Honouring five women gardening writers…

I am always behind when it comes to ‘Days’- like International Women’s Day.   So, here I am, several days late.  But I enjoyed seeing what ‘Ali, The Mindful Gardener’ and my gardening writer friend, Sarah Salway, had to say on Facebook, and thought ‘Why not list my five favourite women garden writers and books?’.  All my book links are to Abebooks.co.uk- on the grounds that homes are needed for more used and secondhand books.

Margery Fish book

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Margery Fish photo credit: http://www.eastlambrook.com

Margery Fish :  ‘We made a Garden’ first published in 1956, the re-published by Faber and Faber in 1983

This book is a complete joy.  It describes Margery’s decision to create a garden at East Lambrook  in Somerset in 1937, and her endless tussles with her husband, Walter, who had very different views on what a garden should look like, there are so many wonderful moments as when she reveals that

‘When it came to the job of making paths I discovered that this was a subject on which Walter had very strong views, and I had many lectures on how to achieve perfection’ ¹

Her gently ascerbic tone is a delight of under-statement, and she never shirks from talking about her mistakes and her learning, whilst retaining a good dose of laughter about how she, and Walter, make it through the arguments and lectures.  Along the way, there are invaluable lessons for any maker of gardens- and her garden remains a much loved and inspirational space which I would love to visit.  This is the book I have most often bought for women friends who love gardening.

¹ quoted p.25 of ‘We made a Garden’, Margery Fish, ISBN 0-572-13141-7

 

Sarah Raven

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Sarah Raven photo credit: http://www.westsussexlife.co.uk

Sarah Raven: ‘The Bold and Beautiful Garden’, published by Frances Lincoln, 1999

I bought this book not long after we had moved to France, and, although my garden, as I was to learn, could not host many of the luscious plants that Sarah describes in her book, I was absolutely set on fire by her use of colour and mixtures of colour- as well as her boundless enthusiasm for the plants that she is writing about.  Jonathon Buckley’s photographs are almost edible they are so good, fresh and exciting.  Christopher Lloyd’s foreword sums up her approach and, of course, she has learnt so much from him I think.

‘Go for it, lash out and express yourself with the help of vivid dramatis personnae sums up her vitalizing message’  Christopher Lloyd. ¹

¹ quoted in the foreword by Christopher Lloyd, of ‘The Bold and Beautiful Garden’, Sarah Raven, ISBN 0-7112-1752-1

A shout-out also for her beautiful compilation and authored book on Vita Sackville-West and Sissinghurst, ‘Vita Sackville-West and the creation of a garden’, which I really enjoyed after visiting Sissinghurst for the first time this year.

 

Holt book

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Geraldene Holt photo credit: http://www.geraldeneholt.com

Geraldene Holt:  ‘Diary of French Herb Garden’, published by Pavilion Books, 2002

I love this little book.  It is a modest and utterly engaging book about Geraldene Holt, the well-known cookery writer, and her restoration of an ancient walled garden in the tiny village of Saint-Montan, in the French Ardèche.  It was the book that inspired me the most in developing village contacts here when we moved, and over the years, gradually finding a role, which I would never have imagined, as the co-ordinator of a group of committed gardening people, who are gradually softening the edges of our village with sustainable planting- and having a lot of fun as well.  Her own garden lives on, now run by a local Association, much like ours I imagine, and is definitely somewhere I want to visit.

She says, at the end of her book’

‘That I am not the proprietor of this French herb garden matters not a jot.  Indeed, this aspect has enhanced my joy.  Working here has not been solely self-gratifying, it has also been a shared pleasure, carried out for others with a result that, I hope, will survive for some time.’ ¹

¹ quoted p. 123, ‘Diary of a French Herb Garden’, Geraldene Holt, ISBN  1-86205-488-6

I know what she means.

 

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Beth Chatto photo credit: http://www.gardenmuseum.org.uk

Beth Chatto’s Gravel Garden, published by Frances Lincoln, 2000

Beth Chatto is such a hero- quietly determined, delicate and yet robust, and so much a real pioneer entirely on her own terms.  Her book ‘Beth Chatto’s Gravel Garden’ was like a Bible to me when I first realised that I couldn’t imagine Tostat as being a slightly hotter Surrey, where I had my very first garden in my early 30s.  Turning her carpark into a dry garden, as she did, with no irrigation at all, was a vital experiment for the time.  She has a love for the unorthodox, which broke new ground then, seahollies, prickly thistles, felted plants and wild Verbascum.  She is, above all, a calm observer of the garden that she is creating- and now, after nearly 15 years, I am almost able to do that too in my own garden.

