Tag Archives: Tim Richardson

Hello vibrant colours

The result has been that the British planting palette is no longer based on the colour theory of Jekyll and the Arts and Crafts movement; indeed, it’s no longer a ‘palette’ at all, since colour is deemed of secondary importance to form.

(Tim Richardson, first published in Country Life, 2011)

Scampston Hall In Yorkshire – the work of Piet Oudolf

Mark is re-reading the collection of Richardson’s writings in ‘You Should Have Been Here Last Week’. I am waiting in line. It warrants another reading. It was the rather sweeping claim that colour is now playing second fiddle in British gardens that had Mark and I pausing to think. When you read on, I think his use of the word ‘form’ is misleading. He is not talking about hard landscaping (all the permanent structures, paving and infrastructure of a garden that gives it year round form). He is talking about planting styles – the way the plants are grouped and the huge changes that have come into the contemporary gardens. The rhythm of the planting is a better description, because it is about the move from static picture gardening (often best admired in a photograph) to the more dynamic, immersive experience of moving through a garden. It is a very different experience and has certainly been a revelation to us on our last three garden visiting trips to the UK.

Olympic Park in London

I digress. I was going to take issue with his suggestion that colour is no longer a driving factor in such plantings. On the contrary, most of the contemporary plantings we have walked amongst use bold, vibrant colour but in a different way. The Victorians gave us floral clocks and garish bedding plants but they were all ankle-height, more or less. The Edwardians moved into the refined ‘pastelle’ era that still endures in many New Zealand gardens today. Then came all that colour toning and use of white that still remains de rigueur, still mostly pastel. Good taste, many think. The vibrancy of the masses of strong colour evident in many of the more modern plantings is like a statement of a new age. Big, bold, colourful and no longer vulgar.

I got to thinking about this because the Resene magazine ‘habitat’ (the lower case indicates modernity, darls) turned up in my letter box. Resene is a leading paint brand in this country. And I burst out laughing at the guide to ‘your next big colour trends’. This is because we are renovating our two main living rooms so I know that the greying of New Zealand has continued unabated, along with white or off-white walls. And black kitchens now, I notice. We have no white and no grey in our house and ended up with a choice of exactly one green carpet for these rooms surrounded by garden.

I give you edited highlights from the Resene mag:

“As communities galvanise over social and political movements you can see design trends going bolder, with true reds, or stormy blues and dark brooding tones.” Leaving aside my pedantic worries about the ad hoc use of commas, I wondered where these galvanising communities are, along with the bold colours which seem to be singularly missing in action.

But the article goes on: “Warmer colours are generally on the rise, … Such colours carry the promise of global exploration and porous borders….” Oh really? Who writes this stuff? Did they cut their teeth writing real estate copy? Given my penchant for dusky pink in other areas of the house, I was a bit worried about telling Mark that this is now very dated, so dated in fact that it is “millennial pink” and – wait for this – “a colour borne out of the global movement toward gender fluidity”. I tell you, that had simply never occurred to me.

So what does the article tell me about green, given my decision to swap out the blues for greens in our dining and living rooms? “Green has been emerging in homes during the past few years as our eco-consciousness grows and yearning to connect with nature via biophilic design.”

I had to google ‘biophilic design’, I did. And that was a revelation. There are many listings on the topic and from my most perfunctory look, it appears to be a marriage of Rudolf Steiner and biodynamics with inner city, apartment living – philosophically speaking. So now we know.

All this return to colour thinking was also sparked by wandering through our park and looking at the deciduous azaleas with their OTT, unabashed vibrancy – vulgarity, some may think. And I remembered the man who came around the garden when we were still open and asked ‘what is the big orange rhododendron behind the house’. We have garden borders behind the house but I couldn’t think of a plant like that there so I suggested he go and pick a flower and bring it to us. Well, not only did it transpire that ‘behind the house’ meant the spacious park area but he returned bearing an entire head of an orange azalea that he had snapped off, not the single bloom. After all that, we did not have it available for him to buy.

In self-defence, I say that our bold azaleas are mostly interspersed throughout the park, so surrounded by acres of verdant green rather than being planted en masse to dazzle the eyes. And they have been there quite a long time so endured the changing fashions of colour down the decades.

I was slightly alarmed by an inadvertent colour combination in my new borders. I picked a flower of each to show the colours more clearly. I am pretty sure I thought the bearded irises were all yellow when I planted them but 80% are purple. While the colour is sparse in these early stages of planting, I am thinking ahead to when each forms a large wodge of colour.

Take the blue-purple out to keep the ramped-up colour.

Or take the yellow out and it looks very different, toning it down considerably. I am marking the ones flowering yellow. I think I prefer the second version but it all comes down to personal taste in the end.

“A garden is really the gardener”

The woman on the left looked a little underwhelmed by Sissinghurst too

I have always felt I needed to whisper rather than shout that, while we enjoyed our one and only visit to Sissinghurst, it did not inspire us to return. Considering the huge influence this English garden has had throughout both the UK and, more surprisingly, little ol’ New Zealand, I have wondered if we were being overly critical, maybe “gardened-out” when we visited it.

The thyme lawn was not a crowning glory when we visited Sissinghurst

It seems not. I was just going to share the link to English landscape designer Dan Pearson’s latest blog  on our garden Facebook page  but then I thought there is a bigger context for this interesting post of his. Pearson is writing about his advisory work with the head gardener at Sissinghurst to re-personalise that famous garden, restoring some of the energy and also the intimacy of what started out as a very personal garden. Over time, Pearson observes, “The way the garden became was ultimately driven by the need to provide for increasing numbers of visitors and, in so doing, the intimate sense of place was slowly and gradually altered.”

