Gardening in the Wilderness: do we need a revolution in the garden? by Lucy Masters

December 10, 2013

in Articles, Events, General Interest, Suppers

Suppers are back! Well – one is, thanks to the effort and initiative of Lucy Masters, who wrote this piece to introduce the debate. And Chris Young, editor of RHS The Garden, who will be chairing it for us! Thanks Chris.

This time we will not only have the discussion at the supper, but, bearing in mind that not everyone is within reach of London, you can join in, in the comments here. Or organise a thinkingardens supper somewhere else? Bristol? Manchester? Edinburgh? USA? Think about it – they are great fun. Good food, drink and a little socialising – and a garden dedicated discussion. What better way to brighten up winter’s gloom?

This is, sadly, a truly relevant discussion at a time when the BBC are inviting us to revive gardening by wheeling out all the old faithful presenters and all the old faithful garden features complete with the usual jolly music.

This thinkingardens supper will take place in London on the 5th February 2014. Cost will be £30 for a starter, main course, and a bottle of wine, payable on booking. Discussion free…To book contact me – info@thinkingardens.co.uk.

Meanwhile – the discussion starts here:

Anne Wareham, editor

(Apologies for picture quality – taken under less than ideal conditions at previous thinkingardens suppers…)

thinkingardens supper copyright Anne Wareham

Spot the famous faces…

Lucy Masters:

What can we do?

Gardening is stuck. It’s traditional, conservative and doggedly follows the same paths it has for decades. It’s seen as old and fusty, both in terms of its practice and its practitioners. A recent RHS poll found that almost 70 per cent of 18-year-olds questioned believe horticulture is for ‘drop outs’. The question of the moment is: What can be done to encourage, inspire, even just connect with today’s youth?

In response the RHS has made a series of films under the #Ilovemyjob in which ‘young trailblazers in horticulture’ talk to the camera. I was astounded by this set of videos. For a start everyone is white – isn’t that just shocking? Secondly, a trailblazer is one that blazes a trail – a pioneer. As lovely as I am sure all these young people are, they are just doing the same old things. If they were trailblazers then they would, by definition, be doing something different.

Ron Finley with his food growing revolution on the streets of South Central in LA is trailblazing. There, he is engaging in a whole new dialogue about gardening and society. (Video: here -really worth 10 minutes of anyones’ time.)

Or what about vertical gardens? They are trail blazing. As more and more people live squashed in cities, this is an extremely clever – revolutionary – way of greening of our urban landscape.

previous-supper-3

Equally, I was amazed that on the one hand there is a cry of ‘where is the youth?’ and on the other Alan Titchmarsh is replaced by Monty Don as the lead presenter of the flagship BBC RHS Chelsea program. So, one middle-aged white man just replaces another. I understand that not everyone who is young is innovative, and not everyone who is old is traditionalist. Piet Oudolf, for example, is 68 and he’s still a revolutionary. I don’t want to dismiss the established voices but in order to engage a new generation there may need to be something different once in a while. Horticultural can appear very one dimensional.

What can be done then?

Firstly, I think we need to change the parameters of what we mean when we talk about gardening. It can’t continue to just be limited to back gardens and borders. We need to include the guerilla and other more ecological and social aspects of gardening. This might be a way of engaging all those that don’t have a garden.

Why doesn’t the RHS set up it’s own Reith lectures with really interesting, cutting edge debates? It could start with one based on a Ron Finley quote:-‘Is gardening is the most therapeutic and defiant act you can do, especially in the inner city?’ I don’t want to just knock the RHS or to put all the responsibility on to its shoulders. However, they are the most well respected and visible organisation in horticulture and with that comes pressure and responsibility. I think as our figurehead the RHS needs to take its place at the very forefront of change rather than consistently appearing  conservative and old fashioned.

I also think it is incumbent on magazines and television program makers to engage in a wider debate than just what plants are best grown in a container or great vintage looks for your garden. It’s dull and safe. Not all these aspects of the magazines and programs should be lost, only just that there should be other, more challenging, stuff too. (The RHS magazine “The Garden” shows how here. ed.)

thinkingardens supper copyright Anne Wareham

Thoughtful…

The second tactic is to find a garden messiah as a force and focus of change, as a means of elevating gardening out from the doldrums of domesticity. A means of showing creatives of all ages that gardening doesn’t have to be for drop outs, but can be serious. I don’t mean boring, I mean culturally significant and relevant. I think gardening should be considered art but in order for that to be recognised it needs an artist as a figurehead.

The debate about garden as art has been rumbling along for ages. The trouble is, horticulture doesn’t have the language or the confidence to discuss itself in these terms. I have read many reviews that talk about a garden as art but none has done more than say ‘this garden is a work of art.’

thinkingardens supper copyright Anne Wareham

Michael Balston declaring ‘no turds, no alligators’

The interesting thing is that we already have a superb garden artist in Piet Oudolf. His work is clearly painterly and it has, for me, an emotional element. Below is an excellent quote from Tom Stuart-Smith writing in The Telegraph:-

“Oudolf told me recently how he works for months on these over the winter, in almost solitary confinement, and I am struck by the parallel between these drawings and the musical scores of some great orchestral colourist such as Debussy, where the complexity of the music can barely be contained on the page. The composer knows exactly the impact on the orchestral texture, for example, of introducing a few notes on the bassoon here, just as Oudolf knows the effect of adding another plant.”

Or here, Dan Pearson writing in The Guardian:-

’Planting: A New Perspective’ – The premise of the book is based on the deconstruction of his plantings, which Oudolf describes as “a complicated layering of seasonality, energy, endurance and reward – both before, during and after flowering”. Oudolf believes that his work has intellectual depth, which it does in that it is beautifully thought through on all these levels, but it is also about a feeling. And this is why it has touched so many people.”

thinkingardens supper copyright Anne Wareham

Rosy glow… how did that happen?

So clearly he is understood by many to be an artist. How then does horticulture disseminate this idea to give it strength and reinvigorate gardening so it is understood to be more than just doing Mrs Dodders garden down in Chertsey?

I understand that I have posed lots of questions and criticised much but this isn’t meant to be a droning moan of discontent. I believe that out of crisis can spring hope and change. I really care about gardening and I care that it has a future, but the statistic show it is in decline. At a time when the world needs more gardeners, in all possible shapes, sizes and colours, what can we do to help?

Lucy Masters  website and blog

lucy masters portrait

 

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skr January 17, 2014 at 5:40 am

I was going to post a long rant, but then the tablet borked on me and it all evaporated. I may get back to it as I do have an opinion on the topic, but for now I’ll keep it short.

I think most people consider gardening an art much like most people consider the little plein air watercolor landscapes made by little old ladies in classes at botanical gardens art. The problem isn’t getting people to consider gardening as art but getting people to consider gardening as relevant art.

Guerrilla gardening may have a role in that, but not in it’s current form. Right now guerrilla gardeners are analogous to hoodies scrawling illegible marks on walls with spraypaint. They are disaffected and claiming the land for their own. But where is the guerilla gardening Banksy?

I also recently had an interesting moment while perusing the recent Oudolf/Kingsbury book. On one page the contrast between block and blend was presented and I couldn’t hlp thinking, “great the next big thing in garden design is the transition from Modernism to Abstact Expressionism. Way to be 7 decades behind the rest of the art world gardeners.”

Jason Real Garden Co. January 9, 2014 at 4:16 pm

The following paragraph I believe illustrates one of the biggest problems facing those of us who believe a revolution is required; the diversity of gardens/garden design/horticulture is baffling, how can we address change to such a multi faceted art?
‘Perhaps much of the problem stems from trying to cram horticulture and gardens into one ‘brand’, It is difficult to sell a concept successfully without one consistent message, and it’s difficult to see how we can have one. Gardening spans a vast swathe of society, it can be high art, top end design, a space for living, cutting edge science, vital subsistence, a space for therapy and nurturing. We can’t badge these as one brand otherwise the results are muddy and poorly focussed.’
I believe that we cannot address each aspect individually and that an overarching approach is required that can apply to all forms of gardening. This is possible without being ‘muddy’ or ‘unfocussed’ by addressing the fundamental design principles underlying gardening, they can apply to any form of it and are not too ‘lofty’ an approach to the simplest act of gardening, and can inform the grandest or most artistic landscape project.
Awareness of these design fundamentals and their importance is I believe absent from 90% of Gardening/garden design/landscape architecture education and media coverage of these disciplines also. This has lead to the mundane and stale environment and gardening culture of today and we are stuck in a feedback loop where gardening has been denigrated, from a young persons point of view, to something boring, low paid, and manual labour based.
Inspirational environs – not just gardens, with creative use not just of plants but all materials might cause the youth to think differently about working in this field, they might regard it more as an art. Gardeners might see that there is room for all styles, making gardens art and intellectualising about them can all occur within the framework of a newly free creativity.
‘It’s better to be inside the tent pissing out, than to be outside the tent getting pissed on’. I may be wrong, but it amuses me.
Haha this is great, but I’m afraid I believe we need to be outside the tent in a set of waterproofs with a bloody great fire hose. We need to attack some fairly major institutions like Landscape architecture, Garden education and even architecture itself to affect the revolution I believe is needed. I talk more about this subject in my posts at the top of the timeline.

Ken Lockwood January 9, 2014 at 3:53 pm

Wow, just looked at Jason’s Real Garden Co website, made me drool with envy, I want one that looks that good. When I really retire to my house in the country, and yes I actually have one, I’m going to garden day and night till I ache. Just need a bit more dosh to make my creation have the wow factor, or a Jason to design it perchance.

