Lagerfeld Rules – should he ever turn his attention to gardening

The man himself - Karl Lagerfeld (photo: Wikimedia Commons)

The man himself – Karl Lagerfeld (photo: Wikimedia Commons)

In honour of the now late Karl Lagerfeld, I recalled a piece I wrote back in April 2012 when I was still writing for The Waikato Times. I don’t usually republish, but I thought maybe it was acceptable at this time.

I admit I had never really registered Karl Lagerfeld until last week. Sydney daughter sent a little clip of his quotes. “Sweatpants are a sign of defeat. You lost control of your life so you bought some sweatpants.” Ouch. “Florals are for middle aged women with weight problems” and “Having adult children makes you look 100 years old. I don’t want that.”

I started to feel vulnerable until daughter pointed out to me that while I am upon occasion seen in public with one or more of my adult children (and isn’t Lagerfeld so right that it makes one look old?), she could not recall me wearing florals or sweatpants.

In case you are equally ignorant about Lagerfeld, think elderly German fashion designer, made his name with Chanel, now slim, white haired, permanently suntanned and always wears dark glasses. These days, his main claim to fame appears to be his capacity for pithy, outspoken comment. I could find no evidence whatever that Mr Lagerfeld has had anything to say about gardening. But let that not matter. Shamelessly putting words into his mouth, we started a meme: Karl Lagerfeld on gardening. This is what we consider he would be likely to say, should he ever turn his attention to botanical issues.

Only the real thing will do

Only the real thing will do

“If you can’t afford the real thing, then it is better to go without.” There would be nothing armless, legless or headless in Karl’s garden, especially nothing white unless he could persuade the British Museum to loan him some of the Elgin marbles. Reproduction classical just wouldn’t do.

“Never plant an avenue of the same tree unless you can afford to replace the lot should one ail. A gap in an avenue is like a toothless smile – engaging in children but an indication of lack of care in an adult.” Karl understands that when an established plant dies, it is almost always an indication of a problem below ground so there is no point in replacing like with like. The incoming plant will succumb to the same problem sooner rather than later. And avenues with gaps look, well, like avenues with gaps or a smile with missing teeth, really.

“Glazed blue pots are so last century. There is nothing aesthetic about a bright, shiny blue pot from Vietnam. Leave them to women who wear floral prints or straw hats adorned with fake flowers.”

“Buxus hedging,” declaims Karl with withering scorn, “is the polar fleece of the garden. Ubiquitous, utility but the comfort refuge of the unimaginative.” Harsh this may seem, but edging garden beds in rows of grassy plants gives rise to even stronger condemnation: “Reminiscent of crimplene trousers with elastic waists.”

Karl would put the not into knot gardens – as in advising not to be seen dead with one in your garden unless you have a European title (minor nobility is fine), live in Europe and can claim direct lineage to the design. Otherwise it is a knock-off copy and Karl does not do knock-off copies. Ever. Accordingly, he rejects chevron gardens, parterres, potagers, rills, canals and the like, unless you have the castle or palace to go with them. At the very least, a stately home is required.

Perhaps better than the toilet bowl recycled as a garden feature, but blue pots are problematic

Perhaps better than the toilet bowl recycled as a garden feature, but blue pots are problematic

“Unspeakable. I will say no more,” is his response to any toilet humour in gardens. He shudders in distaste at the thought that anybody, anybody at all, could ever think it was witty or clever to recycle an old toilet bowl as a plant container. In fact Karl is equally unimpressed with any efforts to recycle old baths, laundry tubs or other accoutrements as garden features. “We don’t have a bathroom in our dining rooms. Some things are best kept discreetly out of view at all times if you want to retain any mystique.”

When faced with the new breed of gardener who will only grow plants that are edible, Karl sniffs. “You might just as well say that you will only wear clothes that can be machine washed and never need ironing. Fashionistas would not be seen dead in polyester. Just as high end fabrics are used for high end clothing, so too are high end plants used for high end gardening. Some things exist because they are beautiful. That is enough. Broccoli is never beautiful.”

Long an advocate of the little black dress, Karl is only too well aware that the same little black dress on one woman will look like a shapeless sack whereas another will carry it off to perfection and on most men it will simply look silly. So too with gardening. “You cannot fake chic,” he says (yes he actually really did say that!) “Some do it with style. Others just follow the rules and it shows.”

“I am a fashion person, and fashion is not only about clothes – it’s about all kinds of change”. Karl is well used to ringing the changes, to leading the way. Not for him to slavishly copy and follow rules.

We will leave the penultimate comment to the man himself: “I’m very down to Earth, I’m just not from this Earth.” If he thought about it, he would be likely to add the advice that you should not think that just because you are working in your garden, trackpants or floral attire are acceptable.

