A History of Island Gardening
What makes a British garden so British?
Turns out that that the traditional British country garden and vegetable plot is as native to this island as the language.
The British are indeed a sum of it’s multi-cultural parts. Our language has evolved thanks to invaders, conquerors, travelling artisans and settlers to these shores, and our gardens are no exception. From confused Roman columns propping up the B&Q garden pagoda and Victorian horse troughs modelled on Persian fountains, Palm trees cunningly disguising the glamour of Clacton-On-Sea, and the complex gravel pathway descendants of French mathematicians, the evidence and influence is everywhere.
Of course, the fact that we live on an island has a lot to do with it. Travel to and from overseas is inevitable, and with our explorers return curiosities, plants, insects, birds, animals, food, medicine and science, as well as fragments of borrowed culture, another word or phrase to add to the pot. Such is our education, cultural and horticultural evolution, pre-internet explosion. Now explorers can venture further than ever before, no need for walking boots and compasses when you have Pinterest and Amazon home delivery.
Time and the weather waits for no man.
The winter months in the UK can be rather miserable to put it mildly. The view from the kitchen window has been one of a cold, drizzly and grey expression. Where once grew an abundance of leafy green vedge, now lay sodden uninviting rows of muddy earth with the remains of the Christmas sprouts and spring cabbages, now peppered with holes, becoming sweet pigeon fodder. This is not the sight I want to look upon next winter, something has to change. Sorry pigeons.
So as it continues to rain, I turn to the book case in my local Oxfam charity shop to look for some inspiration. Here I found a paper back copy of ‘A History of British Gardening‘ by Miles Hadfield, bullied into a corner by a glossy hardback of ‘How to be a better gardener’ by some popularised untalented TV personality. I chose the forgotten and wilting, musty pages of Hadfield, a Penguin publication.
The history of gardening is a path well worth exploring.
So began my study and research into the history of gardening in the UK. It’s just the beginning but I have been utterly inspired.
For anyone interested in adding a spark to their gardening style, or just a spark to blow away those winter garden blues, this is a rich and rewarding path to follow. As soon as you begin to explore this past, a veil is lifted and you’re awoken with a renewed hungry sight. The ‘for granted’ becomes fascinating once again, dreary and ignored areas of the garden become possibilities for experimentation. Stories have to be retold and long forgotten discoveries are soon to be re-cultivated on an English council estate in Essex.
So, from uncharted waters and exotic lands explored to royal parks and stately homes, vistas to feed the hungry poets and inspire the bards, that fill the canvases and honour the last. An English garden and it’s history is nurtured along my short path, ambition of a Gillyflower unsurpassed. Within two square meters, a captains bounty pushes through the grass.
The spiritual Islamic Paradise gardens, fruits of the West Indies and flowers of Japan can be seen in the modest of gardens. The most familiar and routine walk to the shops may now become a grand tour of the world.
Quote: Sir William Chambers (1702-1796) ‘ ‘…it often requires the space of a century, to redress the blunders of an hour’