For once that pun is not one of my own crafting. The author is Robin Lane Fox, Fellow and Tutor in ancient history and Master of Gardens at New College Oxford, who has been writing his weekly gardening column in the Financial Times since 1970.
I think back to those ‘halcyon days’ of the public service (or so the early 1980’s seem now) when the pale orange airmail weight Financial Times was circulated around the office with it’s list of names, stapled to the front page, each name duly crossed off by each reader. Not being an economist I would hold out for the weekend editions which had the arts and gardening columns. Arthur Hellyer and Robin Lane Fox would duly educate and amuse. It didn’t matter that I wasn’t growing most of the plants they talked about, their writing was completely engaging. Lane Fox could be devastating in his criticism of trends in commercial flower offerings. A particular assault on stripey, frilled, multi-coloured petunias still comes to mind.
I was really please to pick up his latest offering at the library. The book is a series of short pieces, widely ranging in both topic and location across and covering a number of personalities in the world of gardening. But be warned, Mr Lane Fox is not persuaded by organic gardening, wildflower gardens or encouraging wildlife in the garden. I’m happy to disagree with him on all of these points and still get a lot of pleasure from his prose.
One of the most engaging aspects of his writing is his ability to blind-side you with his unexpected observations. By way of example he talks about his swimming pool which he unfortunately lost interest in swimming in just as it was completed. He continues “For years Mother Nature has had the pool to herself and has turned it into a dramatic wilderness of self-sewn buddleias and bullrushes. They are being sustained on a diet of the naturally drowned hedgehogs which float upwards in the winter months. For years I have been hoping that the pool may spontaneously generate human life. Better still, it may prove the Bible right and present me with a female helpmeet, a muscular clone of Eve. At least she will not need a work permit.”
Once you have got a few good basic how-to gardening books on the shelves there doesn’t seem to be much else on offer unless you go into specialist fields or design your garden books. Lane Fox reminds you that there is a whole lot else of interest in the world of garden plants.This book is great ‘summer reading’ whether you ever lift a trowel or plant a seed or never make it out of your chair.
Lane Fox still has the ability to engage and entertain a reader in all aspects of gardening, as might well be expected from someone who says that “I began when I was ten years old and by the age of twelve was a seriously keen grower of alpine plants. I have continued ever since, widening the range of plants which I have known, grown and killed personally.”
Thoughtful Gardening Robin Lane Fox, 2010, Particular Books (an imprint of Penguin Books). Available from the ACT Public Library.