Painting with Plants Posted on February 1, 2010

I envy analytical gardeners; those who can (or instinctively do) say “A bold upright there and there, a clump to balance them there, something big and jagged like a yucca over in the corner and a screen of something filmy up here near the terrace”.

You have to be a professional, I’m afraid, with a deadline facing you. Decisions must be made. Experience has told you that there is no uniquely right answer to any garden-planning question. So off you go: if you choose good plants and have a clear idea about colour there will never be a Chilcott Enquiry into how you reached your decision.

An amateur like me needs help, not just in coming to a decision (it’s probably too late for that) but in seeing the building blocks for what they are. Why am I verbalizing this? Because an old friend has come up with a formula that (maybe) fills my need.

Linden Hawthorne and I used to play at bookends with The Garden magazine. I was the first editorial page, Lin was the last. We didn’t exactly consult – we sort of responded to each other’s columns.

Lin is a professional, directing operations on the ever-developing grounds of the Storey estate in North Yorkshire. Have you noticed how properly-trained gardeners do things in an organized way that easily-distracted dilettantes can never manage? Her column done (at about the same time as mine came to an end) Lin turned to serious writing – and here you have it, in her book titled Gardening with Shape, Line and Texture. (She wanted to call it Painting with Plants.)

After laying down some fairly alarming first principles (alarming to me because they involve maths) she categorizes the world of (mainly herbaceous) plants by their garden stature, their overall shape and feel. This provides the structure for a list of what we use as ingredients, in the voice of a long-practised chef. There are many ways a gardening writer can string his or her (don’t you hate ‘their’?) experience into narrative. Lin’s list works because she recounts, quite crisply, how she uses each plant and how it behaves in real life.

So I have all the tools at my disposal. Next excuse?

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