Light reading

Piet OudolfI’m counting down the days before I get the chance to go back out into the garden. But in the meantime I thought you might like to see what I get up to in the London part of my life. Well, there’s research work. Paid. And research work. Passion.

And that will be gardening. So here are a few images of the tomes I have borrowed from the many libraries I belong to here in the capital.

I cling on to my Westminster library card as they have a very active book buying policy. And there’s very little that dates faster than the visual imagery in garden books. Well, if you’ve ever found a cookbook from the 1980s you will know what I mean. Fashion is rife even in gardening and cooking. Resilient Garden

From there I borrowed the much yearned for Resilient Garden. Why? Because the author gardened in both Australia and Britain, and I thought I had an affinity, not to mention affiliation with the plants she would probably write about.

Carol KleinWas I disappointed? Well, it could have done with an editor. It started well, but I found so much of the information vague and untested. And then there’s that fantastic moment of envy when you realise that she bought huge gardens that had already been beautifully designed and well maintained. And then there is just the usual Staff Envy.But that’s churlish. I did find some nuggets of information in the book, and will study my notes later.

My closest library – just a few hundred metres from home is sadly the smallest. But it was pleasing to find some books I borrowed almost five years ago: The Book of Garden Plans and Carol Klein’s Grow Your Own Garden. Garden Plans

I may be imagining it, but I think I was the only person who borrowed Klein’s wonderful book. I guess there isn’t much call for propagating penstemon plants or taking basal cuttings of phlox in central London.

And I only borrowed the Garden Plans book because I remembered a wonderful design group who did lovely big country gardens: Acres Wild.

But re-reading them was like meeting myself as a frantic and voracious but directionless gardener. I didn’t have a clue what I was doing. Apart from wanting what I saw. Without knowing what I had or how I could grow them. There is no way you can say to someone starting out ‘wait, wait and see’. You are so desperate to get started.

I am much more aware of garden magazines as just pretties. Impossibly beautiful gardens that are static moments in a garden’s life. And hard to emulate unless they are exactly the same as your own.

HobhouseIt’s a shame that Oudolf does not garden in Mediterranean climates. If he did, he wouldn’t be able to mass plant those fantastic huge colourful swathes that have everyone swooning.  The Oudolf book was a christmas present. And it’s fun to see how one of Europe’s greatest designers prepares his projects. But apart from some grasses, I can only look on the page and enjoy them for what they are. Garden fancies.

You could say the same for Penelope Hobhouse. Her sumptuous designs are all done on mighty grand scales, on very flat gardens, with huge budgets and very compliant clients. But I saw this book and thought I would borrow it again from another branch of Camden libraries. And discovered to my suprise that it was actually for sale. For one pound. Has knowledge ever come so cheap? I will enjoy reading it just to get some ideas and study her planting schemes for her big Italian projects. At least they are closer to the Ardeche reality than moist, high rainfall gardens in Holland and Denmark.Nicole de Vesian

So with all this circling about and having fun; there was one book that would suit. But it took a bit of searching.  The internet is the perfect place to browse the library catalogues.And I tracked down Louisa Jones’ biography (well, garden biography) of Nicole de Vesian at the Royal Horticultural Society’s library at Vincent Square.

La LouveThe library (heaven on earth) was damaged in a fire last year and is still yet to open. Apparently it wasn’t the fire that did the most damage, but the water sprinklers that came on automatically to stop the fire. And ruined so many books.They have been restoring like mad and hope to open in summer. But in the meantime you order online, email the librarian, name your date and scuttle to the huge Society’s door and get handed your books in plastic bags. It’s all madly furtrive. But when you can walk back home with such treasure, it’s worth the effort.

Nicole de Vesian was first of all a fashion designer, and only took up gardening in her 60s. She became a formidable gardener who created a jewel of a garden in the Luberon in the south of France. lavender fields

Positively next door! Well, hotter in summer and less cold in winter; but I’ve loved the images of the garden that I had seen in books and magazines and wanted to learn more.

La Louve 1I can’t say I have. The book is baffling and very thin on text, but the pictures are sumptuous and full of ideas. And she gardened on terraces; something I understand and very few people do.

I’m battling with ideas right now about how to design my little narrow terraces up near the shade garden into a more homogeneous whole. And looking at an image from the Resilient Garden gave me an idea.  It was a photo of a beautifully planted bed full of grasses, verbenas, perovskias and such, but it was the image of three discreet box balls planted at an angle almost out of shot that struck me. And brave de Vesian has enforced the idea that box balls need not be boring.

I have to wait until research funds come into my account before I get the chance to go shopping. And then it will be just the dread investment of yet more box balls. But don’t worry, I’m not going over to the topiary dark side.   But I just love the idea of evergreen plants. I can’t manage huge gardens that are just deserts of dead plants in winter. I am outdoors all year round and love having something to look at.

I have no idea if my current evergreen plants have survived this hard, hard winter. I will find out to my horror on Tuesday no doubt.  So I shan’t make a big plant investment until I see the ones I have huddling but alive from the coldest February in decades.