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Customer Review

32 of 42 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars NOT MY CUP OF TEA..., 23 July 2012
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This review is from: A Gentle Plea for Chaos (Paperback)
I consider myself a "proper gardener" - with 5 acres to play with and precious little help, I have to be; indeed, it's virtually my sole raison d'Ítre. According to Osler, however, as a "proper gardner" - her term - I should have a mania for neatness, be obsessed with geometric precision, requiring precisely and constantly clipped edges and hedges, display pristine, bare soil between my plants, remove all weeds, attractive or not, disallow all self-seeding of any kind, eschew any atmosphere of mystery in my design (nothing to "draw you on") and, above all, NEVER sit in my garden.

In fact, I'm the exact opposite in every instance; indeed, my garden's ultimate, overriding purpose is to be sat in at every opportunity (not many so far this summer...).

Needless to say, for Osler the term "proper gardner" is a pejorative, the pejorative on which the book is based, being the gardner who disallows all chaos. But it's a contrivance, a writer's indulgence. A gardening archetype has been created who can be pilloried for the purpose of entertainment to earn a quid or two; and the pleas of the title are often far from gentle.

I was hoping that Osler might be a kindred spirit whose writing I could enjoy. But she effuses over things I avoid, Verbascums, foxgloves, Achilleas, for example (vicious thugs all of them, causing as much work as the worst weeds) whilst contemptuously despising so many things I enjoy, such as heathers, dahlias, variegated plants, rhododendrons and gladioli. Osler also shudderingly condemns Prunus "Kiku-shidari Sakura" (Cheal's weeping cherry); I've just planted 5 more.

The writing style is very much an acquired taste; the prose too flowery, effusive and ornate, with a hint of a Victorian flavour. Be aware, too, that Osler's garden is a garden of the wealthy, and while she has much to say that is sensible here and there, not all of it may apply to your circumstances.

I don't condemn or criticise any of the reviewers who think it's a marvelous book, any more than I do the gardners who don't garden in my style. I just happen not to share a liking for garden writers who pillory other folks' tastes, which I think is bad form, even snobbish. I detect in these pages the flavour of the "U and non-U" of days long gone. For myself, I may not like what you do in your garden, but I will defend to the death your right to do it.
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Showing 1-4 of 4 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 15 Jan 2014 15:36:04 GMT
Mr Pip says:
The quotation is perhaps K...gard and a good one for all sorts of things that wrankle one so, - to the point of spitting but politeness intervenes, as it should.

I shall not buy this book for your words tell me more than her prose proposes. Afterall, a garden is the one place where class is meant to be irrelevant.

In reply to an earlier post on 3 May 2015 07:27:44 BDT
BilboWaggins says:
A much more helpful review than the usual effusive praise. Thank you.

Posted on 18 May 2015 14:41:13 BDT
Angel says:
A little over critical I feel:- I suspect the baby went with the bath water in this review... too much is written about JW's garden and his opinion rather than simply saying "The writing style is too flowery, effusive and ornate for my taste" by contrast it is exactly MY taste as a little delight in a busy bustling dreary world. I praise the book for it is just what it says on the cover a gentle plea - it is prose, it is opinion and for me, it is just great. It gives me joy from its flowery writing and is, as it says, an opinion; a plea by the author. It is not a gardening guide and how JW made class distinctions and presumptions of wealth is a fantasy of his own and quite rude. Maybe offended in defence of the 5 cherries. It think the author is a joyful gardener celebrating what growing and nature can do, sharing her view which must be popular by selling so many copies that in 2011 a reprint was finally agreed to after years of persuasion. So surely JW, with such a variety of gardening people we can recognise and respect that we differ? Surely we should welcome differing views such as the authors? I don't like yellow roses, but others love them; I don't like french marigolds but they keep the aphids away, so am I a bit like the author (?) and not deserved of such a personal lifestyle attack in this review? Please also consider the original print date, yes some language is not that which we use today, but, that is why it is a characterful in its own right. As gardeners no matter what we grow or where we garden, we all share a common interest and we all should be able to recognise and enjoy conversations about gardening. The diaries of Great Dixter are prose, descriptive and opinion too but would we throw out the great wisdom and words of Christopher LLyod and rubbish his work just because we disagree on our liking of a certain plant? Finally, I thank JW for my right to review too and my right to garden in my style. Bless his kindness and generosity for allowing others to review differently. If I may indulge further, sorry, - in my own opinion, for what little merit it has, there is no such thing as a "proper" gardener as the word itself cannot be defined. We may be experienced in one style of gardening, or have good plant knowledge, but gardening is subjective, it should be pleasure for all, we may be serious, experienced or enthusiastic, or flowery or spiritual gardeners but hopefully gardening of any type makes us happy. Myself, I am a joyous gardener, an enthusiast who encourages everyone to try to garden even if just a window box or house plant. I don't care whether its a cactus or succulent, vegetable or fruit, rose or chrysanthemum, dahlia or rhody we all have different tastes, plant fashions change too, but hopefully, like me, we all see the pleasure each plant can give another? Perhaps we can see joy in a bit of prose in support of gardening and recognise, hopefully, this book is what gardening does for everyone, it gives us conversation and like gardening it lifts our spirits. I congratulate the author for trying to do this and although not succeeding with JW, she did with me and with so many others who felt a much later reprint was essential.

In reply to an earlier post on 18 May 2015 21:12:33 BDT
Generally speaking, my Angel, I'm only moved to review a book when I either love it or hate it; and, interestingly, when I review something I like, nobody who thinks the item is rubbish ever attacks me for liking it; whereas when I review something I hate, someone like you frequently comes along to wade into me - less than angelically, it must be said...

I'm always uncertain about the underlying motive for such attacks. After all, if you take an opposite view, surely the correct thing to do is post your own review explaining why you do so - which you've already done. Little good is therefore achieved by then going further to express intolerance of another's opposing, but nevertheless perfectly legitimate, views in a comment. I could do the same to your review, but I wouldn't dream of it; what would be the point ? So I ask myself, yet again, just what is your purpose in making these comments ? What do you hope to gain by them ? You could, after all, have incorporated the essence in your review.

"Too much is written about JW's garden and his opinion," you say; good heavens, all I've told you about my garden is it's size, and how in a few instances, it differs from Osler's; how is that too much ? And how else, may I ask, should I have explained these reasons for the dislike of Osler's book ? If I'd given no reasons for disliking it, no doubt you would have criticised me just as heavily - and in that case, rightly so. The worst and most useless kind of review is that which in effect says, "I like this book", whilst failing to explain why.

And as for there being too much of my opinions; what else is a review if not opinion ? Do you not agree that your own fulsome praise of the book is equally just opinion ? ("Opinion: What one thinks about a particular thing" OED.) "Surely we should welcome differing views..." you say. But only if they're yours, seemingly, since you clearly don't welcome mine.

Finally, why is it rude to point out that the extensive hard landscaping that Osler writes about (which is, of course, irrelevant to the majority of the gardening population) is only available to the relatively wealthy ? Have we now entered a new era of proscribing "Wealthism" ? When did it become "a personal lifestyle attack" to infer that a person might be wealthy ? I must have missed that event. Although I myself would dearly like to qualify to be described as wealthy, and if I could be, I promise I wouldn't treat it as an attack on my lifestyle. In any case I only said that her garden was a garden of the wealthy - I didn't say that she was. She might have inherited it for all I know.

May I also, very gently and respectfully, and not at all rudely, suggest that you would benefit from taking a little time to learn the deployment of the paragraph ? It would be so much kinder to your readers, too...
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Jeff Walmsley
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Location: Wales

Top Reviewer Ranking: 821