And there is the conundrum when a private garden enters the public domain following the deaths of its creators. If it is successful and well-resourced, the expectations of the visiting public play an ever-larger role in determining how the garden will be presented and maintained.

… but the Sissinghurst tower did not disappoint. However, it is structural and therefore a permanent feature

I had been reading some debate about this in the book by Tim Richardson, “You Should Have Been Here Last Week”. As far back as 2004, he was sounding the alarm bells about Sissinghurst. Writing for the Garden Design Journal, he said: “Every day, coachloads of people turn up at Sissinghurst to experience Vita Sackville-West’s garden, yet what they get bears no relation to the original in terms of content or atmosphere”. Further on in the book is his 2015 update, welcoming the appointment of Troy Scott Smith as new head gardener with Dan Pearson in an advisory role.

We have watched with interest the developments of the “regional gardens” in Taranaki – the ratepayer funded gardens of Tupare and Hollards (both created as very personal visions with owners long dead now) and Pukeiti. When the takeover was first being promoted by the regional council, I wrote several strong pieces for the local paper (see below), frankly alarmed at what was being proposed, let alone the budget. In the years since, we have backed off expressing our views publicly about what is happening in these gardens. All I can say is that in my last visit to Hollards, I felt that the originators, Bernard and Rose Hollard, had pretty much disappeared, bar some faded photographic display cut-outs of Bernie.

The faded life-size cut-out of Bernard Hollard is a little poignant

I don’t think these gardens are a victim so much of their own success – we simply don’t get enough garden visitors to Taranaki to put extreme pressure on gardens. I think they are a victim of the drive to attract numbers of general visitors to justify the expenditure. If that means sacrificing the original ambience and character of these gardens, then so be it.

Matched by faded information boards, purportedly written in the first person. Was the term “food forest” even heard of when Bernard Hollard was still alive?

Mark knew Bernie, as he was known to his family and friends, personally and is adamant that he would never have grown yams in an old tractor tyre and indeed his tidy vegetable garden was hidden away from public view

Pearson captures it in a nutshell, when he writes: “Even when the blueprint is strong, gardens can easily assume a different character, for a garden is really the gardener.”

Hollards’ modest home was demolished to make way for a visitor centre, designed in the style I call “Utility Department of Conservation”

Earlier published columns on the topic of regional gardens:

1) A letter from a ratepayer. Published July 2010 I am not sure I would be brave enough to publish this piece in the newspaper these days. I must have been more fearless back then.
2) A tale of Pukeiti Rhododendron Trust and ratepayer funding Published March 2010.
3) Taranaki Regional Gardens Part 1 – first published late 2004
4) Taranaki Regional Gardens Part 2 – first published, apparently January 2005 – the best piece of writing for those who can’t be bothered wading through the lot.
5) And Taranaki Regional Gardens Part 3 – which rather tells about the treatment of an unsolicited submission. (first published 2005). When in doubt, levy accusations of self interest.

You Should Have Been Here Last Week by Tim Richardson

The subtitle is “Sharp cuttings from a garden writer” but eagle-eyed readers may notice that the secateurs on the front cover look as if they have been through the compost heap and are anything but sharp

Tim Richardson first came to our notice with his lavish book The New English Garden. We used it as a guidebook for our last garden visiting trip in that country because we wanted to see more contemporary work.  “You Should Have Been Here Last Week” is a much more modest publication and as a result, a great deal more convenient for reading. It is a collection of writings for various publications – Country Life, Daily Telegraph, Gardens Illustrated and half a dozen others. And what an interesting collection these are.

Topics range widely and the writer does not hesitate to put forward a measured opinion, at times well apart from the Establishment. People, places, trends, theories – he will analyse the lot. His critique of the New Perennials movement, the Sheffield School and modern directions in planting struck a particular chord with us and conveyed with clarity where he considers it has developed beyond the Northern European/Piet Oudolf movement (‘Immersive not pictorial’ was particularly succinct). But if that is not your interest, maybe the politics of self-sufficiency, gay gardening, the efforts to “Re-Vita-lize” Sissinghurst and the perils of public ownership of formerly private gardens will catch your interest. Those who are aware of my opinions on the matter may laugh when I say I feel totally vindicated by his critique of the stranglehold the Arts and Crafts garden style has held over gardens for too long. Modern design does not escape his scrutiny either – his views on Suburban Modernism (Sub Mod) gives some very good advice to those who live on smaller, town sections.

There is lots of meat (or maybe high quality protein, if you prefer) in these short pieces – plenty to think about, discuss, and to challenge your thinking about gardening. And he is a good writer rich in quotable passages, sometimes cutting, controversial even.

It is worth buying, this book and it is not even expensive. I wish there was more garden writing of this quality. I did a brief search on the author and came up with this gem:

Tim Richardson, author of Sweets: The History of Temptation, is the world’s first international confectionery historian. He also writes about gardens, landscape and theatre and contributes to the Daily Telegraph, Country Life, The Idler, House & Garden, Garden Design Journal and Wallpaper. He lives in North London.”

It is an unverified Wikipedia entry and I understand he no longer writes for the Garden Design Journal – sacked, or “let go” as they say, over a satirical paragraph in a column that was too hot to handle for that publication. If you want to read the previously unpublished column, it is in this new book. Being a bit of a flibbertigibbet, I was entranced to think of him doubling as the first international confectionery historian.  He is clearly a man of many talents.

You Should Have Been Here Last Week by Tim Richardson. Pimpernel Press 2016