Signs of struggle Posted on July 31, 2010

What a garden like mine needs, I often think, is a sympathetic commentator, preferably a noted authority, to explain that my relationship with bindweed and creeping thistle is creative rather than despairing, and that the shredded branches marking the visits of muntjac are an assertion of my oneness with creation.

What prompts this thought? An article by Stephen Lacey on Waltham Place, the Oppenheimers’ garden inspired by the late Henk Gerritsen. ‘We tried to grow bindweed up a tripod’, Mrs Oppenhheimer is quoted as saying, ‘but it wasn’t having it’. So they yank it up to keep it down. Good. There’s something I’m doing right.

Order/disorder. It is the central paradox of gardening in the British manner. In its inherent tension lies half the appeal of garden visiting, and most of the judgement call of the County Organizer.

Read Tony Woodward, whose bizarre ambition to get his incipient Welsh mountain garden into the Yellow Book is the pretext for The Garden in the Clouds, his bid to become the Peter Mayle of Wales. He has just moved into what sounds like a routinely scruffy farmhouse. The challenge: to persuade Mrs Kerr of the N.G.S. that his dry pond and collection of rusty machinery has an aesthetic integrity (or what you will); that it is, in fact, a garden. More specifically, as far as the N.G.S. is concerned, that it is worth £3.50 and forty five minutes of anyone’s time.

Which is surely the point, and brings us back to the inherent question of art.

If the answer is obvious: that you don’t have a clue, weeds are in control and you are growing clichés incompetently, there is no deal. Ditto if you can clip straight hedges and mow lawns, plant tulips and prune roses – but that’s it. People (a few) will applaud your industry, but the essential rapport will not be there.

To rattle the honesty box and fill 45 minutes you need a story: a touch of drama or at least some sign of a struggle. It is why we grow climbers up trees, let plants overlap paths, coat walls with leafage. What is hard needs softening, what is confused, simplifying. Yin needs yang.

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