My latest gardening book purchase has arrived – ‘Natural Selection’ by Dan Pearson. It is a collection of writings again, Pearson’s columns from the Observer over a ten-year span. I thought it would be excellent long-haul reading for we are off again in a fortnight. As New Zealanders, we fly longer and further than any other country in the world that I know of (except maybe Russia?). But it is too heavy to be wanting to cart around the world so I dipped into the month of June. Indulge me while I quote the first paragraph I read:
“The meadows are at their best in June, eclipsing the failing foliage of spring bulbs and fraying the edges of the fields. I’ll mow a path for contrast and ease of access and, for a while, I feel that is all I ever want of a garden. An environment gently steered, but a place that has a will of its own and infinite complexity.”
I was entranced by the gentle lyricism from this man who is a first-rate plantsperson as well as a leading designer. It is a rare combination but you will have to wait until I have read more for more detail. The author first came to our notice back in 2006 . I say 2006 because that is when we were watching a series that starred him visiting gardens around the world. I see the programmes actually dated back to 1997 (called Dan Pearson: Routes around the World) – there is nothing more likely to make you feel that you are living in an isolated backwater than it taking NINE YEARS for a television series to reach this land. Fortunately, You Tube has dragged us into the modern times and I have got to grips with Chromecast so these days I can screen last week’s BBC Gardeners’ World on our TV. It has taken a little to adjust to the sudden leap forward of several years. Monty and Nigel have both aged a little and Nigel the Dog’s replacement is already on the scene. Longmeadow is looking ever more tightly groomed. But I digress. Back to Dan Pearson. He is a leading practitioner of the New Perennials movement (or naturalistic gardening or a return to the soft-edged romantic garden style – call it what you will). We are genuinely excited that we are able to see some of his work – both private and public – on our trip in a couple of weeks’ time.
Alas, this week saw a fall from our grace for another British gardening celeb. This is old news – but only three years old so the transmission of information is getting faster. Alan Titchmarsh supports UKIP. You could have knocked us down with a feather. And fox-hunting and the politics of envy along with Britain for the British but Scotland must remain united with England no matter what the Scots think. Oh that’s right, and women whinge and of course there is no injustice in the way older women are discriminated against in key presenting roles on television.
I did not need to know all this. I had always nursed some respect and a fondness for Alan Titchmarsh, even forgiving him his somewhat whining voice (ha!) as a television presenter while blenching at some definite aberrations in good taste. The first gardening book I ever read was possibly the first of many (many, many) gardening books he wrote – ‘Avant-Gardening. A guide to one-upmanship in the garden’ (1984). It is still witty and quotable, to the extent that when I saw it for sale in a second hand bookshop on the island of Patmos (where John the Apostle received his revelation) a few years ago, I bought a second copy for a friend. It was a totally wasted gift, as it turned out, but these latest revelations about Titchmarsh make me feel better about that.
It is one thing when a garden celeb like NZ’s Maggie Barry goes into Parliament as an MP for a mainstream party, although she may have lost more fans than she has gained in the time since. UKIP* is something different altogether. When Titchmarsh praised Nigel Farage for “saying what a lot of … politicians are frightened of saying”, he was not only spouting populist cliché. He appears to not comprehend that civilisation is but a thin veneer and some things are best left unsaid.
Why, you may ask, are we so focused on overseas garden media? Alas New Zealand television gardening appears not to have moved on from those awful gimmicky make-overs of the 90s and sponsorship dominates and intrudes on the programme content (here’s looking at you, Tui Products and, to a lesser extent, Yates). As for books, the local market is very small and the number of gardening books published are few. I can’t recall seeing a NZ gardening book worth buying since Lynda Hallianan’s “Back to the Land” five years ago and that was a book of its time, rather than a classic. Ponder, maybe, about what happened to garden writing in our newspapers. That is one media outlet that could have continued to foster local interest without the costs that come with television and books. But sadly, it is clearly not a priority these days in this country.
For us, the international perspective gives a wider view on the world of gardening that we can not get from NZ sources.
If you like a wry writing style, read Quentin Letts on Alan Titchmarsh and the horror of wooden decking. “He was so outraged by my impertinence — I had attacked a national treasure! — that he invited me on to his afternoon TV chat programme, where I was subjected to a show trial that would not have discredited Maoist China.”
*UKIP – the United Kingdom Independence Party is on the hard right in the mould of Marine Le Pen and the National Front in France. Fortunately, we do not have an equivalent that wields any influence in this country where we are more likely to describe this as fascism and white supremacy.