GARDENS OF CORNWALL

by Katherine Lambert, photographs by Alex Ramsay

Publisher Frances Lincoln (March 2012)
ISBN 978-0711231252

Hardback
£16.99

It’s perhaps a rash assumption but certainly at first glance this attractive book seems most likely destined for a stylish coffee-table existence, but closer inspection of it is both rewarding, and enjoyable. It’s the contents page showcasing the usual range of suspects that is initially uninspiring, especially to a reader with a good passing knowledge of Cornwall’s big horticultural attractions, but it’s the writing and breadth of knowledge that redeems it. And along the way there are some surprises too.

What Katherine Lambert has managed to do, in a necessarily limited number of words, is capture the essence of each of the examples on display here, and she does so in a very thoughtful, readable style. From Glendurgan and Trebah to the Eden Project, she’s boiled down the history and significance of each ‘garden’ so the visitor, or reader, has a well educated chance to savour and interpret the experience, whether it’s an actual visit or an armchair immersion. She outlines the areas that each location excels in, and contexts it with her wide-ranging knowledge of the UK’s other significant assets. When she contrasts Barbara Hepworth’s Sculpture Garden with Kettle’s Yard in Cambridge and Ian Hamilton Findlay’s Little Sparta, you just know she’s been to all of them and understands that it’s integrity of vision that unites them.

The hand of a good designer is on show here too. This is not something you can always rely on and is infuriating when absent. But here there’s an innate balance between Alex Ramsay’s photographs and Lambert’s text, and as you read you can see the precise and illuminating illustration of both the fact and sentiment of each piece. There’s always something to learn from this done well, and the contemporary stimulus of Tremenheere and the challenging endeavours of Marsh Villa are now on my visiting list, and before we go I’ll revisit the author’s writings on how to get the best from each. And perhaps there’s the rub. On the back jacket you learn that Katherine Lambert has been joint editor of the Good Gardens Guide since 2004. I presume the Guide is available in a travel handy edition, and is as practical as it is comprehensive. But Gardens of Cornwall can hardly be stuffed in a car door pocket so which market is it catering for? I think the nicest thing to be done with it is to place it on the bedside table of a summer guest, and wait for them to announce they’re off to see some gardens. Job done, they’re out and about and enjoying Cornwall. Oh, and why on earth haven’t we ‘done’ Tresco yet?

Jeremy Gibson