First published in the Waikato Times and reprinted here with their permission.

14 thoughts on “Lagerfeld Rules – should he ever turn his attention to gardening

  1. ngamoko

    What a great post! You had me laughing out loud over my morning coffee. And to think I was contemplating purchasing some sweat pants for the winter. I’ll have to rethink that.

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      Glad it amused you. To my mortification, I worked out I DO own a pair of sweatpants for winter. Not only that, they are polar fleece sweatpants. The shame. The shame.

  2. babylongardensblog

    Well I bought some lovely french gumboots this year to try and smarten up my garden attire, no chance of getting trackies on with those as ,well my un-french legs didn’t leave any room for extra fabric or well any fabric in between me and my flash gumboots, love to see what he thinks is a fashionable garden.

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      Ah ha! I bought some Hunter Green wellies some years ago and carted them back from the UK. After all, they are what the royals wear on their estates. Same problem – very slender fit on the calves so I rarely wore them, no matter how stylish they were (buckles undone, of course). But it was all worth it when they were sitting outside my office and I heard two fraightfully well spoken women say to each other: “Oh, Hunter Greens…” I felt my social stock rose that day.

  3. ngamoko

    Hunter Green Wellies! I’m impressed. There’s no way my sturdy Kiwi calves could fit into those. I have to clomp around in my Red Bands.

      1. tonytomeo

        hmmmm . . . .
        All comments are correct, so I must approve. However, the two do not work for me got my attention.
        The comment about the monoculture of street trees is very accurate (and what really angers me when one resident of a suburban street cuts down a street tree) but it will not stop me from planting streets with the same species or cultivar. I really like formality.
        I happen to dislike the Japanese boxwood hedge, but I dislike the bony undersides of hybrid tea roses even more. Ideally, hybrid tea roses go into their own rose garden, where they can produce flowers outside of the rest of the landscape, where no one cares what the plants look like. However, for those who insist on putting them in the landscape, boxwood hedges are good for hiding their unsightly undersides, leaving the roses to stand above in the background.
        Comments that I can’t argue with? . . .
        Ha! In earthquake country, armless, leggless, and even headless is more tolerable. That is how the big statue of Saint Joseph at the Novitiate became the big statue of Saint John (the Baptist). Yet, fake is still bad.
        Gads! Glazed cobalt blue pots became tacky as quickly as the fad got started. I can not think of any reason to violate that recommendation.
        Also, knot gardens are as much of a joke as espaliered fruit trees that we expect our ‘gardeners’ to maintain . . . as if they know something about horticulture.
        Growing only edible is another joke. It sounds like a good idea, but who really eats that stuff? It is out there attracting rats and coons and . . . well, we won’t say that.
        There is one exception to the bathroom fixtures in the garden. I would like to grow a toilet full of trailing iceplant to wheel out to the middle of the front garden just before Brent Green (renowned Southern Californian landscape designer) arrives at my home (and then wheel back to its hiding place behind the barn promptly upon his departure).

      2. Abbie Jury Post author

        Easy! Stop growing hybrid teas. I think that is what is called a win-win.
        I wasn’t actually referring to street trees (which do usually look better when uniform) but to avenues in private gardens. My thinking is first and foremost related to private gardening, yours is more oriented to public landscape.

      3. tonytomeo

        OH! I should have predicted that response. I just can not give up my hybrid tea roses. They are not ‘totally’ evil. Perhaps they are merely . . . misunderstood.
        I think that uniform street trees were more practical decades ago when people respected them. No one cares now, and will cut down a tree in such a formal row of street trees just because they do not like it in front of their home. That is a common problem we have in Los Angeles, but we continue to plant them anyway. If the trees are not evenly spaced, the missing ones do not stand out so badly.
        Do you happen to remember an old sitcom ‘The Beverly Hillbillies’? The street that they drive down in the beginning of each episode is Bedford Drive in Beverly Hills (in the Los Angeles region), just a block and a half to the northwest of one of my editor’s office at the Canyon News. It was such an excellent collection of Mexican fan palms alternating with Canary Island date palms for many decades. So many trees are missing now, and so many pathetic substitutes have been added that by now, it looks like a bad garage sale.
        On one of the driveways at my home, I planted a row of nine Lombardy poplars to hold the hillside together (which I would not recommend to others). It looked great, but would last only as long as the short lived poplars. On another more sloped driveway, I wanted to plant a row of desert fan palms, but never did. Because of the climate, I probably would have needed to select another type of palm.

      4. tonytomeo

        I actually grow only two now, and only intend to grow four when I procure the two that I want but lack. I would never grow them at work, but I can grow what I choose in my own garden. I do enjoy them so.

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