Being a ‘good’ gardener

People today garden for a whole host of reasons – as a hobby, a delight in horticulture generally, exercise, well-being and being out of doors, to grow their own produce – but, historically at least, gardening has also been seen as a highly moral activity.

By the end of the 19th century the garden was advocated as a way of keeping the working classes away from the public house, where they could be usefully engaged in a more wholesome and productive activity. William Hogarth’s cartoons of ‘Beer Street’ and ‘Gin Lane’ are visual reminders of the conditions which were a cause of concern.

William Hogarth's cartoon of Beer Street and Gin Lane (1751)
Beer Street and Gin Lane (1751)

John Claudius Loudon (1783 – 1843) championed the creation of public parks to improve both the mental and physical health of working people, so that ‘the pale mechanic and exhausted factory operative might inhale the freshening breeze and some portion of recovered health’.[1] It was Joseph Strutt who picked up on these ideas and put Loudon’s vision into practice to create the Derby Arboretum in 1840. Strutt was very clear on the rationale behind this work: to wean people away from the ‘brutalising pleasures’ they might seek elsewhere and to offer them a new form of ‘rational enjoyment’. In Edinburgh recreation in a park was thought to be a solution for drunkenness and in the Midlands it was thought to lead to a decrease in crime rates.

‘In 1919 the Conservative MP for Chelmsford was reconciled to spending money on housing by the thought that good garden plots would ensure that when the man of the house got home at night “he will find not only a healthy family, but healthy occupation outside where they can go and work together as a family”’.[2] A well maintained garden was also viewed as an indication of a well maintained (and thus moral household). As late as the 1920s and 1930s inspectors were employed to visit the gardens of council estates to ensure that they were being kept tidy.

Vija

[1] Loudon, J.C. (1822) Encyclopaedia of Gardening.

[2] Floud, R. (2019) An Economic History of the English Garden, Penguin Books, p247.

A view of my garden is an excellent tonic!

Since my recent spinal surgery I have been frustratingly incapacitated. However who would not be cheered-up and consoled by a view like mine? From a prone position on my living room sofa I look out, through a huge glass sliding door, onto a beautiful panorama of colourful flowers. I had worked so hard in spring to prepare the garden knowing that my operation would put me out of action for a while.

Viv's garden

Looking from the sofa my eyes encounter the patio first, which is packed with pots of pelargoniums, lilies, geraniums, dahlias, fuchsias and a huge hanging basket overflowing with lemon -scented begonias. As I write I lament the denuding of our lemon tree outside the window, which bore 18 ripe, juicy lemons in early summer. I can’t complain, however, as my husband and I have enjoyed the fruits of its bounty in the form of 36 gin and tonics on many warm summers evenings!!

Soft grey patio pavers slope down from the patio onto a small lawn, it’s curved edges lined, on every side, with colourful flower beds. Although I have been cursing the snails, which have been devouring most of the annuals that I grew in the spring, they have at least left abundant golden rudbeckia and fluffy blue ageratum which tumble merrily onto the lawn.

Viv's garden

It’s a real delight to take a morning stroll (or hobble) around the borders to discover what has come into flower each new day. I have been thrilled with my new Alstroemeria ‘Indian Summer ‘ that are in full bloom right now. Hugh and I were so impressed when we spotted them growing on Wisley’s trial beds, that I came home to order them that very evening.

Beyond the alstroemeria, Geranium ‘Rozanne’ never fails to impress with masses of rich blue flowers from June to October. They create an excellent foil for Rudbeckia and blue spires of Perovskia beyond.  I’m so proud to have grown 6 different colours of Phlox this year. My latest addition, called Phlox ‘Blue Paradise’ is an incredible purplish blue. It’s just  wonderful!

Viv's garden

Towering flame orange Tithonia (Mexican Sunflowers), Cosmos ‘Purity’, Helianthus ‘Lemon Queen’ and evening primrose all add excitement and height at the back of the borders. Fortunately each bed is so jam-packed that there is not much room for weeds!

The only problem is… it’s snail & slug heaven! I have been shocked to find that this year’s snails must be a super-breed with jaws strong enough to eat through the hairy tough stems of sunflowers( all of them!!)