50 years ago my art teacher, Chinny Evans (told us to go steady on the poster paints, & he’ll definitely be a goner now), gave good advice on the whole subject of Design. Showed us pictures of furniture/chairs, some probably Bauhaus, maybe Regent, and other up to date late Fifties stuff, and asked us which we thought were the best, as in most comfy to actually sit in, We gawped at the Bauhaus, we liked the new stuff, but were astonished to be told the Regents came out tops to sit in! My point, no matter how wow a garden is, without someone to using it, lazing in it, even sweating in it, it’s just another possession. A house that’s not a home, not lived in.

Kids on our council estate haven’t seen the seaside, let alone walked around a great garden, never grown their own veg, will never understand the beauty of nature, can’t imagine that feeling of planting a border and taking time out of their lives to watch the bees. Everyone goes on about guerilla gardening, adding meaningful getting down and dirty horticulture to syllabuses, re-wilding meadows, but we never see much for all the talking? Art for Arts sake ….. Oh and isn’t that BBC Garden Revival rubbish? Who is actually supposed to be aimed at?

Jason Real Garden Co. January 9, 2014 at 12:34 am

This is at the root of the discussion I believe;

‘Firstly, I think we need to change the parameters of what we mean when we talk about gardening. It can’t continue to just be limited to back gardens and borders’.

This is what I’m talking about in my first post below. Gardens are human environments. The most important are the ones we experience everyday, not on an occasional walk along a herbaceous border or visit to a publicly open garden. How plants are used in our houses and in outdoor living spaces in combination with all materials, are most relevant because they daily impact our senses and psychological state. They affect the practicality and comfort of our daily lives too. We can build out from these immediate environs to public ones like streets and more recreational ‘art for arts sake’ spaces, but I believe the will to create gardens should begin with these more immediate, perhaps mundane environments.
The discipline of Landscape architecture has much to answer for in the daily built environment of many people. The art of gardening should extend into these spaces too, imbued with as much creativity as gardens, this is what I believe the article addresses;

We need to include the guerilla and other more ecological and social aspects of gardening. This might be a way of engaging all those that don’t have a garden.

Ron Finley in his brilliant talk is focusing on a social problem in an inspirational way and creating gardens as they should be – for all. His efforts are vital and should be a part of what I see as a bigger picture – where town planning, landscape architecture – even architecture itself is informed by the design of the living environment, using pure design (as described in my post below). For humans to interact with plants designed into our daily environments in this way would change the whole perception of gardens, garden design and horticulture. Young people’s awareness of it would change and their aspirations toward working those fields would change also.
Of course most of our current environments cut us off from nature. Even rural landscapes are altered for productivity, mostly unnecessarily in my opinion, but urban and metropolitan environs have desensitised humans to nature, our empathy for it numbed. Maybe this is what is at the root of societies denigration garden-landscape-horticultural arts, the lack of import given to the integration of planted spaces of all kinds into our daily lives.
I believe the root of why gardening is stuck, old and fusty is deep, and therefore we need to attack the foundations of how our living environments are created. We need to instil the fundamental principles of pure design that stone masons and architects have known for thousands of years – of proportional space and harmony, incorporated with horticulture into the stale and entrenched zeitgeist in town planning, landscape architecture, garden design and horticultural education.
To aim for change at these base levels is I believe more ambitious than proposing purely horticultural, artistic or metaphorical expression in garden design, it does not seek novelty or gimmick. It is a tough agenda, but I believe that the amount of soul searching that has gone on as a result of the crass state of our art, on this site and many others requires such endeavour to find a path to change.

Jason Real Garden Co. January 8, 2014 at 11:25 pm

The opening sentence of this article:
‘Gardening is stuck. It’s traditional, conservative and doggedly follows the same paths it has for decades’
I take gardening to mean the art of creating gardens.
I understand this to involve far more than just horticulture.
My perception is that a garden relates to humans living domestic living space, both public and private whether purely ornamental or productive or a blend of these.
I propose that the desire to create gardens should reach out into amenity spaces and that they not be demoted to industrial style environments.
In my opinion gardening is possibly the greatest of all arts because its components may be in part or all alive, the artwork will evolve, feed people, reflect seasons. This aliveness the garden creator may combine with the products of architectural and interior design, fine art and any other creative discipline.
What other art form can have such a multi faceted palette?
To try to wield such a range of materials without appreciating the fundamental principles of pure design, most commonly found in architecture but applicable to any discipline, is what I believe to be at fault with ‘Gardening’ today.
Once we begin with fundamental non specific values in design like proportional harmony, scale, space and mass, the psychological impacts of these and their interaction with the senses, we free ourselves from the ‘stuck, traditional, conservative doggedly following the same paths for decades’.
I worry that many reading this post will think ‘what on earth is he on about – what has this to do with gardening’, or ‘this all sounds airy fairy’. The truth is that what I have written would be discussed casually in the design offices or studios of artists in any number of creative disciplines. To talk about gardens in these terms is I believe what is referred to in the article;
‘The debate about garden as art has been rumbling along for ages. The trouble is, horticulture doesn’t have the language or the confidence to discuss itself in these terms’.
The term design becomes something else when prefixed by the word garden. I have lectured at a Horticultural college. I know that the teaching of design fundamentals in gardens as laid out in national curriculums is scant. It is ironic that such inspirational, living materials, so important to our everyday human environment are composed by designers taught so little of pure design.

annewareham January 9, 2014 at 12:06 am

Exactly. I’d love to hear more from you here..?

Jason Real Garden Co. January 9, 2014 at 12:50 am

Hope this is not to poorly written.
This is somewhat of an out pouring of some values I have not re visited since my ‘angry young man’ days when I first got inspired by our art. The passion with which I believe in these things overpowers my ability to type or think too clearly. (grammar was never my strong point anyway tbh)

The grind of running a design and construction business has caused me to neglect the fight – until your tweet yesterday wound me up, now I’m writing till 1am, thanks! I’ve been on a long journey of learning the trade ‘on the tools’ so to speak to hopefully be able to comment on the built environment and not just in gardens. Having been re awakened – what next? My own crusade is geared towards opening a design school…but this is not enough.

Anke Bührmann January 4, 2014 at 9:05 pm

I read the article with great interest and enjoyed Ron Finley’s talk very much. Thank you for that inspiring film. It is very sad that joung people see horticulture or gardening as something for dropouts. On the other hand it is not surprining. Horticulture is often hard work and not well paid. Some might be lucky because they found their niche or inherited a company without debts or have good financial ressources to do what they like. I got to know many people who are not happy with their job in horticulture even if the products – plants or gardens – are great: Low salaries, no chance to get out of the office, no appreciation, replaced by even cheaper and less skilled people, no chance or support for further education … And it is often tedious work that needs a lot of perseverance and self-motivation. It can be great for people who want to travel the world and do not mind working hard. My apprenticeship in horticulture helped me to experience life in great places, e.g. South-Africa, the Middle-East and France. Nevertheless, the work itself was sometimes not exciting at all. So I wonder if it makes sense to attract young people by telling them that gardening is an art when they end up just cutting lawns and pruning trees or producing young plants under factory-like conditions. When I watched the I-love-my-job-films, I got the impression that some of the jobs were described a bit too wonderful, and I ask myself if that really convinces young people or if it would be better to present it a bit more realistic. Not everybody can become (or wants to become) a nursery-owner, a designer or whatever “Trailblazers” they had. The same with Monty Don – I have the feeling that he, even if he tries to be a down to earth person, cannot really convince people from a not so posh background about the joys of gardening. Even Alan Titchmarsh is more convincing. In fact, I believe, that the age does not matter so much or the colour of the skin. It is more the ability, that somebody integrates his normal life and experiences – as Ron Finley does with mentioning the poverty in his area – into his message.

landscapelover December 24, 2013 at 3:40 am

It looks like the world of architecture is having similar debates about its seeming unattractiveness to potential employees, the consequent dearth of good design, and the need for a Jamie Oliver figure to save it: http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/architecture/we-need-a-jamie-oliver-of-architecture-to-save-us-from-uninspiring-design-says-living-architecture-founder-alain-de-botton-9022994.html

Ken Lockwood December 20, 2013 at 10:20 am

Speaking of Jobs, Horticulture, Gardening and the like, they can be quite temporary in nature. You may be doing the most fabulous work, in a garden supposedly organic with history, character, belief, then all of a sudden boom your looking for work elsewhere. If anyone sees a small ginger haired girl at one of your interviews I can assure you she works harder than 2 men, but be careful of her inherited madness and bad temper!

MadAsABagOfMonkeys December 19, 2013 at 10:08 pm

The problem is that 90 odd percent of all the households in this country, and probably the rest of the world come to think of it, are inhabited by people with totally different aspirations, if they have any at all. To them, should they even have garden space at all, it’s purpose is to park the car/s or as a jungle for the kids to play in They’re either glad that is has been concreted over, or sad that grass and whatever else keeps on growing and making their hovel look untidy.
For example the kids on the estate next to me haven’t been to the seaside let alone seen the bees devouring the amazing twin Long Borders at Newby Hall, nor Piets imaginative Pensthorpe wild planting. Hey even the local parks which enthralled with crazy colourful bedding when I was a kid are just grass n trees now.
Kids need catching young, maybe they should still go to school @ 5, but like the Swedes perhaps we should be developing their surroundings awareness and leaving the 3Rs untill 7 or 8. Maybe a spot of horticulture perhaps?!
And for those who’ve been missed, hows about popping some tasty take-away gardening menus through the door, delicious perennials and shrubs that could be produced locally and cheaply, and example show gardens on their street to whet their appetite. Here of course they’d be plants chosen that our maundering snails would not find quite to their liking, but still having all the beneficial properties of weed suppressing, pollution busting, bee fattening, butterfly attracting …….. local schools would have training gardens, and run courses.
And like the meadow planting around flats, think it was Sarah Ravens program about bees and pollinators I saw, and how it transformed the occupants lives – proves that nowt will happen until someone actually does more than talk.

