Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Hummelo & Beyond

Hello everybody! It's been a while. Obviously, there have been some recent occupational changes that have kept me much busier, and what with loads of other things happening, I haven't had much time to write a blog post. However, a few days off over the Xmas period, a re-reading of the wonderful Oudolf story (Hummelo) plus reading Michael King (The Perennial Garden) and Mien Ruys has nudged me back up to my study and back on to blogger.

In case you didn't know already, much of my horticultural interest has always centred around the philosophical/artistic movements that underpin the changes we often see evolving, either within garden design or in how we choose to interpret landscapes. For example, you don't have to be a landscape academic to have noticed how radical changes in garden history have tended to either reflect the artistic movement of the day or have acted in a kind of counter rebellion towards certain social or cultural upheavals: the arts and crafts movement, for example, reacting against (what was seem as) the mechanisation of human artistic skill and ability. The industrial revolution in other words.

        Long Barn - Where Vita first practised her art 
Therefore, in recent years, my own horticultural interest has developed into more of a curiosity as to why, and how, gardens and the designed landscape make me feel the way they do, and what exactly are those feelings?

So these days, whenever I visit a garden, I do so consciously trying to keep an open mind, questioning the overall effect the garden is having on me and whether that effect is by design, is somehow being shared by the majority of visitors, or being experienced by me, and me alone?

When studying literature many years ago, I realised that, to a very large extent, there is 'probably' no real intrinsic meaning to any particular work of art, and that our interpretation of art (be that literature, painting, sculptor, garden design etc) is only ever seen through a uniquely personal, deeply complex and multi-layered filter: its contemporary cultural and historical context; our own conditioning, views and opinions and personal biases. So, to look at a garden and to derive any meaning from its design is a very personal experience.

The French literary critic and theorist Roland Barthes argued that the entire identity of the author should be ignored when reading and critiquing their work. After all, following the birth of a story it is then surely only its adoptive parents who can give any meaning or purpose to that creation. Upon completion, the author is truly dead and their work is delivered to the world to begin its unique journey. I also have my doubts as to whether even the author is ever truly able to tell us of its true and proper meaning.

So, to bring this back to horticulture then! I am currently very interested in what has provoked such a change in contemporary garden design, and how/why this has come about? I am fascinated by the Oudolf story. He is, after all, the first person in garden/planting design to achieve such global adulation. Both him and his designs have achieved worldwide fame, with his work being critically acclaimed wherever he goes: the Lurie Garden in Chicago, The High Line in New York: Trentham, Scampston & Wisley in this country... and countless others across the globe!

Of course, I am not so naïve as to believe that what he has achieved has been done in complete isolation: he has had his influences no doubt, and has probably been helped a little along the way also. However, I do believe that you make your own luck in this world and that he deserves all the praise and recognition he gets. He is a true living horticultural legend.

It seems to me that some of Piet's genius (only 'some' mind) was being able to blend influences taken from a very Germanic way of planting with over 100 years of our very own cottage garden (arts and crafts) style of gardening. Then, add into this mix the landscape of the North American Prairies to give it a certain amount of solidity, structure and beauty. Then, add the man himself: his vast plant knowledge, and his vision of art and beauty. Put all this together and Voila! You've gotta love that man! 

Now, I know very little about this entire Dutch movement! However, all I do know is that I have been kind of blessed to have been alive during this time and to have witnessed this change in contemporary garden design. Because, let's be honest, apart from the odd horticultural fad... (think 1970's heathers & conifers - on second thoughts, don't!!)... for around 100 years now, we here in the UK have been kind of stuck with a certain way of gardening and designing our borders, and although there have been some exceptional gardens and garden designers (Beth Chatto, Dixter, Jellicoe, etc)  we have long been staring at borders not too dissimilar from those of Gertrude Jekyll's of the early 1900's.

Typical English  Arts & Crafts border
Now, although commentators continually announce the death of the new perennial/naturalistic way of planting, I can't really see this changing any time soon. Now we have borders that combine long-lasting sturdy perennials which change constantly throughout the seasons. These ever-increasing, clump-forming stalwarts combine perfectly with many popular grasses, and together with tall, natural-looking annuals being used as dot plants, you have the start of a very naturalistic and contempoary-looking border. Add to this a skillful use of spring and summer bulbs - to give interest during that short period when you do have to finally break off all that deciduous growth - and what you have is a supreme guidance for designing borders with both sustainability and all-year-round interest at its very heart.

Drifts of Piet's Molinia grasses at Scampston

So, anyway... there you are! Like I say, I don't profess to know that much about the subject. I only wish that back in the 90's, instead of doing whatever it was I was doing back then, I wish I had journeyed to Holland and Germany and rubbed shoulders with the likes of Henk Gerritsen, Mien Ruys, Rob Leopold, Ernst Pagels and of course Piet himself. But then again, born in 1968, I also missed Beatlemania.... always the bridesmaid eh?

Piet's Salvia river at the Lurie Garden, Chicago

So anyway, if you do know of any information or good resources (books, nurseries or people - either at home or abroad)... then please do get in touch. Leave a comment or email. Alternatively, please feel free to pass this post on to anyone you felt might've been close to this movement or around at the time. If nothing else, then pass on my thanks to them.

'Thank them?'... for what for I hear you say! Well this sort of thing silly........!     

Until next time. Thanks for reading.



Le Jardinier.

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