“Your descriptions of Seats & Gardens . . . are often imperfect, frequently flippant, & sometimes false…….Be advised therefore from a friend to your Fame, as well as your Peace of mind; and do not print any thing that will either hurt or offend the Owners of Places, when in so doing, you will bring upon you much, & I fear, some well-deserved Criticism from Real Connoisseurs.”
William Mason, in correspondence with William Gilpin in the 1780’s
Gilpin’s reply: (note – ‘writing for the ladies’ was intended to indicate a deplorable popularism..)
“Get you along – get you along, you & your friend, out of the precincts of taste. Go, cultivate some clod of earth. In the regions of landscape – of lights, & shades, & glowing tints, you have nothing to do. – I write for the ladies! – No, sir, – nor for such critics as you, & your cold, unanimated friend. I write merely, & solely for people of picturesque genius – whether gentlemen, or ladies, I reck not.”
Tristan Gregory’s piece about Rousham produced criticism of thinkingardens for publishing such a piece, and whether his criticisms were accurate or not got rather neglected. So I feel a need to address the issue of publishing garden criticism on thinkingardens.
For what it’s worth we owe thinkingardens to my being angry. Not temperate and rational, but angry about the garden world’s dishonesties and complacency. I care a lot about gardens and about honesty, and my therefore my anger is deep and abiding and gets continually fed.
So I sympathise with Tristan’s feelings, expressed so robustly, about Rousham and I’m glad to be able to enable him to have a voice. He would not be able to tell his truth anywhere else that I know of, except for his own blog if he had one. (which he doesn’t as far as I know.)
And I have always made Veddw available to criticism. I know how it hurts and I also value it. Criticism of thinkingardens hurts too and I publish it.
At the same time I feel distressed to think that we may, as has been suggested in the comments, be sabotaging my efforts to develop and promote garden criticism.
Though if I am doing, I have been doing this for the past nine years. We started early with Bridget’s review, which produced howls of anger – in writing and at Chelsea, where Dan Pearson collared me and told me Bridget had no right, as an economist, to criticise his garden. And there was an outcry too when an American correspondent wrote about her visit to this country on thinkingardens and called a garden ‘crap’. And so on.
There is an obvious suggestion that I should edit out the most vigorous comment and make sure thinkingardens is balanced. Along the lines of the BBC perhaps – so that one view must have another view to counter it? And if I cannot produce two or three people with opposing viewpoints then the one person must offer all? And that I would be more effective in my aims if I did so? Or perhaps that I should just make sure any adverse comments are kindly expressed?
I take that seriously. But, going back to my opening, I have to say that this is probably beyond me. There is a context – of the overall garden world, where, to summarise, all gardens are ‘lovely’ and woe betide anyone who says anything different. And my woe has been well betidied for doing so over years.
So my perspective is that robust comment and criticism is in itself a balance, and a welcome one.
As Philip Clayton said on twitter in response to Tristan’s piece: “what a relief! Rousham, the holy cow to many design type folk but it didn’t do much for me when I visited. Thought it just me!” How many more of us have felt bewildered, angry and confused when faced by the reality of an overpraised garden? Especially if we travelled many miles at great expense of time and money to do so?
But if the cost is that thinkingardens speaks to no-one because people are offended and upset, then that is clearly self defeating. And a shame.
So. I have thought about what some of you have said.
And, I will continue to publish and offer a forum for a range of views and responses to gardens, books and other garden related things, and I will not censor those pieces, but continue to rely on my contributors to do their best within their own priorities, demanding only that people tell as near to their truth as is humanly possible.
But – I will ask that those of you who support my aims, but not the way I do it, to begin to do it yourselves. I have no exclusive rights to garden criticism of any kind and I encourage you all to find ways to promote the kind you wish to see and to get it out there into the wider world. And I will cheer you every inch of the way. And help, if I can.
And for those of you who find the whole idea of being critical of gardens terrible: there will always be a great deal else on thinkingardens to entertain you.
PS and in case you think I am speaking just academically – here’s a piece I wrote earlier about being criticised.
Anne Wareham, editor