A tantalising glimpse of a brick-paved area and vegetable patch can be seen through an arch beyond the lawn. Today Hugh re-potted his banana tree and it can now be seen waving it’s huge leaves behind the bird bath in the middle of the brick circle. I can just about glimpse the scarlet flowers on the runner bean canes in our miniature veg plot on the far side of the brick circle, reminding me to ask Hugh to keep picking the veg for dinner each day. The enormous cucumbers (‘Swing’ F1) have been a real surprise this year. I grew them up a vertical support for them just before going into hospital and so many have grown in a few weeks just from one plant in one pot!

Well, I could carry on like this for ever. I haven’t even mentioned my new shade border with 4 newly purchased, remarkable clematis. (the best has turned out to be one called ‘Pernille’) My enthusiasm for my garden never wanes! Unfortunately the same cannot be said of my stamina which is being curtailed by too many painkillers currently.

Although I could not join  you all in Charlton House garden for the first real live meeting since Covid struck, I will be thinking of you all and hoping that the evening goes well.

Recovery from my op can take months but I am determined to bounce back in record time so wish me luck. Anyway how could I fail to recover quickly when I can see the biggest incentive outside my window?

Viv

Early November blog

It has become a bit of a truism to say that gardens and open green spaces have become a lifeline to many during 2020. A survey examining life under lockdown as measured by Natural England’s People and Nature Survey, conducted in May 2020 found the following:

Our own project to renovate the Old Pond Garden at Charlton House has shown that many volunteers have appreciated the opportunity to get out into the open air and to be with other people. It has become the perfect community project.

Sue Stuart-Smith’s (many gardeners may be more familiar with her husband Tom Stuart-Smith, the garden designer and Chelsea gold winner) ‘The Well Gardened Mind’ was published earlier this year. Sue Stuart-Smith is a prominent psychiatrist and psychotherapist and her book examines neuroscience and psychoanalysis in the context of gardening and makes a strong claim for the benefits of gardening for mental well-being. Monty Don has long argued for the role of the garden in relieving depression and several episodes of Gardener’s World have featured individuals whose lives have been supported by the activity of gardening.

Gardens do not stand still; they are dynamic and ever-changing environments. Gardeners are always planning and looking forward. At the moment many of us, if we haven’t already done so, are ordering our bulbs for next spring. I am thinking about colour combinations (again) and I have a plan to move around my dahlias and make room for new varieties. On another recent visit to Great Dixter there was a stunning variety which, on enquiry, turned out to be Dovegrove. If I can find a supplier, I would like to include this in my borders next year.

Dahlia Dovegrove in borders at Great Dixter, Oct 2020
Dahlia Dovegrove in borders at Great Dixter, Oct 2020
And this is how Elizabeth von Arnim felt about looking forward to the spring!
Quotation from "Elizabeth and her German Garden"
Quotation from “Elizabeth and her German Garden”
And so we look forward to the next year.

Vija

Gardening for health

Monty Don has always been a keen exponent of the health benefits of gardening, in particular its effect on the not so quiet mind. I have recently read that some hospitals have introduced ‘secret gardens’ where patients recovering from the Coronovirus are taken for periods every day, even in drizzling rain, for the beneficial effects. And, of course, this week it is Gardens and Health Week, sponsored by the NGS with Rachel de Thame as its Ambassador. The NGS website has various links to the personal stories of people for whom gardens have played a vital role in their recovery.

V May blog 1

Also recently published is Sue Stuart-Smith’s (wife of the garden designer Tom Stuart-Smith) book, ‘The Well Gardened Mind: Rediscovering Nature in the Modern World’, in which she points out the pleasures of growing and nurturing things and argues for a ‘greening’ of all of our lives.

Despite exhortations to sit and enjoy our gardens, I think keen gardeners often don’t do that! But this spring there has been one thing that has brought me joy every time I look at it! In the autumn I bought a collection of ‘ tulips for a window box’. When it came to planting them, I decided the window box was too small, so I jammed  them all into a pot. The three varieties are absolute beauties and even now they are fading are still immensely lovely.

V May blog 2

I rarely sit outside,  but I am greeted by them every morning when I have breakfast.

At the end of my garden I have a Clematis ‘Freckles’ which flowered constantly through the winter. However, I only saw this when I ventured further down the garden. I have resolved to plant something which gives me such pleasure closer to the house where I can see it even in inclement weather. In these unusual and difficult times, let us take pleasure where we can.

The tulips are Double Early and Double Lates: Anthracite, Copper Image and Dream Touch.

Vija