THOUGHTFUL GARDENING: Great Plants, Great Gardens, Great Gardeners

by Robin Lane Fox

Publisher: Particular Books (2010)
ISBN 978-1846-142895

Hardback £25

First, in the title, after ‘Great Gardeners’, I would add ‘Great Passion’, because that’s what clearly comes through to me: a book written by a knowledgeable plantsman with a great passion for his subject but adding good doses of reality-checking and humour. Myself being a bit of a garden book dipper (dipping in and out), I did wonder after wading into the start how long it might take me and was I ever to become hooked and connect with the theme, but actually yes I did and not too far in!

I like the way Robin tells it as it is, with no holds barred. I thought it was a great touch splitting the book into seasons, as a true gardener would plan their yearly work. Each season starts with an article from old: in the case of Winter, it’s ‘How to prune Cobnuts’ by Arthur Hellyer, first published in 1936. Then each section goes on to describe the special plants, people and places that Robin connects with in those particular months.

What about the plants? Robin describes his favourites such as Genista aetensis, the Mount Etna broom; he finishes his informative discussion on this by stating, ‘for nearly twenty years I have failed to kill the Etna broom. I can give it no better recommendation’. The people he has met over many years of fraternising with the gardening community and sharing his knowledge and experience give the book a more personal feel. He writes about Nancy Lancaster of Haseley Court near Oxford: after she had already transformed one garden, she tackled this one and Robin describes it as a ‘fascinating tribute to her eye and skill’.

I was particularly amused reading the section called ‘Tresco on Teeside’ in which he puts forward a little thought-provoking stab at climate change. Not being a sceptic, Robin is more convinced and trying to convince the reader of a zig-zag pattern to such weather issues and refers to Gilbert White and others for good reason.

Did I enjoy the book? Yes, once I trained my own dipping mentality and got down to some good solid reading. The regular dry humour and ‘get back to basics’ attitude were refreshing and enlightening. Did I learn anything? Yes, lots! I loved the bit on how Mahonia ‘Charity’ also had Faith and Hope as close relatives, both with royal blood!

Ian Wright