‘ It is good sometimes, perhaps in low evening light, to take my stool and settle in an unexpected part of the garden, to sit and contemplate a piece of planting that I normally pass or drive by. ¹

¹ quoted p.88, ‘Beth Chatto’s Gravel Garden’, Beth Chatto, ISBN 0-7112-1425-5

 

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Nora Harlow, editor, EBMUD, ‘Plants and Landscapes for Summer-Dry Climates’, published 2004 by EBMUD, East Bay Municipal Utility District

Nora Harlow has done a great job at pulling together the strengths and a shared philosophy behind this big book, which is really designed to encourage residents of the East Bay Area, in San Francisco, to abandon water-hungry garden spaces and embrace a different aesthetic.  The book reads easily, pithily and the message pulls no punches.  What’s more, the philosophy is incredibly helped by the sensitive and compelling photography of Saxon Holt.  Two thirds of the book is a compendium of plants, trees and shrubs that actually welcome summer-dry gardening by having growth patterns outside of the hot, dry period, and many of them are entirely dormant during the summer.  So, shifting the aesthetic needs to be as much about embracing winter-autumn-spring as the main seasons of interest, and learning to love the dried-out looks and shapes of the summer.  What a bold move for a Utility Company.  How’s this for inspiration?

‘ It is possible to create and maintain ornamental landscapes in ways that conserve water and energy, protect air and water quality, minimise impacts on landfills, provide habitat for wildlife, reduce fire hazard, and help to preserve natural wildlands…

The least any of us can do is to be mindful of our individual and collective impacts on natural resources-clean air, clean water, energy, open space and biotic diversity- and to accept personal responsibility for our actions.’ ¹

¹ page xv, the preface, ‘Plants and Landscapes for Summer-dry Climates’, ed. Nora Harlow, EBMUD 2004  ISBN  0-9753231-0-5

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The bowing Hellebore…

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Hellebores, heads bowed, Tostat, January 2018

I grew lots of Helleborus Orientalis in Scotland- they loved the rich, moist soil and I loved them.  Tall flowers standing straight, and exotic-looking leaves that lasted all year, giving a jungly look to a damp Scottish garden.  Beth Chatto’s book about converting her carpark into a gravel garden inspired me to try them here, in much drier and hotter conditions in the summer, but surprisingly perhaps, not so different from Scotland in the winter and spring.  Here is a very useful blog article for more information about Hellebores and that makes them tick.  Thanks http://www.yougrowgirl.com.

To be honest, I have no idea what I have got growing in the garden, with one or two exceptions.  I have accumulated plants on a willy-nilly basis, lots from no-tag bin-end sales over the years, and of course, the one thing about Hellebores is that they self-seed wildly and mix it up, so the only thing that I do is to try and pull out the spindly seedlings and go for those with nice, strong-looking foliage.  I also don’t cut old leaves off.  Mainly because, even in this dark winter, the hellebores seem to race to produce flowering buds and they are all in place before I have even got round to thinking about trimming the foliage.  Actually, mine don’t seem to get too much black fungal action on them, so I live with a few dark splotches.

There are many who say, like Anne Wareham at Veddw, that the very best thing is to grow them in pots and lift them up on stands so that you don’t have to lie down to see into the flowers.

But one of their charms, in my view, is their nodding-ness.  The top photograph reminded me of a scene from Margaret Atwood’s ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ somehow, and below is part of the same group from a different angle. These have all inter-mingled, and it is true that not everyone likes the somewhat muzzy pink colouring that can become the only colour around.  But there is an apple-blossom freshness about this pink colouring that I am really appreciating this winter for it’s sense of optimism.

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Perhaps a bit more Orientalis in the mix here, Tostat, January 2018

I think I am fondest of the white and the dark red varieties that I have.  The single whites are almost indestructible, bearing their flowers with pride for days and days, and even when nearly over, each flower stays put.  People seem to suggest that the double varieties are less robust, and I have only a couple, but I would agree with this- and, of course, there are those who find them too frilly.  But I think that if you stay with the basic colours, and don’t opt for the new pistachio varieties for example, the straightforward double white is so classic and pretty, it’s hard to beat.

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Lovely purple freckles, Hellebore, Tostat, January 2018
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Double white hellebore, Tostat, January 2018

My Stephen Roff ( a very good ebay seller) double red hellebore, bought last year very small, has flowered, and is matched by a single with a lovely collar.  It could be that I prefer the collared single….but they are both the richest, darkest burgundy colour which is not reproduced well here in my photographs.

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More dark crimson than this, and with collared effect, Hellebore, Tostat, January 2018
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Double red Hellebore, Tostat, January 2018

Two species Hellebores that I adore are Helleborus foetidus, and also Helleborus argutiflorus Corsicus.  The latter got in with a bad crowd of Hellebores and has now mutated into a not very inspiring cross, but here it was in 2015, with the spikier leaves and the mint-green to white flowers, very simple but gorgeous.  I am going to invest in three more plants to start again.

Foetidus, often referred to as the ‘Stinking Hellebore’ doesn’t stink at all to me, and can look amazing as it rises up out of the deadness of the border.  Not yet this year, but back in 2015 on a sunny evening, the gorgeous purply-red colouring at the fringes of the petals suddenly came alight- and yes, the flowers do last for at least 2 months.

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Helleborus argutiflorus Corsicus, Tostat, March 2015
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Helleborus foetidus rising up as it does, Tostat, January 2018
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Helleborus foetidus in evening sun, Tostat, March 2015

What do you think, Tony Tomeo?