which inhabit it with us.

[Gardening for Wildlife, Adrian Thomas, Bloomsbury Publishers, London, 2017, Hardback, 288 pages, £25, ISBN: 978-1-4729-3857-2]

Paddy Tobin

To find out more about the Irish Garden Plant Society visit our website or follow us on Facebook