Sir Roy Strong entertained the Hay Festival with an account (characteristically dramatised) of how radically he has remade his Hereford garden, The Laskett, since his wife and gardening partner, Julia Trevelyan Oman, died in 2003. Their original plantings of the 1970s succeeded splendidly in creating a formal garden in a hurry. It celebrated their joint achievements and affections with disarming enthusiasm in a series of theatrical set pieces. The Strongs planted with gusto, not quite at the nine-inch spacing of my friend Dottie Ratcliff, but looking for dramatic effects – which they achieved in record time. This was before the full menace of the now-notorious Leyland cypress was well known.
We were faced with some of the same dilemmas at Saling Hall (where I remember Roy saying, as we sat under an apple tree after supper, one evening in 1972, ‘You know, Hugh, I think you’re on to something with this gardening lark’). But wewere far less bold. It was a predecessor’s cypresses (Lawson in those days, before Leylands) that we cut down. We never got round to many necessary radical revisions of our own planting plans – even when in one case they manifestly failed. The alley of Irish Junipers that at one point was our pride and joy died bit by bit of phytophthora. It’s subtle colour and texture was simply irreplaceable, so the walled garden lost its spine. Our policy on the rest was make do and mend, knowing that nature would take its toll unpredictably, and reacting ad hoc when a tree blew down or honey fungus claimed another victim. Visitors’ eyes were, I’m sure, less forgiving than our own.
What gardener does have a Plan B – Roy Strong apart?