Lagerfeld Rules – should he ever turn his attention to gardening, by Abbie Jury

June 8, 2012

in Articles, General Interest

I love the way thinkingardens reaches across the world. My ambition is to become truly international, with the best from every continent..Well, it sounds so glamorous. A bit like Karl Lagerfeld, perhaps?

So, recently I ‘met’ Abbie Jury, an excellent writer and gardener from New Zealand, and here is her take on the said Karl Lagerfeld..

Anne Wareham, editor.

Karl Lagerfeld

Abbie Jury: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nothing sophisticated about blue pots from Vietnam

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

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

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

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

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

Abbie Jury 

Abbie’s websites:  Tikorangi Garden and Abbie Jury’s writing and Abbie tweets as @Tikorangi

Portrait Abbie Jury

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{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Bill Rose June 22, 2012 at 5:54 pm

Ah! Sound bite garden advice, not for me, given a ‘Lagerfeld’ mouth piece. considering the New Zealand / Auz source perhaps you might consider what ‘Costa’ and his beard might have to say about French Fashion. Or is that twisting the cross-connection to far..


Abbie Jury June 25, 2012 at 8:12 pm

Geography, dear sir, geography. Lest one think that it would be absolutely fine for a Frenchman to speak on behalf of the British. After all, your countries are so close together, they are pretty much one and the same, aren’t they?


Tristan Gregory June 12, 2012 at 8:13 pm

Any implication that we should give up on attempting fashion and embrace passion in our gardens strikes a cord with me. If a box edged vegetable garden with a toilet bowl water feature is what you want then that is what you should have. There is only one condition and that is that you remember to treat gushing praise and seething contempt with the same polite indifference as you go about enjoying yourself.


David Bowen June 11, 2012 at 11:46 am

Well, I can’t really accept Mr. Lagerfeld as an expert on anything as real as gardens – there is good evidence that tans are unhealthy, and really the only acceptable tan is one gained from working out of doors. (Such as a real gardener might have, if not sufficiently careful about sun.)

But there is a philosophical problem with the strictures against copies. First, gardeners (or at least the propagators who supply and support gardeners) thrive by making copies. None of us wants to have to travel the world to see the single, unique, original plant. We want a copy (clone, cutting) of the plant in our garden. And this is admirable, since it improves the chance of survival for that species or cultivar. It also reduces the amount we need to travel.

Perhaps the same is true of copies of art (sculpture, paintings): the more good copies there are the less we need to travel to see the originals, and the better the chances of survival for the art work. This worked for books in the days before printing.


Abbie Jury June 12, 2012 at 7:50 am

I do not for one minute rate clonal reproduction of a plant as a copy. While fashion designers may do some one-off designs, they also rely on making prototypes and managing the downstream production of high grade identical items. A knock off copy is a competitor trying to simulate what the original designer created, simply by copying key features, and releasing it on the market at a fraction of the price of the original, having incurred none of the start-up costs and contributing nothing to research and development. Cashing in. It happens in the plant world. Compare our flagship plant, Cordyline Red Fountain ( with the far more recent introduction of Cordyline Design-a-line Burgundy (shown on , though claimed to be “bred” by a New Zealand competitor). Some might describe that as an opportunistic, knock-off copy. I couldn’t possibly comment….


The Jolly Green Gardener June 9, 2012 at 8:02 pm

Beautifully written and very funny. Though I can’t help but feel that Karl Lagerfeld’s views are really your own cloaked in a bright orange, white-haired and bespectacled veil. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. A very original piece and I, for one, would love to see more of this type.


annewareham June 9, 2012 at 10:54 pm



Abbie Jury June 10, 2012 at 1:33 am

You may enjoy the following two pieces, in that case. The first on why we do not do weddings in our garden. Because I knew the bride would read it, I toned down my comments considerably and resisted the temptation to write about Bridezillas, Big Fat Gypsy Weddings, or micromanagers who fail to factor in the clean up after an event when they are not even paying a venue fee…

And a much earlier piece I wrote after Elton John paid a fleeting visit to do a concert in our closest town, which attracted the attention of the American Dahlia Society who took my slightly derisive comments about dahlias very personally.

Don’t know how to activate these as links so you may have to post them in your browser.


Faisal Grant June 9, 2012 at 11:41 am

My only comment on this very witty perspective is that those who may be considered totally right can actually be totally wrong.


JillB June 9, 2012 at 9:51 am

This caught my eye as a long time fan of Lagerfeld’s designs. Interesting twist and many comments well theorised. Enjoyed the concept, thank you.


Abbie Jury June 8, 2012 at 10:49 pm

Word count, Stephen. Had to keep it under 900. Otherwise even KL might have been surprised to find what he was endorsing. Not just any magnolia, either. Only high end ones….


Stephen Read June 8, 2012 at 6:57 pm

I heard a rumour that the KL favourite flower is a Magnolia !


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