This is one of those (few) books every thinkingardener wants to have to read in the bath.
Anne Wareham, editor.
‘You Should Have Been Here Last Week – Sharp Cuttings from a Garden Writer’
Did you know that John Denham wrote a poem in 1642 immortalising Cooper’s Hill, which is part of the Runnymede landscape realised by Geoffrey Jellicoe? Did you know that Miss Moberly, first principal of St Hugh’s College (and my own alma mater) saw ghosts at Versailles and wrote a book about it? Did you know that Tom Coward likes Clerodendrum bungei? No, neither did I. But Tim Richardson does. His scholarship and erudition put us all to shame. I thought I had least heard of most 17th century poets but not John Denham.
This volume of Richardson’s various journalistic writing – largely for the Garden Design Journal, the Daily Telegraph and the Financial Times – displays both his knowledge and his acerbity. Included (a gem) is the piece for which he was eventually ‘let go’ by the Garden Design Journal for being too polemical, and another for which the journal apologised even though Richardson stood by it.
The pieces range from 2004 to 2015 and in this decade one can find Richardson becoming more pointed, more argumentative and more enjoyable to read. Read ‘From Versailles to Poplar’ to find Richardson at his most combative and trouble making – and getting himself into trouble too for suggesting that Chelsea gardens don’t translate well to housing estates. On the other hand ‘Immersive not pictorial’ on how design has been changing and developing is at once graceful, appreciative and thoughtful.
If you want a book to dip into, there is always something interesting to find. And if you want to be amused, exasperated or challenged, then read the lot. The most important thing is that on every page, Richardson takes gardens and gardening seriously. He doesn’t discuss the now hoary topic of whether gardens are art – he merely assumes it and then treats both the execution and the composition in that light. So the context of garden making and the surrounding landscape are just as important as the plants – but the planting styles, mixes and choices are equally relevant and he talks about them all.
Having finished the book, I am struck by a couple of things. One is that the Garden Design Journal should get him back pronto. The other is that there isn’t much on conceptual gardens, on which he has written extensively. Is this because ‘concepts’ are still a stretch too far for garden writing editors? It’s odd, because all gardens have a concept at their heart if they have anything to say, and this emerges in some of the writing here about gardens hallowed by history, but Sissinghurst is name checked more than Schwartz.
In a way, what brings all the threads of his writing together is the review of the recent exhibition at the Royal Academy of ‘Painting the Garden’. Richardson bemoans the absence of British artists in the show, and equally shows an encyclopaedic knowledge of them. Garden writing is lucky to have him – enjoy!
Bridget Rosewell OBE
You will also enjoy A Matter of Words by Patterson Webster