Heather birkett December 16, 2013 at 6:08 pm

Does any other discipline offer the diversity of opportunity that horticulture brings to the table?
Horticulture continues to be conveyed to the media-focussed public wrapped in traditional garb. We are taught basic skills, season by season, repeatedly, to the logical conclusion of disappointing and alienating many of us. We are treated to articles about beautiful garden after beautiful garden, often from around the world. If you follow social media you may get the distinct impression that the rich community of professional horticulturalists in Britain appear to be rather hacked off.
The thing is, there is absolutely a place for this face of horticulture. People love to see their favourite presenters showing them once again how to take semi-ripe cuttings, or explain guilelessly how easy it is to sow seeds, at almost two and a half million viewers watching the last episode of Gardener’s world this November. We love to jealously watch Monty Don exploring gardens all over the world. Carol Klein’s down-to-earth affability is so easy to relate to.
On the other hand we, as a profession continue to be misunderstood. We are multi-faceted, not one dimensional. Horticulturalists draw on a huge variety of aptitudes and knowledge, whether we are botanists working in a lab at Kew Gardens with a string of letters after our name, educationalists responsible for the next generation of professional gardeners at one of our excellent, if financially strained agricultural colleges, occupational therapists bringing about real change in people’s lives, gardeners dreaming of being head gardeners in a stunning historically important garden within the National Trust, designers creating stylish outdoor spaces, writers communicating their passion for plants or artists portraying painstakingly accurate botanical illustrations. Looking at a list like this it becomes obvious that there is something for everyone – high fliers, academics, artists, scientists, ‘people’ people, those who just need a job, carers, educators, performers, you can take horticulture to whatever level you like – a hobby, a job, a career, an obsession! All of which will have an incredibly important role to play in communities of the future.
So it really matters that young people understand what horticulture can offer. And that it isn’t just for those who can’t get into university. And that it can be exciting, stimulating, academically rigorous, if you want it to be. In this country we are lucky to have fantastic training schemes with the RHS, National Trust and agricultural colleges. Most of us live close to beautiful gardens offering employment, or voluntary work, some of which are truly forward thinking and inspiring. As a nation we celebrate gardening excellence in the NGS and we appreciate the importance of consecrating biological diversity in herbariums, especially that at Kew Gardens which houses the largest and most diverse botanical collection on Earth.
In my opinion what’s wrong is that public perception of working in horticulture rarely takes account of the diversity, challenge and job satisfaction it offers. Once you scratch the surface of studying horticulture, dip your toe in the water of short courses, RHS level 2 or perhaps even Level 3, a whole new world of opportunity opens up to you. And if you take this further and begin to work in horticulture you see aspects of how gardening affects people’s lives and many ways of contributing to communities – be they academic communities, villages, allotment societies, schools, colleges, rehabilitation schemes, and so the list goes on.
So, I know I’m preaching to the converted here. Then, how do we preach to the unconverted? I have developed and led community groups which aim to involve families with young children in gardening – predictably everyone who came already appreciated its value. The answer has to lie in schools. This allows horticulture to be accessible to everyone. Not as an extracurricular activity which students opt to be part of, but as an integral part of the curriculum where all students are exposed to the skills, knowledge and personal and social benefits of gardening. For public perception of horticulture to change, teachers also need to present to students the true multiplicity that is contemporary horticulture. The earlier the better and repeatedly, following the Spiral Curriculum model already in use within the National Curriculum.
Good practice, ideally, would facilitate children acquiring basic gardening skills, relate the skills to a appropriate level of knowledge (already largely covered by the Biology and Geography curriculum), and almost more importantly, definitely more significantly, teachers at all levels would present horticulture as more than just a hobby, also as a career, a profession, with a variety of options within the industry, a distinct career structure, and respect as a worthwhile choice, with information at their fingertips about further education and higher education options. (yes I did say Higher Education … AIM HIGH!)

Heather birkett December 16, 2013 at 6:48 pm

It’s an important step forward that horticulture is included in the National Curriculum. However, scratch the surface just a little and you discover that it is merely mentioned as an example of an iterative process of designing and making, and that schools are NOT required by law to teach it. Realistically we can expect Horticulture to be picked up in Key Stage 1 and 2, particularly in Primary schools with plenty of green space outdoors and parents who are engaged in their children’s education. At Key Stage 3 Design and Technology departments are being asked to pick up the baton, I truly hope I’m being overly cynical, but are DT teachers going to do this justice if they don’t have to?

Heather birkett December 16, 2013 at 7:03 pm
Jane Perrone December 16, 2013 at 11:24 am

Wow, so many points raised here I don’t know where to start. But perhaps I can just say this – I went to see James Wong give a talk at Shuttleworth College the other night, aimed at firing up people thinking about horticulture as a career. He gave example after example of people who are breaking stereotypes about horticulture as boring manual labour, working in fascinating areas from roof gardens in Malaysia to growing edible flowers in the Netherlands, and moreover making good money doing it! If you want an insight into how the UK is being left behind by other countries when it comes to developing their horticulture industry, this is a good place to start… (Full list of dates here: http://www.jameswong.co.uk/#/homegrown-revolution/4572077593)

Marie McLeish, My Garden Coach December 15, 2013 at 10:01 pm

Gardening in the 21st century. Stuck or ready for revolution?

Great questions posed by Lucy Masters in this timely article. What can we do? What can be done then? While gardening comment may be somewhat constrained by the views of editors, (Anne Wareham excepted of course) I think the marketing model of the ‘big gardening chains’ also has a lot to answer for the perilous state of innovation and inspiration in gardening generally. Too much emphasis on *Trends* and not enough focus on *Provenance* is a key weakness. Mass produced plant material leaves little or no room for creativity. Yet, taking the thread of garden and art, the potential exists for every garden to be an art installation in its own right. We just need to give ourselves permission to take a chance with our gardens and learn through experience. I so agree with Suzanne Moss when she talks about facilitating creativity in the garden.

‘My garden is my most beautiful masterpiece. -Claude Monet’

A relative newbie to social media, I think there is plenty of inspiration about, and it comes in many guises, from intellectual to the aesthetic, quirky, as well as mediocre and downright dull. Blogs give very personal accounts on the subject, and the twitter # is great for quick reference.

Possibilities
I am very much ready for revolution in gardening. And there is room for lots more new blood when it comes to radio, tv, and media comment. I love the point made above relating to day-releasing the editors role! I wonder if any producers out there would ever take the risk. Softer options might include reviewing gardening articles/journals along with the paper review news slots, inviting a lively guest gardener onto the Gardeners Question Time panel, and guest presenters to cover aspects of the RHS garden shows. Could be so much more entertaining.

The changing weather patterns are waking us up into action. Gardening in a changing climate is forcing new questions to be asked and generating an opportunity to update old gardening habits. I am a fan of the RHS ‘s campaigns for School Gardens, and plant labeling Perfect for Pollinators. There is masses of evidence that communities can come together by gardening. The Land Share movement is a growing one. There is a need for higher profiling and showcasing of these emerging non traditional approaches. Everyone can garden.

‘I have never had so many good ideas day after day as when I worked in the garden. -John Erskine’

Julia Wylie December 15, 2013 at 8:17 pm

“Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”

– Confucius

It’s great news that gardening is returning to the curriculum in the UK. Hopefully career advice is better in this country/has improved since I finished school in South Africa in 1995 – I never imagined back then that I would make my living as a gardener – university qualifications/”proper jobs” seemed to be the teachers and my parents only concern. I was lucky to escape to England where I discovered gardening as an au pair.
I would love to help school children to grow vegetables and flowers plus speak to them about the process of finding your passion/career. I would tell them about Masanobu Fukuoka – the natural farmer and philosopher.

Alan Titchmarsh spoke eloquently at the Garden Media Guild awards recently and at the opening of the Windsor Coronation Arch in September about encouraging young people into horticulture and the whole industry working together.

He said without horticulturists, there would be no politicians.

If he did the Reith Lectures it would reach a wider audience than all of the gardening magazines put together whoever the editors.

Grayson Perry could come back with another TV series about class/taste – this time visiting people in their gardens/communities, not just their homes. I would love to hear his views on the craft/art of creating gardens.

lucy December 16, 2013 at 1:54 pm

I really like your idea of Alan Titchmarsh doing a Reith lecture. Rather than just bringing outside influences in to widen the scope of horticulture, you get the horticulturalists speaking out. It’s inverse but just as potentially invigorating. I particularly like the idea of having Alan, who is a stalwart of the gardening community, doing something different.

Helen December 15, 2013 at 6:25 pm

I’m with James – do we really need a revolution? It strikes me reading this and time again on social media and in other media that the commentators are only commenting on a side of ‘gardening’ they know. Inevitably it seems to relate to design or grow your own. I know from personal experiences that there is far more out there which is inspiring, exciting and wonderful. I know of accomplished and beguiling nurserymen, mad and passionate plantsmen and, yes everyday gardeners like me, who grow plants to exceptional standards. There are no ruts in the horticultural circles I frequent. There are young and intelligent horticulturists striking out on their own, taking an active part in the national societies and coming up with innovative ideas to encourage children into other areas of horticulture other than grow your own.

