Optimist Posted on August 4, 2019

When we started The Garden for the R.H.S in 1975 I hoped we could keep track of notable gardens and gardeners wherever they were. My model was The Gardener’s Magazine that JC Loudon and his wife Jane (less often mentioned) kept going for nearly thirty years. Those were the days of epic correspondence, when the Duke of Wellington as Prime Minister wrote dozens of letters every day, each one considered, polite and stylish. What pygmies we are with our emails and texts.

The Loudons had correspondents in most European countries, in America and as far away as Australia. Just asking friends to keep in touch with news items got me nowhere; I should have known that only journalists recognize news as apt for publication when it comes their way. All the more credit, then, to Richard and Gillian Mawrey, who try in a modest way to do a Loudon with their Historic Gardens Review (www.historicgardens.org) twice a year, with garden news from round the world. The July 2019 issue covers topics in Athens, Zagreb, London, Madrid, Normandy, Croatia, Korea, the Italian Lakes, 18th century France, park budgets in Britain, apples in California, the legacy of John Ruskin, the Boboli Gardens, Amsterdam, Bulgaria, Yorkshire, Brandenburg, Australia and Brussels. Even the Loudons would have been impressed, most of all by the Mawreys’ news columns, labelled ‘Optimist’ and ‘Pessimist’, reporting efforts at conservation against odds.

At the same time I received an impressive new book from savebritainsheritage.org that should cheer everyone who despairs at the slash and burn tactics of so many developers. The incomparable Marcus Binney has written accounts of successful conversions of difficult historic buildings to modern uses. If St Pancras station is the most obvious example (who would have given the massive pile in all its Victorian elaboration any prospects?) there are a score of other vast institutions, the pride of their communities a century ago, despaired of since, that have found new uses. It has taken perseverance, persuasion, dogged determination and some extraordinary leaps of imagination to turn some near-impossible corners. But the buildings Binney describes stand, alive and occupied again. Gardens should in theory be relatively simple to save.

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