Archive for the ‘Christopher Lloyd’ Category

I first heard of Dear Friend and Gardener by Beth Chatto and Christopher Lloyd in that brief period between discovering that book blogs existed (in about November 2009) and starting my own (in January 2010), when I was content to simply lurk about reading other people’s blogs without commenting (hello to everyone doing that now!).  It was while sifting through Simon T’s archives that I came across his brief and intriguing review of this gardening-focused volume of correspondence.  Now, at the time, I wasn’t terribly interested in gardening but I have always loved a book of letters, so onto my TBR list it went.  Since then, I’ve developed a keen interest in gardening and garden literature so I when I picked it up from the library a few weeks ago I was more eager than ever to read it.

The book and the correspondence came about because of a suggestion from the publisher in the mid-nineties.  Clearly, it was one both Chatto and Lloyd found appealing and the results is this collection of letters between the gardeners over the period of two years.  This is not a private correspondence being shared with the masses but a correspondence written with the audience somewhat in mind – that ‘somewhat’ holding the delightful key to this book’s appeal.  Chatto and Lloyd are definitely conscious that their thoughts are going to be shared with the garden-loving public (there are lots of little explanatory notes that neither expert gardener could possibly need) but that does not keep them from talking about other aspects of their lives.  Each letter is garden-focused, of course, but is just as likely to touch on family and friends, visits from shared acquaintances, summer trips to Glyndebourne, childhood memories, or favourite recipes.  The letters are a rich source of gardening knowledge but they are also, much more charmingly, a reflection of a long-standing and affectionate friendship between Chatto and Lloyd.

As much as I’ve learned about plants and gardening over the past few years, most of the specifics Chatto and Lloyd discuss went well over my head.  My knowledge of Latin plant names is almost nonexistent and I could not keep up with all of the name dropping.  This is something Chatto would no doubt disapprove of, based on her comment to Lloyd that: “If you are unfamiliar with a plant, you can easily look, but your mind will not take it in.  Knowing it especially by name, is like recognizing an old friend.”  Her comment makes perfect sense – I know I’m always more conscious of the plants I come across that I know, while the unknown all fade into the background – but I’ve a ways to go before I’m up to standard!  I was especially delighted to read both Lloyd and Chatto’s comments about young gardeners.  Lloyd in particular seems to be surrounded by young people.  I got the impression of Great Dixter as a sort of multigenerational gathering place, more often than not brimming over with fascinating young people, who spent their visits helping out in the garden, overnighting on the floor in sleeping bags, and eating the amazing meals prepared by Lloyd.  Like any experts in their field, both Chatto and Lloyd are delighted when they come across enthusiastic young hopefuls and a tad grouchy when they find ignorant, passionless students:

I am sometimes saddened (more truthfully irritated) when meeting young horticultural students in the garden, who all too rarely exhibit a real hunger for the subject.  Perhaps I malign them, maybe they are too shy to express it.  They all seem to be studying landscape design; yet when I ask a few elementary questions I find they are astonishingly ignorant about plants.  What motivates them I wonder?  Surely some passion (a lot, I would say) is required to fuel the energies, mental and physical, to pursue a career in horticulture?  Many students seem to have chosen this career without ever having put together a few plants and then watched their performance for a few weeks, or months, let alone two or three season.  (Chatto to Lloyd)

While the plant names may have been mostly beyond me, I did get a wonderful education in what it means to run gardens on the scale of Great Dixter and the Beth Chatto Gardens.  All the people, all the tasks, all the energy that goes into them through the year made for fascinating reading.  As all the different activities were described, I found myself fidgeting as I read, inspired by both Chatto and Lloyd’s example to get out and weed or prune or plant.  I also loved reading about their approaches to garden design.  I was particularly struck by Chatto’s thoughts on the importance of other artistic influences on the design process, something that came through very strongly in The Laskett by Roy Strong (an outstanding book I hope to review soon), which I read only a couple of weeks before this:

Personally I think we may have a wider approach to garden design if we have been helped to appreciate other forms of art; to be aware of basic principles – balance, repetition, harmony and simplicity – which apply to all forms of creativity.  To look for ideas in painting and architecture, or hear them in music, has certainly influenced me as much as knowing whether to put a plant in the shade, or in full sun.

The book is definitely geared to a gardening audience but I think the warmth of their friendship, the affectionate, considerate way they deal with one another, should appeal to any reader.  It is a pleasure to read about people who love what they do, however incomprehensible that occupation may be to the reader, and the strength of Chatto and Lloyd’s passion for their work is gratifying.  I think this is a book I’ll need to reread several times in the years to come.  This time through, I was so distracted at points by my ignorance that I’m sure I didn’t get to enjoy the charms of both Chatto and Lloyd as well as I could have.  As my gardening knowledge grows (and my confusion over plant names lessens), I’m sure I’ll find it even more appealing.

Read Full Post »