Here, at long last, the first of our reviews of garden blogs – thank you, Nick Leech.
Noel is a good friend of mine, good fun, knowledgeable and generous – though he’s always struck me as a teeny bit smug. This will not succeed in making him less so..
Anne Wareham, editor
Reviewing a blog poses interesting questions for the reviewer. Idiosyncratic, dynamic, non-linear, reflections of their creators, blogs are and remain a work in progress that sit, to a certain extent, beyond criticism. Those qualities make a blog very much like a garden, but whereas most gardens can be visited, experienced, and criticised as discrete entities, only a very new blog with few posts could be approached in the same way. Even the most avid reader will not read every post, and there may be whole sections that visitors know about but never visit, especially if the blog is mature, particularly varied in its content, or the means of navigating it are rudimentary or opaque.
Guided by their own interests, intuitions, and inclination, each visitor to a blog will therefore find their own way through its content. This makes a blog open-ended, like a landscape, and its between these two loci, the garden and the wider landscape, the particular and the general, the big and the small, that Noel’s Garden Blog sits.
The same might also be said for its author, Noel Kingsbury, who describes himself as a garden writer and researcher, lecturer and teacher, and ‘occasional designer’. Kingsbury really needs no introduction and, given his background and the fact that he is also an accomplished journalist and writer, it should come as no surprise that his posts are engaging, often witty, wide ranging, and almost always worth the read. A recent post skips lightly from colour theory in the German garden and the Teutonic love of gnomes to early twentieth century art and horticultural history, before alighting on the Nazi love of native species and the dubious politics associated with early organic veg.
The post is inspired by one of Kingsbury’s articles in the Daily Telegraph, which covers similar ground but yet also manages to be completely different at the same time. Kingsbury’s combination of telling detail and erudition means that I’ve soon read both articles from end to end and before I know it I’ve moved on to an assessment of the longevity of herbaceous perennials. Not, I confess, something I’m particularly interested in, but Kingsbury’s skill for contextualisation and for story telling – he’s always clear about why I should be interested – keep me reading nonetheless. Apparently, this makes me an average reader as Kingsbury’s blog statistics’ widgets show that each of his thirty four thousand visitors since 2010 reads an average of just under three pages each.
Kingsbury’s understanding of colour can be seen in his use of a subtle, if slightly muddy palette for the blog pages – there are no eye-splitting acres of white here – but the text colour used for highlights and links is less successful and in some cases even becomes difficult to read. The blog’s physical layout also leaves something to be desired but it is difficult to tell how much of this results from Kingsbury’s personal design choices or the restrictions imposed by the Blogger platform that hosts his site. Blogger is one of the oldest blog publishing platforms and despite various redesigns, offers themes and page styles that now look amateur, clumsy, and dated in comparison to those offered by its competitors.
The Blogger platform also lets Kingsbury down when it comes to the presentation of photographs. Within posts these appear with white borders but the size and shape of each seems arbitrary and unrelated to its neighbours. The intention may be to make the site look like a scrapbook but the result is a negative impact on the legibility of each post.
Such comments might easily be dismissed as a matter of taste were it not for the fact that the reader’s ability to navigate the rich content on Kingsbury’s blog is actually impaired by its architecture. Without a static, navigable homepage, the reader has to scroll down through posts or search for an archive that only appears after scrolling for some time and once you scroll past this, the reader loses all ability to link to content elsewhere on the blog and has no choice but to scroll back up to the top of the site. The effect is like driving into a digital cul-de-sac.
Kingsbury’s prodigious output as both an author and a writer is matched by his significant presence online, not only through his blog, but also through his website, twitter feed, new e-books and participation in websites like thinkinGardens. This reflects his rare ability to shuttle successfully between the very different worlds of professional, academic, and domestic horticulture, landscape, and design, but I cannot help but feel that digitally at least, Kingsbury deserves something more organised, legible, and coherent. This is a man, after all, who also finds time to write the world’s first horticultural soap opera (Dig, Plant and Bitch, trailed heavily across all media) while running an eco-B&B.
Also on thinkingardens, by Noel Kingsbury: Allusion in Gardens