We had some misty, moisty mornings last week when Molly, the dog, and I were out for our early morning sniffs. From here in sunny Alicante, with brilliant light shining off the sea and the sand, I was about to delete these photographs as they seemed, so, well, dull. But in my constant battle to really come to appreciate a new aesthetic which accepts the becoming-permanent state of summer dryness and seasonal upsets, I stopped myself, and instead decided to talk about the aesthetic battle again.
In fact, these photographs are not dull. Looking through some Oudolf images from his world-famous plantings and reading again his famous words ‘Learn to love brown’, I realise again that the perceived dullness is the product of my own battle with ‘perfection in the garden’. A perfection that, as another great thinker and writer, Olivier Filippi, says in his book, ‘Planting Design for Dry Gardens’ has been largely created by an Anglicised ideal of garden perfection, the invention of the lawnmower and the business creation of chemical lawn control.
“…From the North of Europe to the south, and indeed in other parts of the world, the English garden model has become rooted in our collective unconscious as a symbol of happiness..”¹
Because, with the lawn, comes the rest of what makes so many British gardens so beautiful, the herbaceous borders and all the rest…only some of which is realistically attainable in a summer-dry setting.
So, I stub my toe constantly in my head in this battle between what is in my mind as the ideal and the reality of what my garden will do in my changing climate. But, morally, it seems to me to be really important to stay in touch with this battle and to engage with it fully. Only then can I do my bit, though my own garden and working with others, to help to create gardens and public spaces that can be beautiful within the ecological constraints of where you are. And only by doing this, and showing this, can we hope to combat that English garden myth that is so well-rooted in our and others’ minds.
¹ quoted p. 11, Olivier Filippi, Planting Design for Dry Gardens, Filbert Press 2016