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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Summer-dry or what…

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Abutilon pictum, Tostat, July 2017

Ok.  This is now the third summer in a row that exceptionally dry conditions have prevailed.  Not continuously, but in killer sections of exceptional heat and dryness rolling through from April until now, and showing no signs of abating.  In between conditions normalise a little, but the accumulating dryness builds over time.  So today, I was really thrilled to find a second hand copy of ‘Plants and Landscapes for Summer-Dry of the San Francisco Bay Area’ edited by Nora Harlow and published by East Bay Municipal Utility District in 2005.

This book really triggered much of the current landscaping and garden thinking of the Bay Area, and was influential, winning the American Horticultural Society’s Book Award in that year.  So, despite paying more for the postage than the book itself, I am really looking forward to learning more about an area that could be really inspirational for me gardening in Tostat.

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Bupleurum fruticosum, Tostat, July 2017

Despite all, there are moments of loveliness- once your eye has adjusted to looking past the things that bug you! I grew Bupleurum fruticosum from seed about 7 years ago, and whilst not a looker in the conventional sense, the massed flower heads look fabulous at eye height and attract masses of insects. Now mature plants, they offer real presence in the garden as other plants go over, and I value their strong evergreen presence.

Echinacea purpurea is just coming through.  It is fair to say that this period, though super-dry, is also an inbetween moment in the garden anyway.  There is a pause that naturally happens in the summer, and we are in it.  But, Echinacea and Rudbeckia are arriving soon, thank goodness.

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Echinacea purpurea, Tostat, July 2017

This is the first year the Eucomis ‘Sparkling Burgundy’ has flowered- last year, bulb strength was being built with leaf production- but now we have flower spikes and leaves- a great display, but with us, it’s got to be grown in a pot so you can manage the watering levels required.  They are thirsty when in the middle of flowerspike production and it’s true, you want the spikes to last as they are quite magnificent.

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Eucomis Sparkling Burgundy, Tostat, July 2017

Abutilon ‘Pictum’ just at the top of the page, is another shrub that does best in a pot, not so much from the water point of view, but more from the over-wintering needed.  ‘Pictum’ like all the Abutilons with the wider-open bell-shaped flowers, needs not to be frost-nipped, so I lug it under cover in the winter, just to give it enough protection to make it.  ‘Mesopotamicum’ and an unknown orange abutilon are just that bit tougher, the toughness give-away being the more shrouded, longer-line flowers as below.  Personally, I am lusting after ‘Ashford Red’, of which more later…

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Unknown orange abutilon suffering a bit last summer, Tostat, July 2016

And the slightly mad- not-to everyone’s-taste Lilium ‘Flore Pleno’ is carrying on regardless.  And I love it for it’s slightly shambolic Rita-Hayworth quality.  It cheers me up.

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Lilium ‘Flore Pleno’, Tostat, July 2017

Gardening where you are…the nature of acceptance

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Chrysanthemum zawadski, Tostat, end November 2016

I think that I am a battler rather than an acccepter by nature. I do accept that I will never enjoy swimming or do it again, despite making myself learn at the age of 43, but I now know that I actually don’t like it- even though I probably did know that before!  In other respects, I am a battler by tendency.  So, when in response to my last blog, I got a comment from a reader in Italy, I felt her pain.  She was talking about gardening in Italy, and finding the August dead period depressing.  This dead period is exactly what happens in the Mediterranean garden, and in any garden, like mine in the last 2-3 years, which are winter-wet and summer-dry.

But I got a smart, and good, smack over the fingers from the website called summer-dry.com, which I stumbled over fortuitously.  In clear and crisp tones, Summer-Dry urges us to get wise, be sensible, live in the real world and ‘garden where we are’.  So, if where we are is summer-dry, then get with it, and discover a world of plants who thrive in cool/cold wet winters and hot-dry summers.  And the object of the site is to switch us onto that.  Absolutely gorgeous photographs taken by the Californian photographer, Saxon Holt, pepper the site and there is masses of useful information and many wise words. As part of the summer-dry project, a book has been written entitled ‘Plants and Landscapes for Summer-Dry climates (of the San Francisco Bay region)’ by Nora Harlow and published by EBMUD, East Bay Municipal Utility District.  It is really expensive outside of the US, but you never know, I might find it somewhere.

The best part is the idea of changing the aesthetic.  So many of us have toiled, or toil, to make gardens that remind us of our prevailing aesthetic of garden beauty.  If we can move to an acceptance of change in the aesthetic, we can garden more successfully where we are, reduce our frustration and be kinder to the planet.  We can learn to live with the August bald patch, knowing that weeks later, the garden will be refreshed and rejuvenated.  Nothing grows when temperatures are more than 30C and nothing grows without moisture.  So, summer-dry gardening is impatient with the term ‘drought tolerant’ as being, well, inaccurate.  Summer-dry does what it says on the tin, it is dry in the summer and those plants will hang on till the conditions change. So, it is the ability to hang on, rather than be tolerant of drought, that is what we are after.

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A Californian summer-dry garden photographed by Saxon Holt credit: http://www.summer-dry.com

I like the cut of their gib, as we say.  I am following their site and learning from their words- altogether great.  If anyone reads this blog who could help me get a copy of the book, I would be ever so grateful, please get in touch.

Meantime, back in Tostat, I am looking out at the area of garden that I planted up last Spring and kept going through the summer with a spot of judicious watering, and I have a feeling of confidence about it. I had chosen the planting carefully for it’s ability to hang on without summer water, and I think next summer, it will be in good shape.  New growth has been happening in a serious way for almost all the plants- most of which I had grown from seed, and so I may be on the way with it.  Of course, nothing is guaranteed, we could get a killer winter for example, so I have taken cuttings of the Salvias, ‘Phyllis’ Fancy’, ‘Amistad’ and ‘Anthony Parker’.  The latter is still flowering and still outside in a pot, though I will bring it into the covered, but open, barn at the end of the week when colder nights are forecast.

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The still gorgeous, if touched by frost, purple calyxes of Salvia ‘Anthony Parker’, Tostat, November 2016

I can feel a swing coming on- planting up seed indoors, taking cuttings, tidying up pots, ripping out old friends (plants) who have become too friendly…a swing towards next year, and another set of seasons in the garden.  Come on….

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Chrysanthemum ‘Chelsea Physic Garden’ just touched by frost, Tostat, November 2016
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Rosa ‘Jacqueline du Pre’, Tostat, November 2016