Friday, 23 September 2011

The tragedy of lost pleasures

I am absolutely passionate about gardens, I desperately want more people to go outside and enjoy their garden. There is so much wasted potential – potential for people to create their own space and potential for real enjoyment. All of this potential is being lost and (I know I’m a bit daft) I think it’s nothing short of a tragedy.

How to encourage people to go outside and enjoy? How do we encourage people to claim their outside space and make it theirs, something they can be proud of and enjoy?

Well we could try to bang on about how important gardening is, we could talk enthusiastically about growing vegetables, wax whimsically about the joys of early morning pruning sessions.

But haven’t we been doing this for years and years and years. The net effect? More people than ever are being turned off gardens and gardening programmes and books.

It’s been a resounding unmitigated failure. It’s time for a new approach.

Monday, 21 February 2011

Why 'Gardens Are For People' ?

56 years ago Thomas Church wrote a book called ‘Gardens Are For People’, the book has been hugely influential and it revolutionised the way we see gardens … well almost.

This book sowed the seeds of the idea that gardens are outside rooms. It was written at a time when home ownership was growing and row upon row of newly built houses were being put up all with smallish gardens and all in need of inspiration. There was spare money and spare time for many and not just the few.

Church wanted these gardens to suit people’s needs not some preconceived idea of what a ‘garden’ should be. His idea for designing outside spaces was logical, based on reason and those reasons come from the owner of the space…
“There are no mysterious ‘musts’, no set rules…. (Landscaping) is logical, down to earth and aimed at making your plot of ground produce exactly what you want and need from it.”
Wants and needs - these are the priority for Church. He saw that in an overcrowded world the garden becomes a haven. He saw that in small houses the extra room given by a garden would be a useful space for dining, entertaining and lounging. He saw that gardens can provide happiness in the way that other areas of the house cannot; with garden design,
“The direction in which to move will be determined by the desires of the people who expect to find happiness in their gardens.”
He also knew that gardening wasn’t what they wanted from their gardens,
 “People want their gardens to provide many pleasures, conveniences and comforts; none but the dyed-in-the-wool gardeners want them to be any work.”
 So this book, which has been so influential, should have dealt a death blow to the tyranny of ‘gardeners’ in outside spaces. But still they reign; still any mention of garden assumes gardening, whatever people actually want and need.

We are still waiting for the revolution that is the inevitable consequence of that logic Thomas Church saw so clearly 56 years ago.

Monday, 14 February 2011

Wanted: Hairy Bikers for the garden

‘Kitchen porn’ I call it. All very nice to look at but not the sort of thing most of us do at home.  The stuff the Nigellas and the Hestons do might make us run out and buy their cookery books for more titivation; but I’ll bet not many of us do it in the privacy of our own homes.

But in amongst all of that unrealistic Crème brûlée is a nugget of realism.  As Ed Cumming pointed out in the Telegraph this week The Hairy Bikers are welcome back;

“Myers and King go into the homes of real people, to see the real food they really eat. It might not excite the Michelin inspectors, but that’s not what they’re trying to do. To watch their programme is to be reminded not only that it’s OK to eat shepherd’s pie and jam roly-poly, but that shepherd’s pie and jam roly-poly, cooked well, are delicious and perfectly healthy.”
So where is the programme which ‘doesn’t excite the RHS inspectors but is about the gardens of real people’?  When will someone stand up to the snobs and say, "it’s OK to have a ‘normal’ garden"? Where is the antidote to unrelenting ‘garden porn’?
Kitchens just feed your gut – gardens feed your soul.

Monday, 7 February 2011

Gardens and the Great Disconnect

You may be aware of a term that’s doing the rounds – the political ‘disconnect’ in this country.  With the media and politicians on one side of the divide and the ‘ordinary’ public on the other. The people on each side of this inviolable divide inhabit different worlds, they come from different backgrounds, they have each been through educational establishments so different there is no way on earth they can really understand each other.

A hundred years ago you had a party on one side whose spokespeople were drawn from the great mass of the working class. The other party was of and for the property owners, the landowners. It was a class based divide but each side was represented in Parliament.  And in the media there were plenty of people who had worked their way up through apprenticeships and local papers who could call themselves working class.