Just because something isn’t written about in the media it doesn’t mean it isn’t already happening, and not many of the horticulturalists I know are at all interested in the need for a messiah, they already have people they admire and respect.

lucy December 15, 2013 at 7:14 pm

There is always an inherent danger when you call for a debate such as this that people become defensive. I am calling for a celebration of diversity rather than just attacking the traditional. I think we should be looking for a plurality of voices and definitions. You are right, many horticulturalists are doing innovative, interesting things but we don’t get to hear about them. My point is that we need to hear about them, we need to know what they are doing, otherwise we just hear from a narrow field of opinion formers and practitioners. Also, there is a common assumption that all innovation should be youth lead. This couldn’t be further from the truth in my opinion – although young people will of course ultimately have to carry things forward – as experience, knowledge and hard knocks count for much. After all you get some older people that are forever interesting and younger people who never are or will be.

Sue Moss December 15, 2013 at 12:41 pm

Sad that I’ve only just found this discussion, but thank you all for your very interesting comments – makes excellent reading!

Firstly, I think it’s wonderful that this discussion is happening. A few years ago it wouldn’t have been, and it says much about the progressive attitude which is beginning to happen within our industry. That’s a wonderful thing. Discussion, debate and disagreement is what drives progress.

I do agree with you Lucy that gardening is seen as stagnant, traditional and conservative. This is the crux of many of the problems surrounding the industry – particularly the amenity sector. It is difficult to attract new, progressive people into an industry which, on the face of it, isn’t particularly relevant to a modern lifestyle.

Having said that, gardening IS relevant to a modern lifestyle and many good movements are happening, so perhaps this is an issue of communication and representation. If we think about the ways that young people (or anyone) experience gardens, it is rarely progressive – bedding plants in garden centres, tired public gardens and heritage properties, middle-class ‘how-to’ media with little analytical bent.

Perhaps much of the problem stems from trying to cram horticulture and gardens into one ‘brand’, It is difficult to sell a concept successfully without one consistent message, and it’s difficult to see how we can have one. Gardening spans a vast swathe of society, it can be high art, top end design, a space for living, cutting edge science, vital subsistence, a space for therapy and nurturing. We can’t badge these as one brand otherwise the results are muddy and poorly focussed.

There seems to be a lot of talk about what gardening should be. The fact is that most people own a garden and it is theirs. People come to my courses at the RHS expecting to be told what they ‘should’ be doing. I always start my teaching sessions by making the point that their garden is theirs, to do with what they wish, and I wouldn’t dictate what they ‘should’ do any more than I would dictate the colour of their living room. The fact is that gardening is a personal experience, and we should be facilitating their creativity, not necessitating carbon copy gardens by offering a limited range of commercial purchases (I’m thinking panel fencing and trellis). We can represent ourselves well and offer options, but gardens will always be a functional living space, as well as anything else. We desperately need progressive movement, but if people want a carpet of disgusting begonias, there’s space for that too.

Which perhaps brings us on to the subject of gardens as art. I’ve been on that train for a while – but recently disembarked. Yes, gardens CAN be art – the conceptual gardens at Hampton Court are an excellent example and in my opinion much overlooked. However, gardens as we usually experience them (not a short term installation) involve problem solving (which makes them more akin to design), but also encompass many other influences like nature, subsistence, collection, society and comfort. This makes them a different animal to art, and means that we can’t view them within the same appreciation structure.

I am in two minds as to whether we need to intellectualise. I think for the successful promotion and progression of the industry that we probably do, or at least, get better at communicating the intellectualising that we already do. If we do, then we need a separate and discreet appreciation structure for gardens (rather than borrowing one off art), but given that it’s such a massive and varied concern coming up with one would be quite the job. That’s probably a different discussion.

It’s easy to criticise the RHS, but representing all of horticulture in the UK is a big job and it is, in the end, a charity with very limited resources. It brings us the most successful flower show in the world, is doing amazing work for young people in horticulture (over half the primary schools in the country are now signed up to its Campaign for School Gardening), is active in the All Party Parliamentary Horticulture Group, offers amazing training opportunities and that’s just a tiny part of its good work. Horticulture is now on the school curriculum for the first time (within the design and technology stream which is pretty interesting) in part from great advice from the RHS. The RHS necessarily moves like a large ship, but believe me when I say that there are excellent people doing excellent work within it.

This thread has also thrown up issues of ‘the establishment’, which, working within one, I always find very interesting. Can one not be progressive within an establishment? As a very wise person once said, ‘It’s better to be inside the tent pissing out, than to be outside the tent getting pissed on’. I may be wrong, but it amuses me.

Thank you for this thread.

annewareham December 15, 2013 at 12:49 pm

Sue – any ideas about what I need to do to make thinkingardens easier to find or to attract attention? I’d be very grateful. (And you may be interested in this, as far as the in-out and RHS goes http://thinkingardens.co.uk/editorial/goodbye-and-thank-you-to-the-rhs-by-anne-wareham/)

Sue Moss December 15, 2013 at 9:46 pm

Hi Anne! I have read that post in the past, and am not really in a position to be able to comment I’m afraid, but good on you for keeping thinkinGardens going. Personally I think it’s great and should keep on provoking discussion. Perhaps our next step down this road is a Journal of Garden Theory? Peer reviewed, solid and referenceable, it would be a great discussion asset.

I do have a plan for stuff in the next year that I will be in touch about! 🙂

annewareham December 15, 2013 at 11:16 pm

Let’s talk when we can, Sue.

Jason Real Garden Co. January 9, 2014 at 10:31 am

The following paragraph I believe illustrates one of the biggest problems facing those of us who believe a revolution is required; the diversity of gardens/garden design/horticulture is baffling, how can we address change to such a multi faceted art?

‘Perhaps much of the problem stems from trying to cram horticulture and gardens into one ‘brand’, It is difficult to sell a concept successfully without one consistent message, and it’s difficult to see how we can have one. Gardening spans a vast swathe of society, it can be high art, top end design, a space for living, cutting edge science, vital subsistence, a space for therapy and nurturing. We can’t badge these as one brand otherwise the results are muddy and poorly focussed.’

I believe that we cannot address each aspect individually and that an overarching approach is required that can apply to all forms of gardening. This is possible without being ‘muddy’ or ‘unfocussed’ by addressing the fundamental design principles underlying gardening, they can apply to any form of it and are not too ‘lofty’ an approach to the simplest act of gardening, and can inform the grandest or most artistic landscape project.
Awareness of these design fundamentals and their importance is I believe absent from 90% of Gardening/garden design/landscape architecture education and media coverage of these disciplines also. This has lead to the mundane and stale environment and gardening culture of today and we are stuck in a feedback loop where gardening has been denigrated, from a young persons point of view, to something boring, low paid, and manual labour based.
Inspirational environs – not just gardens, with creative use not just of plants but all materials might cause the youth to think differently about working in this field, they might regard it more as an art. Gardeners might see that there is room for all styles, making gardens art and intellectualising about them can all occur within the framework of a newly free creativity.

‘It’s better to be inside the tent pissing out, than to be outside the tent getting pissed on’. I may be wrong, but it amuses me.

Haha this is great, but I’m afraid I believe we need to be outside the tent in a set of waterproofs with a bloody great fire hose. We need to attack some fairly major institutions like Landscape architecture, Garden education and even architecture itself to affect the revolution I believe is needed. I talk more about this subject in my posts at the top of the timeline.

Victoria Summerley December 14, 2013 at 12:59 pm

Very thought-provoking piece. It provoked three thoughts: first, I think there are Messiahs out there, and I think Piet Oudolf is one of them, as John Brookes was and continues to be. If I can extend the religious analogy a little further, however, I think many of us need someone to interpret the messianic message for us, to make it more comprehensible, or more relevant to our own situations and needs. In gardening, those “interpreters” will tend to be the Alan Titchmarshes and the Monty Dons, because communication to a general audience (the phrase “lowest common denominator” is hovering) is their great skill. I don’t think we should chuck that skill away simply because they are not young and/or black.
Wesley Kerr, the BBC’s horticultural correspondent, who often reports for the Chelsea coverage, IS black, but as far as I can tell (no disrespect to Mr Kerr intended), he has no radical views about organic gardening, or the use of pesticides, both of which have been expressed by Messrs Don and Titchmarsh. And while I am personally all in favour of intellectual discussion about gardening, I can quite see that some people might start glazing over if someone started describing a garden as being like a complex Debussy piece or “a complicated layering of seasonality, energy, endurance and reward – both before, during and after flowering”. I’m almost tempted to glaze over myself.
The second thought I had was this: we cannot all be innovators. Not because we are not intellectually or artistically capable of it, but because it would result in anarchy. There seems to need to be a sort of evolutionary safety valve that requires some (many?) individuals to have no interest in innovation or to resist it in order that new ideas can be tested before being launched upon the world. I think that’s probably a good thing, and we shouldn’t be too unrealistic about the amount of time it takes for new ideas to filter through. If you look at where gardening was in the Seventies, you can see how far we’ve come in 40 years.
The third thought: anyone who has had any involvement in mainstream media coverage of gardening, whether on air or in print, will know that the editorial content comes down to one person’s view: the editor. If the editor likes “how-to” gardening pieces, that is what you’ll get. If they like pretty shots of rose gardens, and wisteria tumbling over pergolas, that’s all you’ll see. They will claim that this is what the readers/viewers want, but the readers/viewers don’t, on the whole, know that there is anything else out there (let alone anything that might result in anything so distasteful as a “debate”).
I was pleasantly astonished by the response of my twentysomething non-gardening colleagues on The Independent to the first Chelsea Fringe. The unanimous verdict was: “Cool!” They are of a generation that does not find conceptual art threatening and is quite comfortable with the idea of an overlap between different branches of the arts, and different media, such as video and sound.
Perhaps we need to do something really radical, such as hand over the editorship of Gardens Illustrated or the Telegraph gardening section to someone like Grayson Perry (not only a great artist but a great communicator) for an issue. Otherwise, we are still talking to ourselves. If we want to talk about gardening as art, perhaps it might be useful to get an artist to talk about gardening?

annewareham December 14, 2013 at 1:15 pm

I’ve had that thought myself, Victoria (several of them, actually, including how it must be an evolutionary advantage to have people resisting potentially lethal innovation!). But in particular, I mean the one about bringing in an artist from a different discipline.

