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NOT MY CUP OF TEA...
on 23 July 2012
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'être. 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.