As a devourer of books, particularly gardening books, I seem to have an ever-revolving pile on my nightstand. My favourites are read again and again, a habit I have with any favourite book; I treat books like dogs and friends, if I enjoy them, I want to see more of them. Simple. People’s reading habits are so interesting; Mr. Moble cannot understand how I can re-read a book, he thinks it quite ridiculous. He is methodical with his reading and if I chat to him whilst he is concentrating, he will sigh and hold his finger on the spot.
Over time, I have subtly shifted my preference from those once favoured superb large volumes, bringing the world into my nodding dreams. It is not that I don’t love those gardens anymore, they are as entrancing as ever. Most likely it is because I find them too tiring to hold up at the end of the day. I think I am also looking for the gardener’s voice in a book now, so I particularly enjoy a gardening book written by or about the gardener.
Last year’s pick was Cruden Farm Garden Diaries by Michael Morrison and Lisa Clausen, recording the creation of that superb garden, its two incredible gardeners and their extraordinary friendship. It is inspiring, warm and draws you in to share the year in this Australian National Treasure. I believe his diaries have chronicled an important constant in the history and development of Australian gardening. Like the garden itself, the book is a joy to visit.
I have been enjoying another gardener’s story these last weeks, Celebrate the Seasons by Liz Chappell. Woven through the history and sculpting of some very beautiful New England gardens are the author’s plans and planning for her year ahead. Whilst I do not live in the New England, it still reminds you of the must-do garden tasks and that they must be done! There is an authenticity when the gardener shares their journey, you can plot out the development of the garden and landscape through the inspiring photography rather than being overwhelmed by the grandeur of the end results. Most gardens are a work in progress and take years, generations, to evolve. That is why they are not daunting to their own gardeners; they see them as parts of a whole. Large families are possibly similar; to an outsider they may see an overwhelming, terrifying rabble whereas a parent will see the children just going about their day. Quite possibly not notice anything at all.
If a gardener can travel, you can be sure they will want to see other gardens wherever they may end up. We are adept at adapting and the transplanting of garden ideas and culture as well as plants has enthralled the landscape world for thousands of years. Indeed, gardening has possibly been the most successful and consistent immigration wave in the history of the world.
We travelled last year to see some of our far-flung rabble, we had over time noticed that mealtimes were quieter and that some were missing. It was an extraordinary trip and we included visits to gardens I had read about and that had inspired me from afar for years. I was not disappointed on any level with any of them. We did not listen to the voices nearby that anguished over ‘what had finished’ and that ‘we should have been here last month’. We did not take photos with cameras the size of drainpipes nor make copious notes whilst standing in the middle of the path. I even refrained from telling the Head Gardener that her white borders were lacking, though we overheard someone determinably doing so. However, I did buy the National Trust booklet which gave us a map we ignored and a wonderful history of the garden and its creator which we loved.
Whilst we certainly enjoyed everything we had read about, we did find points of great interest that we felt had been somewhat overlooked by those avid garden writers. So, I will give you our three Sissinghurst Garden favourites you won’t read about in the literature nor, surprisingly, have I read about in my garden books:
- The lakes at the bottom of the garden have very clever wooden ramps for the dogs to use when they go swimming, so they don’t destroy all the water plants growing on the edges. Such a brilliant and practical idea for the English visitor who, quite naturally, takes his dog on a garden visit and then for a swim.
- Walk down to the massive old Elizabethan Barn and drink in the vista to the north viewed through open doorways. The Kent country side rolls out before you, a patchwork of straw, blue and green all painted in that soft English light and framed by the old barn. It is blissful.
- Walking back up from the Lakes, make sure you go through the intriguing wooden stile gates. We were very taken with them and their counter- weight ingenuity and as no one was around, could go back and forth through them for our sheer enjoyment. Perhaps not practical for Quilpie or our heavy gidyea rails, so we may not be transplanting that idea here anytime soon.
Happy gateways to your garden,
The Moble Gardener.