Any thoughts about how? Should we have a talk? Maybe you’ll be at the supper?

lucy December 15, 2013 at 9:38 am

Thank you Victoria for such an interesting comment. You’re right I think that there is a real challenge in trying to find ways and voices that could translate intellectual or artistic concepts to people. I think one way of doing that would be your brilliant idea of handing over editorships. The Today programme on Radio 4 does it between christmas and New Year and it’s always so often surprising and interesting. Can you imagine the possible ideas and audiences you could get!?

Andrew Fisher Tomlin December 15, 2013 at 10:51 am

Couldn’t agree more with you Victoria. Looking at some of the reaction to this article here and on twitter it has reinforced my view that I had years ago that whilst we need a range of skills and approaches across our industry too many individuals think there is just one way, and that’s their way. I was lucky enough to get advice in my career early on from creative (non garden) people like David Hockney, and every day that advice gives me a check on what I do. Grayson Perry would be fantastic!

Martin December 13, 2013 at 9:48 pm

This is a really interesting piece which I think captures a zeitgeist of the discussions that have been rumbling around for the past few years and I think a lot of people will have read this nodding and thinking ‘Yes let’s DO something!’.

It’s great to have a discussion that brings out lots of different perspectives and once again great to be able to contribute no matter where you are in the world.

The piece starts with the statistic that 70% of 18 yr olds believe horticulture is for ‘drop outs’. The questionnaire the RHS reported in their press release was to 1000 adults aged between 18 to 56+ in March 2012. If we disregard the rather ambiguous + after the 56 and assume that numbers are equally divided between each age class then the number of 18 year olds who participated in the questionnaire was about 26, of which then there are about 18 who thought horticulture was for ‘drop outs’. That year, the number of 18 year olds in the UK population was 772,000 according to the Office of National Statistics.

I think the reason those 18 year olds said that horticulture was for drop-outs was not through thinking of it as “old and fusty”. Because of the way benefits work at the moment after a period of time you have to do a training course and many young men, particularly those who are not academically able, choose a horticulture course. Horticulture is also used as a way to help excluded schoolchildren and to help them become ‘normalized’ within society. As there are many more young adults who do a very simple course on horticulture than those who go and study a degree, it makes sense on the evidence they see for 18 year olds to think horticulture is for drop outs.

I would really quite like the RHS to continue to be the middle ground in horticulture (like your favourite aunt who every now and then turns round and shocks you) as this gives people at the edges something to be impish around…the Chelsea Fringe wouldn’t make sense or be ‘cutting edge’ if the RHS were being similarly edgy at the Chelsea Flower Show…although I notice they are having a go…eeek!.

Creativity in a subject often appears when two adjacent subjects combine; in Piet Oudolf’s case the science of ecology meeting the aesthetics of the garden and so it seems a bit stale to want to stuff him into an ‘artist’ label. I’d rather hoped horticulture was the one place where we could pick up the best of the science and the best of the arts and go forth and forge something new.

Alex Hofmann December 16, 2013 at 9:51 am

Martin,

I completely agree that horticulture should be the place where ‘we could pick up the best of the science and the best of the arts and go forth and forge something new’. You may have seen the recent story about James Burke, the science historian who predicts that in the year 2100, we will be living a more bucolic existence thanks to nano-fabricators which are able to cater for all our material needs. We will then be free to take up gardening because it will be “essential for the comfort of the soul. [He imagines the] planet as a giant untouched wilderness dotted with gardens.”

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-24331106
http://blog.practicalethics.ox.ac.uk/2013/11/some-thoughts-on-james-burkes-vision-of-the-future/

But before this can happen, I support Lucy’s premise that we need a revolution. Drawing on purely personal experience, gardening is regarded by my friends as unfashionable, uninteresting, unrewarding (a chore) and something which always plays second fiddle to the house. Again, speaking from personal experience, it’s usually women who take an interest in gardening, with men reduced to the role of ‘blue jobs’ like lawn-mowing, hedge-cutting and shed-painting… Aaaggh!

I don’t have a magic wand, but things do need to change. Would it be such a bad thing if the industry were to coalesce around a figurehead who had the passion of a Jamie Oliver? To those who think that the task is too big and scary, look no further than Teach First, which has succeeded in changing graduates’ perceptions of teaching as a career choice in 11 years since its foundation. That’s a blink of an eye in gardening terms.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Teach_First

When it comes to lobbying, we shouldn’t forget the power of the City liveries including the Gardeners’ Company.

Martin December 16, 2013 at 7:48 pm

I don’t want a revolution, no, because I don’t think there is the need; we have never had so much choice and variety available to us as gardeners. But yes to new initiatives, new ways of gardening, and making people aware of what choices are available, keeping things interesting, whoever does it and whatever their age.

You can’t pick a figurehead because that’s what the RHS have done with their ambassador roles, so really it’s not ‘cutting edge’ anymore. And Jamie Oliver wasn’t ‘picked’ as such, he was a good businessman at the right time with a product that a lot of people wanted to buy. Also, for most people gardening genuinely is a chore in a way that food is not, because ready meals require no knowledge to eat.

As I suspect the main battleground for hearts and minds will be the TV (see RHS magazine ‘The Garden’ for an article critical of present TV gardening) and be instigated by exhaustingly passionate but lovely people exhorting us all to go outside (and not watch TV) it won’t really affect me, because I don’t have a TV. I do enjoy the discussion though.

Alex Hofmann December 13, 2013 at 12:51 pm

Lucy, I shall be coming to the dinner – it promises to be a very stimulating evening. At 38, I suppose I am one of the younger crowd and like Jonathan above, I’m passionate about gardening and I enjoy a good debate with the likes of Anne and others.

A few themes which I’ve always thought should be more heavily promoted by RHS and the press:
1. Gardening on prescription: why wouldn’t you?
2. Health benefits of plants in an office: not widely acknowledged despite efforts of Ambius etc
3. Government subsidies for horticultural courses similar to the Bike to Work scheme or Childcare vouchers
4. Waldkindergaerten – why don’t we have any in the UK? http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/3357232/Waldkindergarten-the-forest-nurseries-where-children-learn-in-Natures-classroom.html

Just one question before I get back to work: at the end of your article, you state ‘I really care about gardening and I care that it has a future, but the statistics show it is in decline.’ Which statistics are you referring to please?

lucy December 15, 2013 at 10:11 am

Hello Alex, look forward meeting you at the supper! I think you have some really interesting questions and ideas. I love the idea of government subsidies and the health benefits of plants in offices. You could see those two working together to create a much better work environment for people. However, I think it draws on Jonathan Sheppard’s point that at the moment there are no effective garden lobbyists who are able to push these things through.The question is how can we change that. Equally, Waldkindergaerten – I think these are such fantastic things and I remember I wishing I could send my daughter to one. It’s another really brilliant idea to add to the debate. There are lots great ideas here I think! The statistics I took from this telegraph article:-
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/gardening/9209497/Gardening-is-not-just-for-drop-outs-says-Alan-Titchmarsh.html

Martin December 15, 2013 at 12:25 pm

I hadn’t spotted this Telegraph article Lucy – I’d got my figures from the RHS press release here. http://press.rhs.org.uk/RHS-Campaigns/Press-releases/Horticultural-careers-need-urgent-image-makeover-a.aspx

It’s always worth bearing in mind that when writing most journalists use statistics to illustrate a point…they rarely start with the statistics and say ’what does this mean’ – they don’t have time.
How statistics are presented matters too; for example, if in the UK there are 200 000 people employed in UK horticulture (from figure in the article) and 11,000 new entrants are required over the next 10 years (1100 a year) then a 0.6% yearly recruitment level is required. The figure 11,000 over ten years appears bigger than 0.6% yearly which is why I imagine it was used.
The figure 200,000 used in the article is however at odds with the national career service figures of approximately “172,000 gardeners and grounds people” and “83,000” in production horticulture. Interestingly the proportions of self-employed workers are 44% and 56% respectively.
https://nationalcareersservice.direct.gov.uk/advice/planning/jobprofiles/Pages/gardener.aspx
https://nationalcareersservice.direct.gov.uk/advice/planning/jobprofiles/Pages/horticulturalworker.aspx

In the Telegraph article Sue Biggs, RHS Director General, said the horticulture sector was “still buoyant” through the economic downturn which is a very different interpretation to your “but the statistic show it is in decline”.
I don’t think the use of statistics is relevant to the main thrust of your piece but I would like people to be more aware of what they are actually reading, rather than what they think they are reading.

lucy December 15, 2013 at 3:26 pm

You are right – didn’t Vic Reeves say 80 percent of statistics were made up on the spot! I think Sue Biggs’s point was that there were job vacancies in the horticulture – so it needed people rather than laying them off. However, the wider point is that even in our current terrible economic climate, still no one wants to work in the industry! (I will steer clear of stats in the future unless I make them up myself and so can be sure of them)

Richard McCarthy December 15, 2013 at 8:10 pm

I wouldn’t hold my breath for government subsidies: FE colleges have had to axe
horticulture courses due to government cuts, so subsidies are not likely to be forthcoming.

Andrew Fisher Tomlin December 13, 2013 at 9:01 am

I find this ongoing debate perplexing and just a little bit hilarious that the middle class media want to control and direct gardening for the masses. Gardening has never been something we do to instruction but is about experimenting, enjoying and having a go, The idea of controlling it is very ‘dig for victory’ but maybe that’s why the newspapers and BBC like to do this?! Most of the best gardeners, plants people, landscapers and designers started this way with the occasional skills based training on an old style horticulture course.