The class divide has gone and with it almost any remnants of the representatives of ‘normal’ people.  ‘Normal’? ‘Ordinary’? This is one of the problems there’s not even really a word for us.

This great majority, this huge middle mass (we’re not working class or middle class these are too specific and nowadays middle class tends to mean very well off) is not represented. The people in parliament and the people running the media have no idea what we want, what we aspire to, what we fear. We are ruled but not represented.

When Gordon Brown called Gillian Duffy a ‘bigot’ it wasn’t a seismic moment because he was rude, it was seismic because it showed this disconnect, this lack of understanding, it showed with crystal clarity the two worlds – the rulers and the ruled.

So what’s this got to do with gardens? Well in some ways gardens are different, the world of gardens has always been run by the toffs; the Gertrudes and the Christophers. The working gardeners were happy to doff their caps and never thought to try to take over.

But the world’s not divided into upper and working any more and gardens haven’t caught on yet. This middle mass now has the means, the time and the wish to create their own gardens and outside spaces.  The old advice, the old books, the old programmes, based on the idea of large gardens, time-rich, cash-rich, horticulturally inclined people looks increasingly out of touch and disconnected from reality.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Cosy, cushy, complacent - and you thought sitcoms were too middle class.

OK sitcoms are a bit cosy and smug, but what about garden programmes?

Garden magazines, newspaper articles and TV programmes aren’t just cozy, they’re so snuggled down in their own well-padded, self-centred world they lost sight of daylight a long time ago.

They aren’t just middle class, they’re stuck in a 1950’s Miss Marple parody of middle class. They’re up to their Guardian-reading, organic-muesli armpits in middle class attitudes and assumptions.

Taking their intellectual creed from the upper class Victorian plant collectors, they spout Latin with ease, and the garden they hold up as ideal is so far from the sort of garden most people have it’s unrecognisable; it’s not a small square of outside space that’s crying out for a bit of a attention – no, their gardens are large enough to require several servants – and you suspect that’s exactly what they have.

The Chelsea Flower Show and the Royal Horticultural Society are the epitome of this upper class strangle-hold over what should be a fairly mass market subject. At Chelsea they actually wear straw hats and speak in a manner I haven’t heard since radio presenters shook off their dinner jackets.  It’s a festival of manners that has so very little to do with ordinary people’s gardens, ordinary people’s aspirations and needs, I’m surprised some enterprising museum hasn’t tried to buy it up as a living exhibit.

Why does this matter? Oh it matters. This matters more than the sitcoms. Sitcoms hold up a blurry mirror to society for 20-odd minutes a week and then we move on. Gardens… gardens are outside your back door all the time. And millions of people are being deterred from enjoying their outside space because it doesn’t measure up to this ridiculous, joy-less, overpriced, outdated ideal.

Why is no one talking to the masses? Why are gardens being kept in the preserve of the small clique?  Why limit your audience?

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

I believe with a passion that gardens are special.

Unlike any room inside the house, your outside space can be formed into whatever you want it to be. Uniquely this room outside is a space whose sole purpose is … well whatever you chose.

You chose what to do there - Gardens are for people.

It sounds pretty obvious but gardens have been taken over by the specialists – the people with a hobby – the gardeners. And they say gardens are for gardening; gardens are for plants.

Pretty much everything you read or see equates gardens with gardening. But what about all those people who have a garden or a yard or a patio, who want a lovely space, but who don’t like gardening? Who really hate gardening? Who just don’t have any time to garden? Where to they go for advice, help and inspiration?

All of these people are missing out on a wonderful experience because they’re being sidelined by the people with a fairly specialist hobby.

That’s what this blog will be about.  Stick your spades, I’m for magic, not muck. And gardens can be magical.

Your garden is there for your pleasure and for your amusement. If you want to sit and read the papers, hold parties, play games, do yoga, paint pictures… the garden is the space for you.

I want to change the message about gardens – gardens aren’t for gardeners; gardens are for people.