The Bad Tempered Gardener Hardcover – May 1 2011
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This book is refreshing for being resolutely contrarian. The author's searing honesty will earn instant respect from many readers - we have all felt like the chapter headed 'I hate gardening', but few of us admit it. The Garden
About the Author
Anne Wareham has been living and gardening in the Welsh borders with her husband Charles Hawes for over thirty years. She has written occasional pieces for the Financial Times on gardens since 1998 and accompanying articles to Charles Hawes' photographs in magazines such as The English Garden and Gardens Illustrated. She contributed a chapter to the Frances Lincoln book Vista and is a founder member of thinkingardens, set up with the support of the RHS to encourage and develop a broader, more enquiring attitude to gardens.
Charles Hawes' photographs of gardens regularly appear in the best gardening magazines. He has won several prizes in the annual RHS open photography competition, and was an exhibiting finalist in the 2008 International Garden Photographer of the Year Competition. He supplied all the photographs in Stephen Anderton's recent book Discovering Welsh Gardens, shortlisted for a 2009 Garden Media Guild award.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Anne isn't well known in the US, but in her home UK she has a reputation for stirring up quite a storm of controversy. She questions the status quo, the veneer of complacency that permeates the gardening world, the unspoken rule that one can say only polite things about gardens, never be critical or even honestly analytical. She annoys people--and many are important people in the British gardening firmament. Anne does have the manner of the elephant in the china shop, which she readily admits.
She also sees the gardening media as being complicit in all this. Not to say they are evil; they need to sell books, magazines, TV shows, and of course everyone wants to see pretty garden pictures; almost no one wants serious discussion or critical analysis; this is a sign of our times. Anne is one of the few, apparently, who is bothered greatly that gardening is relegated to an irrelevant place in our culture. She asks why that is. She apparently can't stop herself from wildly gesticulating and pointing lewdly when she sees the Emperor walking naked in the street.
Anne Wareham takes "The Garden" seriously. She wants the garden to return to the important position it held in past times and cultures. I think she's on to something: the diminished importance of the garden as an artistic and moral work in our culture--now viewed as a hobby, like making model airplanes, or at the opposite extreme, as an expensive trophy of the wealthy--is a symptom of something out of kilter at a much deeper level. (I should admit my bias here; I'm on her side of this issue.)
A miscellany in the good sense, with a bit of biography, soul searching, garden history, media criticism, funny stories ("I hate gardening"), all presented as a series of generally chronological essays, varying widely in subject and tone, it's just the kind of book you can dip into at any time of day or night; great for commuters. A collection of thematically related essays, generally covering the making of her garden, The Veddw, on the border of Wales, The Bad Tempered Gardener, to my mind belongs with a group of fine, lesser known works, some classics. At the moment only a handful immediately come to mind, and they are all personal and idiosyncratic in some way--Eleanor Perenyi's Green Thoughts: A Writer in the Garden, though you would probably have a hard time imagining two more different sensibilities, Mirabel Osler's A Gentle Plea for Chaos, likewise a vastly different style and voice from Anne's, G. F. Dutton's Some Branch Against the Sky. They may disappear from sight for long periods, then be found again, bob to the surface on some metaphorical seashore, perhaps to be republished, or used copies will be ordered from Amazon or Ebay. They're like messages in bottles, simply there in the mass of garden media "noise," carrying messages that may be found by like minds in the future, perhaps to spark new ideas at a more propitious time.
As I was looking through the latest issue of Gardens Illustrated this week, I was wowed by the photos, but the text hardly registered as anything more than a neutral ground against which to display the photos. Even when I read an article, I was left thinking, `What's the point of this?' Perhaps someone designed, or had someone else design, a beautiful garden, but to what end? A few pleasant places to sit? Pretty vistas and plant pictures? Dramatic allees of hornbeams or pristine topiary? A spectacular display of garden talent? Why is there no consistent concern with meaning, with aspiration for making something more than pretty gardens?
There's no slickness in The Bad Tempered Gardener, no "garden porn," though Charles Hawes' small garden photos give us helpful windows into The Veddw. I think of the glossy garden magazines, innumerable books displaying the gardens of the wealthy or famous--all surface glitter, stimulating unrealistic aspiration among the less well-to-do, giving The Garden a romantic glow but no meaning beyond the appreciation of a well designed stage set.
We need more books full of words about gardens. This one is funny, annoying, stimulating, and immensely sad. Please read it with an open mind and see if you don't find much to think on.
She also offers advice about specific plants, but living in a damp but mild British climate, much of her advice will not be applicable to North American gardeners. (For instance, tulips rot in the ground there, unlike during the hot, dry summers of the Midwest.)
However, her garden design advice is excellent. One of her curmudgeonly opinions concerns the difference between a collection of miscellaneous plants and a garden that has been designed to look a certain way on purpose. She rails against the plant collectors, and it's true that the gardens of "plantsmen," who are invariably held in high esteem, are usually only interesting to other collectors of those specific plants. Her main advice: fewer kinds of plants in larger quantities - good advice, although hard to follow if you love to go plant shopping.
She also discusses garden philosophy, asking the bigger questions: What do gardens mean? Why do we garden? Are our gardens for ourselves or for others? In this vein, she points out that our desire to make gardens is tied up with issues of death and dying, contemplating what happens to our gardens when we leave them or when we ourselves die. All thoughtful gardeners have pondered these questions and she is right to bring them up, despite the determined cheeriness of those in the garden industry.
I found interesting her discussion, from the point of view of someone in the garden media as a writer, of the close relationship between garden media and garden industry retailers and manufacturers. The industry pays for advertising, supporting garden magazines and general newspapers, etc. and this leads to articles targeting mostly beginner gardeners who know nothing, because they are the ones who will buy equipment, not experienced gardeners who already have it all.
But the most important idea in her book is her criticism of the garden industry and garden media for "dumbing down" the discussion of gardens and garden design. It is very bad form in the UK (unpublishable really) to criticize any garden that is open to the public. Especially since most gardens in the UK are open to raise money for charities in the National Gardens Scheme. This is an extremely touchy subject, and her garden was recently delisted from the NGS in response to her newspaper article criticizing the NGS for its detrimental effect on the overall quality of British gardens.
She believes, probably rightly, that this reluctance to criticize has held back garden design from becoming a serious art form, like visual art, film and literature are serious arts.
Of course, as a nice Midwesterner, I recoil from the idea of discouraging anyone from gardening by offering hurtful comments about their efforts. When you criticize a person's garden, you are criticizing her home, her personal taste and her competency as a gardener. Snobbish, "expert" judgment of well-meaning amateurs is not what is needed.
Perhaps instead there needs to be a more clear division between serious/professional-level gardens and recreational gardens in the UK. Both could still be open for charities and plant sales and cream teas (all good things), but the needed criticism could be reserved for National Trust gardens and those of professional designers or others who designate themselves experts. A middle ground, perhaps?
Altogether a well-written, interesting book. I read it from cover to cover, something that I feel isn't always necessary with garden books, of which I own close to a thousand. Although one thing that would have increased the pleasure of reading the book would have been larger photos of Veddw - the excellent photos by Wareham's husband, a professional garden photographer, were just too tiny to be glorious.
I highly recommend this book for gardeners, garden designers and writers, and people interested in British gardens.