Unfortunately Lucy you fall in to the same old trap that we need some sort of leader and what is this general fascination with having some sort of Jamie Oliver character? Don’t get me wrong, Jamie has done some fantastic stuff for food, Piet does some fantastic stuff for a style of planting (notice how those who gush about him also do that style of planting) but it’s not the whole story. Why do you need it? Why can’t we just get on and do it and welcome it when people like James Wong and Chris Collins appear and connect with the next generation of gardeners. It’s nearly 2014, we have social media, we even have gardening on XBox and Wii (I know Telegraph readers won’t know that), but let it just happen. It’s a purely middle class fantasy that somehow we have to control the gardening that others do and that there is nothing else for people to do with their time. At least Wong makes gardening sexy and you want to have a go, all those Telegraph writers have NEVER made me want to try something new!

Then there’s that very unfortunate assumption that Piet Oudolf is some sort of messiah and saviour of the garden world. Having recently had to research his work, I found that John Brookes was writing about the same sort of planting design and how to achieve it in the late 70s and 80s, the difference being that John doesn’t purport to intellectualise everything. That is partly the crux of the matter that so many garden journalists want to be seen as some intellectual heavyweights, almost apologising for writing about gardens and using a lot of spin to make themselves sound worthy. It’s a very American way of thinking – use a few words, especially ‘intellectual’ and ‘academic’, and suddenly I’m a great thinker.

By the way the RHS did hold annual lectures and not many came. They still hold them with organisations like The Worshipful Company of Gardeners (that despite the name does engage with the next generation of gardeners very successfully) but I’d pose the question when did this sort of thing change much? All very nice, all very interesting (if you are interested in gardening) but a bit, well dull. It brings me to all the positive comments about a new BBC series championing different elements of gardening and calling it a revival. Just more spin, again, all very nice if you like gardening but its not going to encourage anyone into gardening.

I think the RHS videos of young people who have made a career for themselves in our industry are fantastic. More than a few 20 somethings have told me how they have changed their perspective on what they might achieve as they enter land based professions. They are not aimed at you and we should welcome the effort to inspire people into and within our industry.

Ultimately the real problem is that there are way too many people talking about these issues and not enough people doing something about them. Hooray for the RHS that is doing something, hooray for the BBC that at least gets a few people under 50 to present gardening. It made me smile at the Garden Media Awards the other week (I wasn’t there) when I saw hundreds of tweets and postings about how the ‘great and good of the gardening world’ were there. What a load of bollocks! The great and good of the gardening world are those who are out there working in the industry, turning up everyday, inspiring their local garden groups, spreading the word in schools. Not the journalists in their cosy little offices having their lovely suppers. How we laughed?!

There are so many things you can do to encourage the next generation of gardeners but please stop looking within your cosy little world, wake up and engage with that new generation in person and in a way that THEY and not you will respond to.

Jonathan Sheppard December 13, 2013 at 10:00 am

A very interesting article…. But let me come from a different perspective. I am in my 30s. My wife and I bought a 2 acre place in Lincs because we love gardening as enthusiastic amateurs, and would rather have our own green space and do the commute to London. And my trade….. Is as a lobbyist, and this is an area where I think gardening, horticulture or whatever you want to call it DOES need support.

I have lost count of the number of industries who with the best will in the world think they are doing the right thing, launch all sorts of campaigns, and yet only end up talking to themselves or people who are already interested, and yet don’t hit home with the key decisions makers.

For example…. Has the RHS written to every MP outlining their objectives this year. For the first half of 2013 I ran the office of a friend who is an elected member who lives their garden and she wasn’t targeted by anything from the RHS. They may well be a great parliamentary advocate for gardening and horticulture. Sorry guys,but press releases and just PR don’t influence legislators. Gardening needs a concerted and joined up campaign plan to shout about its benefits.

When the Department of Health talks about the obesity crisis we all know it isn’t just about food it’s about exercise. Has anyone in the horticulture industry pointed out that gardening deals with both those issues. It gets people knowing more about healthy food, and also if they take gardening up gets them some exercise without them knowing it.

When the Department of Education talks about the curriculum in schools… Is anyone banging on about getting young kids interested in gardening, horticulture and how that fits in with government objectives.

Who is meeting MPs on a regular basis in Westminster.

Who is responding to relevant Select Committee reports?

I could go in, but what I think is there does need to be a spearheaded campaign, with perhaps a well known figurehead, but it also needs strands that focuses on the decision makers. A scatter gum approach, which is what it seems is happening just won’t have the impact that is needed.

lucy December 13, 2013 at 10:33 am

That’s such interesting point and that is why it was worth having this debate! Thank you Jonathan

Andrew Fisher Tomlin December 13, 2013 at 12:15 pm

There is a great all party horticulture group that brings many different landscape industry groups together including the RHS and spreads the word. Horticulture Week also does a lot to engage with Parliament so hopefully this is a step in the right direction.

Jonathan Sheppard December 13, 2013 at 11:51 pm

I don’t want to appear to be negative …. So please understand that what I am saying is to create debate and push for things positive. But let me play devils advocate here for you.

All party groups are fine. Their influence with government is limited.

I am in no way wanting to demean or decry any publication…. But are you suggesting that Horticulture week is a key channel of influence with MPs? I suspect I could call up 40 MPs tomorrow and they would not recall having seen it.

They would however remember if the industry had a campaign that pushed for eg) local nurseries to contact their MP and lobby them. They would remember if there was initiatives pushed through local schools that linked to the local MP.

I could provide a list of ten things that the industry could do to better engage MPs. I am no expert in horticulture. I am no expert in gardening. But I do know how to run effective political campaigns, and at this moment in time I think the door is open.

I would end by saying that if I wanted someone to create the garden of my dreams I would take serious advice and help from a gardener. I really believe if the industry wants to achieve its aims, which includes having a clear idea as to what it wants from Government, come and talk to a professional in that field. And on… Who I may add is passionate about the cause.

Andrew Fisher Tomlin December 13, 2013 at 12:17 pm

And I should add that horticulture is going back into the primary curriculum partly because of this and a government that has taken notice of other school systems, in this instance in Singapore.

Richard McCarthy December 15, 2013 at 10:03 am

With all due respect, politicians are a put-off to most people these days, especially young people who find it hard to connect with them; they are toxic and I’d keep them well out of it. Any actions would probably end up looking like gesture politics anyway.

Rather the Andrew Fisher Tomlin approach myself, the silent unseen great and good who are out there every day working and engaging with young people in a variety of situations. “Go to work on an egg a day” never led to mass consumption of eggs for breakfast on a weekday.

lucy December 15, 2013 at 10:26 am

I have to disagree – I’m with Jonathan Sheppard all the way. If you want to make serous, impactful change it has to be done at a national level and you need to engage with the big organisations with big money = government for a start. I think it’s right, if you want a garden employ a gardener, if you want to make MP’s take notice, employ a lobbyist. Individuals making a difference is important, I don’t deny that but if you want to change fundamentals then you have to think big.

Richard McCarthy December 18, 2013 at 10:56 am

Government has no money, Lucy. Just yesterday it announced yet further cuts to FE training for the young in 2015_16. You can lobby it all you like, if the money isn’t there, it can’t be spent and as usual the young will be sacrificed at the altar of electoral politics because they don’t vote.

And no, I don’t believe it it be true that serious, impactful change can only be made at a national level by government with the help of a lobbyist. Some of the biggest changes in society have grown from the bottom up. Take this very tool we’re using,the intenet, a bottom-up change to society, or bitcoin, a bottom-up change to finance. The examples are endless.

Jonathan Sheppard December 18, 2013 at 11:29 am

Let’s deal with some of those views. Government has no money. In one expect true…. It collects our money and we need to influence them as to how to spend it. Budgets are cut, but look at our level of public spending.,many no one can say Government has no money.

Secondly, why equate positive change coming about with needing Government money.mimcan think of many things thatmthenindustry could do tomsell,itself, and help Government which would be a win win.

Thirdly,the view we don’t need lobbying.manvalid view…but I disagree. I am a member of the RHS, a gardener, and have been employed as a lobbyist , currently working for myself.

But then if you don’t feel the value of lobbying I assume you will be questioning why all these bodies pay money to the APPG on horticulture http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm/cmallparty/register/gardening-and-horticulture.htm

My argument is there needs to be better and more focused lobbying.

Jonathan Sheppard December 15, 2013 at 11:02 am

Popularity of politicians us an irrelevance. They take the decisions that affect the industry and our lives as a whole.

A failure to engage means the old adage of you get the laws you deserve comes true.

I could give you a clear example of a piece a guidance hidden in a bill that would have cost my existing employer millions. It was essentially an unit ended consequence. A few conversations with relevant civil servants, a briefing paper given to the shadow minister and the provision was changed. Some of this isn’t rocket science, but, to borrow your phrase, with all due respect, not doing it is no longer an option.

Sue Beesley December 15, 2013 at 12:53 pm

Chipping into this discussion a bit late, but I am interested in the subject of the RHS and lobbying. I took up cudgels on social media over the EU Plant Reproductive Materials legislation three weeks ago, encouraging people to write to their MEPs to seek substantial changes. There was a huge response. I drew information from the HTA and Plant Heritage websites – both organisations had clear information on their websites laying out their concerns along with draft letters to send to MEPs.

I checked the RHS website and there was nothing at all. A few pointed tweets to the RHS produced the response that they were working on their position. Over the following few days after much prodding and email exchanges with various people, a news item was posted on their website outlining the proposals in general terms and encouraging people to write to their MEPs expressing their dissatisfaction. It still didn’t say exactly what changes the RHS were lobbying for, though we know they are involved, behind the scenes. As, in effect, the main representative for small nurseries and UK gardeners at the negotiations I felt they should make their position clear.

