The Thinking Gardens Supper – what was it like? by Lucy Masters

March 5, 2014

in Articles, Events, General Interest, Suppers

At last – the account of the thinkingardens supper, which took place in London in the pouring rain and a tube strike. For all that sixteen people made it (see who at the bottom of this page) and it was excellently chaired by Chris Young, editor of the RHS The Garden.

It was a great evening and was followed by copious emails of everyone to everyone – clearly the wish for continuing dialogue was there, and there were questions about how to do that – maybe with online discussion?

With all that enthusiasm another one is clearly needed – so book the 18th of May, London, (Sunday evening before Chelsea) at 7 in your diaries and contact Lucy ( if you’d like to be there. Meanwhile, here is Lucy’s account of the evening.

Anne Wareham, editor

Thinkingardens supper Copyright Anne Wareham

Yes, they are fuzzy pictures. Snaps. I was preoccupied with other things..

Lucy Masters:

Topic: do we need a revolution in the garden world? 

If I’m honest I was intimidated by the Thinkingardens supper. I don’t get out much and the thought of lots of strident horticulturalists round a table was terrifying. I also wasn’t sure what kind of debate would happen, would it be bad tempered or would it be pointless?

In fact it was immediately engrossing and lively. I hadn’t expected it to be so animated and passionate – not passionate in a dull and hectoring way but it a very inspiring way. I became too involved and my note taking went totally out the window and my memory of it isn’t all it should be. So, upfront I have to admit that this is a personal take on the event and not at all analytical and even handed.

Thinkingardens supper Copyright Anne Wareham

Emphasis (no – not pointing the way to the bar)

It started off immediately with strongly diverse opinions as it quickly became apparent everyone wanted to address a different section of society. Some people wanted more youth, some people wanted more diversity, some wanted more discernment. That was interesting in itself and it showed a great wealth of passion and disparity that I hadn’t expected. I am all for diversity under my own definition of it and yet it was immediately obvious that this was diversity by anyone’s definition. Did that matter? It meant that we wouldn’t find a consensus, but actually I found sometimes dissent is more interesting and informative. For me it was eye opening and it crystallized my own idea about what I personally really cared about. It also showed that while there may be fusty elements in horticulture, there was also some fire knocking around too.

One of the first points to come up was about failure. Gardening programs or journalism generally never show the plants dying or things going wrong or being difficult. It was a really good point. Why is that? Is gardening unconfident, that if people see it’s hard they will be put off? Yet, it is fundamental to every popular reality television program, the Bake Off disasters, the Simon Cowell put downs. It’s the failures that draw us in.

Thinkingardens supper Copyright Anne Wareham

Now you can see the way to the bar…

How can we change that? Horticulturalists can be an austere lot and that austerity can be intimidating. Is it worth admitting failure as well as acknowledging success? I can’t change program making but I thought perhaps one small way would be to have a blog. There is already a great #blackthumbs on Twitter. I have set up a blog –blackthumbsblog. This isn’t meant to be a traditional blog where one person narrates but is more a confessional. I have started by adding a couple of my own failures but twitter has some great ones which I have just put in a more accessible place – the home of failure. It makes surprisingly funny, heart warming reading. Please add anything to the twitter #, comment on the blog or email me and I’ll upload it – let’s celebrate failure. Or as Samuel Beckett would say – “try again, fail again, fail better.”

Thinkingardens supper Copyright Anne Wareham

The only one I have of you, Helen..

In the same vein it was brought up that nothing surprising happens on gardening television or in gardening books. (clearly no-one had read The Bad Tempered Gardener, ed.) The Garden Revival might have been many things but it wasn’t ground breaking or innovative. This dissatisfaction with the media has clearly been going on for years. I recently found such a post on The Guardian blog from 2011 where Matthew Appleby complained , “The media sees gardening as a hobby rather than a profession.

That’s an interesting point – how important is horticultural knowledge in creating a garden? A discussion for a different article or supper perhaps?

Thinkingardens supper Copyright Anne Wareham

Coffee time..

The craft of gardening is its greatest joy and its greatest limitation.‘ This was quote I did manage to write down because I thought it was so succinctly right and complex. On the one hand the act of gardening is what really engages a lot of people. The plants, the growing, the fundamentals, the joy of getting down dirty and gardening. On the other hand, the craft of gardening, alienates many. To the outsider it seems incredibly complex and daunting. I remember so well working in a garden centre and being totally intimidated by all the Latin names. It was a club impossible to break into. What was a perennial? and oh, how they laughed as I asked about Cotton Easters.

Thinkingardens supper Copyright Anne Wareham

Yes, you can see Anne there, on the left..

However, more importantly the craft, the doing, precludes thinking. Because gardening is understood as a natural, innate act it resists analysis. It’s anti-intellectual. This means we have a problem when we come to try and evaluate gardens. The two – gardening and gardens – are so intertwined they are almost synonymous. Gardens as a great design or art form are always contaminated by the more gritty ‘how to’ of gardening. How can we begin to extricate the garden in order that it can be considered as a thing of beauty, a work of art?

The supper attendees agreed that there needed to be greater credibility given to the critical appreciation of gardens. How could we engage people in a true understanding of what makes and is, a great garden? There was an idea to create a competition. ‘Britain’s best/ worst garden’, to be judged by a mixed panel of horticulturists, historians, artists. I thought that was a good idea, but it would interesting, through the comments to see what anyone else thought. Also, should we have a star rating for gardens? Would that help? Would anyone care? What do you think?

Thinkingardens supper Copyright Anne Wareham

I haven’t credited individuals with particularly thoughts as I think others will be left out and that would be wrong because everyone who came to the supper was a really valuable and integral member. We may not have solved all of the horticultural crisis, but then there is always another supper. Hopefully.

Lucy Masters Blog 1 Blog 2. Blog 3

lucy masters portrait






Mike Atkinson 

Toby Bull

Dave Green 

Helen Gazeley 

Jonathan Ward

Tristan Gregory 

Charles Hawes

Alexander Hoffman 

Lucy Masters 

Alison Marsden 

Sue Moss 

Jason Payne 

Paul Steer 

Anne Wareham

Helen Yemm 

Chris Young 


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