Archives for the month of: January, 2011

So, you have a moderately successful Indian restaurant in the pleasantly time-warped Somerset town of Minehead.

What’s the best way to drum up some business?

I know.
Why not position a 2 metre high basket filled with polyanthus on the seafront, with your name on a plaque on the front.

That should do it.

As part of an artistic get-together by the lovely Myvillages collective I visited the hometown of that talented-but-pervy polymath Eric Gill, Ditchling. He invented the Gill Sans font – a personal favourite – but one had better draw a veil (or a smock, in his case) over some of his incestuous goings-ons…

I digress.
Whilst wandering around this archetypal English village (Farrow & Ball-painted shop fronts, plasma-screen filled pub, boy racers) I loved this tightly clipped hedge (lowly and under-rated hawthorn, I think) sinking exquisitely and harmoniously into the beautifully simple cleft wood fence.

Clearly, none of the ‘officials’ in my nearest village (Coniston) has seen any reason to rejuvenate this award winning hanging basket since its glory days in 2005.

Here’s a glorious palm (I think, a Butia) in a majestic solo performance outside a Council housing block in the East End of London.

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Adam’s face in this photo speaks volumes – like arriving at the Glastonbury Festival, we parked with gazillions of ‘the grey pounds’ in a now-ruined field, before filing patiently into the modest steading around this complex and experimental garden.

There were inept child pipers entertaining the hordes, and I always enjoy that kind of thing. Our fellow visitors unintentionally ruined our trip – and us theirs, of course. Between their Goretex and fleece we caught glimpses of the sculpted green-ness of what reads largely as a mausoleum for Jencks’ late wife Maggie, whose family home we’re at. The famousearthwork reads to me as a garden for a bereaved man, and all the better for that.

But I found myself pondering how constant the sound of mowing must be to keep this feature (too modest a term really) trim, assuming sheep are not grazed upon it. Perhaps, like an Edwardian country gent, Jencks’ insists this happens when he’s off in town.

I’ve never visited Ian Hamilton Finlay’s Little Sparta, but from its plentiful photographic documentation I perceive a problem similar to that encountered with Jencks’: the discomfort of text within the garden. For some reason, I find text – whether factual, memorial, ironic or sloganeering – to beas much of a diversion in the landscape as it is in the art gallery.

In clearings around the main suite of garden ‘rooms’, you find many rather unsuccessful experiments in design or material use, and even some rather conventional, finely-kept borders of – wait for it – flowers and shrubs. I enjoyed all of these. Seldom does one get to visit a private garden which retains such a feeling of the passing stylistic and conceptual interests of its maker. So, it may result in an awful 1980’s Po-Mo folly, or too many mazes, but our forebears will likely sweep away our ‘mistakes’ in good time, so there’s no need for us to do it ourselves in some dreadful revisionist attempt.
Why not, like a collector of fine antiques, content oneself with allowing a little dust to gather on our more youthful passions, kept in their own cupboard in the less-visited room of the house? Jencks’ many gardens can be read as a diary of someone with much going on outside his interest in horticulture.

Recovering from the extensive meander around the gardens, we had tea and noticed this beguiling rock and binbag arrangement.

In some of the remote Western Isles of Scotland, it’s customary to build a spanking-new double glazed bungalow adjacent to the tumbledown, picturesque one of your ancestors. You move, and use the old gaff for sheep or your old car.
In Ireland, I remembered this when noticing – one several occasions – the siting of a quaint miniature evocation of your forefathers’ hovel, slap bang on the front lawn of your new hacienda.

 

Commonplace Western assumptions about Japanese gardens focus on a restrained and dreamlike fusion of raked gravel, rocks and dwarf bonsai trees. In fact, on my travels outside the main cities I rarely saw what we might even call a ‘garden’, any useful land being used for growing vegetables or rice, perhaps with the odd mophead hydrangea punctuating a driveway entrance. The application of traditional Japanese aesthetics is pretty much restricted to temple and public gardens, domestic gardens being  – as Western ones – multifunctional family spaces for parking, storeage and play as well as horticulture.

I loved this collection of exquisite and accomplished bonsai trees – some probably well over 50 years old judging by their girth – casually and efficiently displayed on stacked beer crates by the roadside. (With thanks to Nina Pope for the photo)

This beauty was spotted outside a little local garden centre outside Knutsford, which if you’re not from round here is a Manchester-y town best known for its notorious ‘service’ station on the M6 motorway.

So there I am buying a modest tray of autumn leek seedlings when we nearly reverse the car in to this – about 4 phallic metres of bedding plants somehow maintained in perfect condition in a fully 3D you-know-what-shape.
WTF?

Now, with maturity comes an appreciation of what the Victorians did for us, and along with bridges and kedgeree I am increasingly fond of civic and domestic bedding displays with their 2 fingers to sustainable gardening fashion and old-fashioned aesthetic common sense.
Bless the maker of this vast vertical flower bed, with all his optimism and green-fingers. But somehow it just wasn’t enough to see our team of ‘the country’s thickest millionaires’ (as Charlie Booker so kindly put it) through…

I could write acres about this elegiac and inspiring museum collection of historic rescued rural buildings of all kinds from Denmark and Sweden. The structures are faithfully reconstructed inside and out across a large site which is landscaped and farmed in sympathy with the age and context of this remarkable collection. It’s free to get in, and if you visit, plan a whole day and take a packed lunch for recovering after room upon room of exquisite aged decor to make Jocasta Innes weep.

I digress. Though most of the saved buildings are the vernacular, working-class dwellings and workplaces of farmers, fisherfolk and shepherds (such as this seaweed-thatched cottage from a coastal region), a few originate from higher-status estates. This peculiarly sculptural folly is one such structure, heavily thatched and clad in reeds on all elevations, and looking a lot more Japanese than Danish.