This was followed by in email exchange with a very senior person at the RHS who readily clarified the RHS’s position to me by email, but requested that I don’t reprint their words as they were putting something on their website. This was duly done on the 11th December. The closing date for amendments to the legislation was the 10th December.

The RHS is full of wonderful plantspeople and highly regarded garden designers. They don’t have a political mindset and are clearly nervous of nailing their colours to the wall, even in the face of a really serious threat to the diversity of UK horticulture. I can’t seem them engaging in pro-active lobbying this side of the next millenium.

lucy December 13, 2013 at 10:25 am

Thank you Andrew for your comments and you have made some very valid points and really it would be great if you came to the supper. To start on the subject of the RHS. As the most dominant, visible force in british horticulture and as such has a pressure to be at the fore front of any change. The RHS is a traditional bastion of received wisdom and that is good, but if we need change (which I think we do) then it needs to provide the environment to allow change. At the risk of just adding add oil to the flames – can anything with Royal in the title be truly progressive? You make the point the RHS had done lectures but they were “All very nice, all very interesting (if you are interested in gardening) but a bit, well dull.” and that is my point, it needn’t be. I refer you back to the Ron Finley talk and ask if that is dull. It’s not about perennials for every season, but is about something really important and essential in people’s lives.
You also say “Gardening has never been something we do to instruction but is about experimenting, enjoying and having a go.” That is all well and good but, what if you don’t have a garden to experiment in? What if you live in a tower block – how do I reach you? That is why I think you need to try and take gardening out of the back garden and onto the streets. It needs to be relevant and interesting.
The messiah. I agree that Jamie isn’t the answer and nor is intellectualising gardening. However, it is part of an answer. I think we need to explore every possible avenue of expression in trying to involve and enthuse as many people as possible. The idea of garden as art is a pomposity to many, an anathema to others but truly exciting to others. Shouldn’t we as an industry look to try and engage as many different people as possible? I want to suggest that horticulture expands it’s horizons and allows more people with more different ideas in. You end your piece as though you were thinking like me.

Tony Woods December 12, 2013 at 9:20 pm

Lucy, as a participant of one of the videos can I just point out that I was simply asked to be interviewed about my job – I did not submit any application to be featured as a ‘trailblazer’ I was asked about what I do and how I got into the industry.

Andrew Fisher Tomlin December 13, 2013 at 9:04 am

Tony, our students loved them, thank you for doing it.

lucy December 13, 2013 at 10:29 am

Tony, I did not at all want to offend you or any of the people in the films. I think it’s great to show young dynamic people actually getting on and doing stuff. The point was not about you, it was about the RHS and the way it had labelled you as ‘trailblazers’. I wanted to highlight the fact that I think the RHS needs be more progressive and that is all.

Tony Woods December 14, 2013 at 1:11 pm

Really? ”young dynamic people actually getting on and doing stuff” that are ”Lovely but doing the same old things”

I’m disappointed that you did not notice my vertical garden in the video Lucy!?

Why should young people be the trailblazers? Your standard is pretty high anyway, what with those boring Orchid hunters and 27 year old gold medalists.

A progressive RHS – they would simply pay all of their gardeners a living wage.

lucy December 15, 2013 at 8:49 am

In fear of repeating myself my point is that you were labelled a trailblazer, the article is headlined as trailblazers, so the issue is with the term and not with you, the other participants or the work that you do. Horticulture desperately needs new blood and to be positioned as a serious vocation/career which these films do and I and think do well.
I think you also make an excellent point and that is that securing a decent living wage in horticulture is still something many find difficult to achieve and many more find off-putting.

However, these are recruitment films for today, we need recruitment films for tomorrow. My point is that horticulture, in needing to attract new blood has to also engage with new ideas and new definitions of what it is and how it does it. It is only when this happens will we see a wider more diverse group attracted to the profession and horticulture take its place as a serious and valuable vocation that has relevance to the wider whole.

Robin White December 12, 2013 at 5:43 pm

I think it’s a mistake to wait for a messiahs to come or for the BBC to do something different. I’m reminded of the Gandhi quote: “Be the change you want to see in the world.”

annewareham December 12, 2013 at 5:51 pm

We are, Robin.

Robin White December 12, 2013 at 6:03 pm

Anne – I know you are!! But the way Lucy framed the discussion it all sounds as if it’s about “them” – waiting for them to change. If gardening has a shabby, crusty image its up to gardeners not to bemoan it but to fix it by being fresh, relevant and interesting.

Robin

annewareham December 12, 2013 at 6:59 pm

Fair comment!

lucy December 13, 2013 at 10:31 am

Hello Robin I have written a long reply to Andrew as it was the first I came to and I hope that it answers your queries too. However, just on this point – “Be the change you want to see in the world” Do you think that the change required in horticulture is so fundamental that it requires more than just individuals working alone?

Robin White December 15, 2013 at 3:16 am

Hi Lucy – I’m in Northern California and I think we have our own set of dynamics here. For us, despite what Trey wrote, I don’t think I agree that gardening has a crusty image. It’s really quite trendy here – there are plenty of cool design magazines and people who are trying interesting things. Lots of living walls, a new wave of native gardening, excellent designers around here to learn from. There is a big new surge of vegetable growing which is part of the slow food/locavore movement. Plenty of grow-your-own/pickling/backyard chickens/bees/kill-your-own-rabbits classes etc.

I think probably the pipeline problem that we have here is not that young people aren’t attracted to the trade, but that the people who actually do 90% of the garden work – central American immigrants and some Vietnamese – don’t have training available to them to get better. We have great horticultural programs but they are only in English, which leaves out the immigrant communities that are most comfortable in other languages. Training happens on the job, if it happens at all.

So our challenges are different. However I also worship at the altar of English gardening – I’m English too – and so I know what you are talking about re the BBC and the RHS. But I think that the solution is for as many of you as possible to design kickass gardens that matter, to be outspoken in their defense, if you think race is an issue in horticulture then get out and do something about it (start by making friends with people who are different from you and go from there), if you are bored by BBC formats then come up with great show ideas and sell them to the show producers. If you think the RHS should go in a different direction then get involved with it.

To answer your question about whether the change requires more than individuals working alone, my answer is – whatever works. To mangle another famous quote: “Never underestimate the power of a committed individual to change the world.” (Sorry Margaret Meade.) Look at what Anne has done, largely by herself. Many of us in this field are pretty individualistic (which may be part of the problem). But do whatever works – if you are a group person, then do it in a group.

And finally, the Mrs. Dodders problem. We all have our Mrs. Dodderses, but I suppose we shouldn’t forget that, when all is said and done,
Mrs. Dodders pays the bills. And Mrs. Dodders watches the BBC and is a member of the RHS and goes to Chelsea once every five years. So we have to bring Mrs. Dodders along too.

Trey Pitsenberger December 11, 2013 at 7:28 pm

Thank you for posting this. This discussion is sorely needed and I would hope it is just the beginning. I am a nurseryman and garden center owner in northern California. We have the same concerns here. Media and the trade are of course “up in arms” trying to encourage “revolution”, which we suppose will encourage young people to “take up arms” and join in. Sadly the idea if “revolution” ages us, and likely turns off many of the younger people we are trying so hard to interest. I understand the spirit implied, but really don’t think a “revolution” is what we need.

I would hesitate wishing for a gardening “messiah” to come. Every year our media trot out the latest messiah only to watch the interest wane. It’s all so predictable that the younger folks just ignore it. It ages us and harks back to the days of our revolutions, and our messiahs. I do believe an “awakening” is taking place. The series you mention, “#lovemyjob should cheer us! Here are younger people content to work within the current horticultural scene. Instead we want trailblazers to plant vertical gardens, or take part in guerrilla gardening. Yes, these are exciting aspects of horticulture that are somewhat new and refreshing. However let’s not turn our backs on the ones who are following a more traditional path. It’s from these more traditional horticulturalists that will spring forth the awakening we wish for. Let them “cut their teeth” so to speak in traditional horticulture first. Give them time. As for the 70% that say gardening is for drop outs? Revolutions or awakenings have never counted on the majority to start them, or lead the way. Young people are quite pragmatic these days and realize that to get things done, they need to work from within the system somewhat. They have watched our revolutions, and are not sure they want to do it that way, which was our way. Rather they might want to create change from within, their way.

This awakening needs to be international in scope, as you suggest. Whether it’s through meeting in person or meeting in cyberspace, we should include all who wish to take part. Forget about mass media joining in. Profits and headlines is what their after. The Internet is where the action is! Propose international symposiums of young horticulturists working together to help one another create change. Hold meetings using Skype to help connect young people. I am involved in groups on Facebook and other social media platforms that are being populated by younger and older alike. They want our help, but of course would rather not look like they are. By making this an international effort you will soon see not all interested young people are white, middle class. I have an Internet based horticultural trade group that has daily has new members from India, Asia, and The America’s, as well as elsewhere. By helping them connect, and being there for them when they need it, they will work out the future of our trade and the garden.

Thank you.

Sarah Wilson December 11, 2013 at 7:31 am

Thanks for your article Lucy, it’s not the first I’ve read on this topic but it did get me thinking.

First of all, it made me wonder if it’s not ok to come to gardening later in life. I was also a keen gardener as a child then went on to do more ‘glamorous’ things before realising horticulture was a job I could be excited about and which kept me grounded and sane. Is the worry that today’s young people won’t make that same discovery when they reach the appropriate age? If so, why are we doubting them, are we having the collywobbles that they’re more disconnected from nature than before and if so, should we have a little more faith in them?

And secondly, I can’t help but recoil a little at the term ‘gardening’. I work as a gardener but the connotations of that word are hideous, even to me. Images of a spotted pair of suede gardening gloves, a retired lady in an apricot short-sleeved t-shirt and a straw hat, a row of dahlias and a kneeling mat printed with stylised daisies pops unbidden into my head. When I tell people what I do to earn a crust I say the word gardener a little apologetically whilst feeling the need to explain that I’m so much more than that term can relay. And of course, they always tell me that’s handy as their garden is full of weeds and ask when could I pop round, wink, wink. It’s all such a far cry from the years I’ve spent learning my craft which has involved some serious academic study as well as practical experience. It doesn’t cut it when it comes to explaining a discipline that is so seriously rooted both in science and art.

As much as it pains me to revert to the marketing speak of my previous life, I have to say I think it’s time for some rebranding here. Can you imagine Gardening appearing as a subject on the school curriculum? Neither can I, although don’t ask me for a suitable alternative term!

lucy December 11, 2013 at 2:55 pm

Hello Sarah – I think that’s really valid point about having faith in the younger generation to connect with nature as they get older. However, is that enough though I wonder? Would that mean we continue to tread the same path as we do now with gardening just for the middle aged (or slightly younger)?
On your second point, I used to be a gardener and you’re so right that you are held in little or no regard by many people. There can be as much knowledge and experience required to be a good gardener as there is to being a lawyer or doctor, yet the difference of public perception is polar opposites. I don’t how that can be addressed. Perhaps it’s time for a really arduous gardening degree so there is a piece of worthless paper to prove your worth!

Tristan Gregory December 10, 2013 at 7:40 pm

Of course there is a demographic problem with gardening but I can promise you that teaching children to grow radishes in tyres and all the other faddy nonsense that passes for “youth outreach” today will dissolve in the compelling slurry of sex, drugs and foulest of all Facebook that most of us at some point in time have elected to wallow in. Most, though, will surface after a time.

The need to experience and create beauty is as human and persistent as the need to be heard and responded to when one vomits nonsense on the Twitter feed and when a person looks back on their past for the best way to scratch that itch they need to find in their memories of immersion in colour reaching over their heads, the sound and smell of woods and lawns and flowers the sight of Pumpkins grown to excess proportions.

As for horticulture being for dropouts well perhaps it is, the only offence there is that the undeserving and idle should be so lucky.

Andrew OBrien December 11, 2013 at 7:29 am

Horticulture as a career is held in such general contempt that anyone who deliberately chooses to enter it shows a scant regard for the opinion of society at large and consequently qualifies themselves as a dropout. Should be worn as a badge of honour, pending the time when the world comes to its senses and decides horticulturalists are worth paying a decent wage. Might be a bit of a wait.

lucy December 11, 2013 at 10:29 am

Thank you for the comment Tristan and I feel sad I didn’t know you when you were wallowing in a slurry of sex, drugs and foulest of all Facebook! I do think you are right that ‘gardening’ is not interesting to young people, as in not many are interested in tending a back garden. I sort of agree about getting children to grow radishes in tyres etc won’t change the face of gardening. However, I think that there are opportunities to make gardening less parochial and domestic which would make it more exciting and accessible. Do you think that the everyone instinctively has an itch to scratch? I think you are saying that we want to recreate memories of “the sound and smell of woods and lawns and flowers”, if so doesn’t that preclude all those who have been grown up in very urban environments?

Andrew – thank you for your comments. Is it because horticulture is presumed to be mainly manual that it is paid so badly? Is that the only reason? It’s funny isn’t it that the English are supposed to love their gardens yet think so little of those who do it for a living. It’s encouraging that you feel positive about the future. I shall be getting some badges made up.

Tristan Gregory December 11, 2013 at 7:43 pm

It is a very good point about exposure and if there is a role for a thing like the RHS it should be pointing out to schools that the school trips and what have you should not limit themselves to the obligatory museum, gallery or theatre production but should include the very best of what we know to be the highest of all art forms; gardening.

Ours should be part of the art syllabus and not that of home economics.

Regarding the itch I will cop out slightly by saying that the urge to create is universal in proper human beings and while it may not be gardening or indeed any of the arts that same urge may be identified in people’s approaches to their careers, collections and God help the poor buggers, their children. Artistic creation is the purest and least compromised expression of course; one to lay on the wage slaves and domestic tyrants at every opportunity.

When memories of our past indulgence play across our lips as private smiles remember also that wallowing may only be done in low places.

Andrew OBrien December 11, 2013 at 7:54 pm

Hi Lucy, I shall eagerly await my badge! It is interesting about the ‘manual’ thing. Last week I read an excellent post by James Alexander Sinclair (I think it was a crocus, not a blackpitts blog) about the varied nature of a career in horticulture. To me, it was affirming and a compelling argument for choosing horticulture, but then in that respect he was preaching to the choir – there’s no escaping the fact that several of the activities he mentioned were undeniably ‘manual’ and so likely to be looked down upon by the general public who don’t like to get their mitts dirty. To my mind, the only manual workers who receive both a decent salary and a degree of respect commensurate with their skills are surgeons, and I surely don’t begrudge them that. But when we exist in a society that lionizes celebrities while consistently failing to recognise the value of mothers, teachers, nurses, women and carers (just for starters!) – is it really likely that the general public are going suddenly to see the error of their ways and start giving gardeners their due? Perhaps the best that those of us working as gardeners can hope for is to be seen as artisan craftspeople, rather than as part of the cleaning staff. But to alter perceptions, we have to do the reeducating ourselves and, if the respect we feel we’re due isn’t forthcoming, we shouldn’t wait for it to be offered, we have to demand it by clearly showing the value we add in so many ways. Similarly, if we aren’t getting paid enough, we need to charge more, and not be apologetic about it! Clearly there’s’ more to unpack with these things, but I feel I’m starting to go on a bit!

Andrew OBrien December 10, 2013 at 6:12 pm

A thoughtful piece Lucy, thank you! I’ve been really struggling over the past few months to work out for myself if ‘gardening’ really is in decline – as I think is often suggested at the moment – or if it’s more the case that the representation of gardening is in trouble (the image problem of which much is being written). Completely agree that several gardening-related trades – hort, publishing and the media, for e.g. – are experiencing a double whammy of falling revenues and a recruitment problem, and all while the EU is playing silly buggers with regulations that will clearly have serious implications on growers and gardeners alike. But does that mean that gardening itself is clinging on by a thread?

Maybe this is true of the kind of gardening we see portrayed in the mass media. But like you I tend to take comfort from those bottom-up movements that seem to be invested with their own people-powered momentum – the guerilla gardening, the community gardens, forest gardens and even urban foraging – and it would be ideal to see these initiatives receiving the treatment they deserve, rather than receiving a cursory 60 seconds during the course of an hour long programme. But then, I am forgetting. You have to fit in three minutes of the old guard driving around North London in a milk float, don’t you? As such, I don’t really have a problem with Monty succeeding Alan in the Beeb’s Chelsea coverage, they are establishment, and so are the RHS shows (though I expect to hear a howl of protest for suggesting such a thing).

I think the obligation rests with us to communicate a message that gardening can be relevant to a broader section of the population than just the middle aged and the middle class, and if we do this effectively, we have a chance of engaging a younger audience. Like many, I was fascinated by growing plants as a young child but put off ‘gardening’ by being forced to do ‘outdoor cleaning’ as a pocket-money earning chore, only rediscovering my lost interest in my thirties. I think that’s a pretty common experience, though I have to believe that we can help the next generation to maintain their enthusiasm through their teens and twenties and not lose a couple of decades as I did!

On balance, I think gardening’s going to be ok. I think we might be in for a necessary paradigm shift, though, and maybe those who find themselves heavily, systemically invested in the status quo need to be gearing up to be ultra adaptable if they’re to survive.

James Golden December 10, 2013 at 4:15 pm

Do we need a revolution in the garden?

Someone recently remarked that my winter garden is “like an after-party at Medieval chambers.” I immediately recognized subconscious connections to some very ungarden-like things–to images and themes in Bergman’s Seventh Seal and, later, to the German new-expressionist painter Anselm Kiefer (layered canvases incorporating materials such as dirt, wire, dead plants, various “unpainterly” materials, some even subject to rapid deterioration). His paintings are not pretty but are very moving emotionally. When I mentioned Anselm Kiefer to this individual, she remarked, “Interesting you mentioned Kiefer, James Golden – my husband and I were just driving through our polder landscape, and talking [about] how much it resembles Keifer’s or Pollock’s paintings. The palette is dark, rough and earthly, and the manner, the “brush strokes” – is very expressionist.”

Perhaps there are ways to view the garden as a much broader aesthetic statement than usually considered, much as painting or cinema can be, one that deals with subject matter that isn’t necessarily “pretty” in the conventional sense. One that evokes and looks seriously at decay and death. Such a view of gardens owes much to Piet Oudolf, of course; I merely suggest an extension of the simple recognition of the beauty of the winter landscape into a more aesthetically explicit exploration of the darker side of life, the garden as a work of art that is capable of encompassing the entire range of the human condition. Not just a pretty meadow, but also a gloomy forest as the sun sinks below the horizon–indeed, many other things.

lucy December 11, 2013 at 10:01 am

Thank you for the comment James. I really love the way you write about extending the beauty of the winter landscape to explore the darker realities of death and decay. It would be fascinating to see the results of what would happen to gardens if we moved away from the constant drive to have flowers for every season. Death and renewal are the bed rock of so much ‘art’ and it’s the never ending narrative of the garden as it goes from winter through to spring, so the two should be ideally matched. Personally, I would love to experience a garden as “Not just a pretty meadow, but also a gloomy forest as the sun sinks below the horizon”

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