As the rain pours down and the temperature struggle to get into the double digits, a lot of us avid gardeners gravitate towards our bookshelves. It struck me today just how much inspiration I gleaned from books when we were first starting our garden.
As much as I adored flicking through glossy magazines such as Gardens Illustrated or The English Garden (both of which are mush more suited to the Tasmanian climate than any Australian publication), the articles always whetted the appetite but never really satisfied it. We were blissfully ignorant about gardening in a cool climate, having begun our journey in Brisbane where plants almost grew overnight and all year round, but then moving to a place where months of cold winter sent most into hibernation.
My local library was where I first found Beth Chatto. I am not sure why I gravitated towards her books above all the others. Perhaps it was because in her dust-jacket photo on ‘The Green Tapestry‘ she looked like a kindly lady. It shows her stooped amidst a bed of poppies, daisies and lilies, with her glasses balanced on her nose. She looked like a nice person, and the photos of her garden were breathtaking. An absence of a historic mansion and miles of immaculate gravel paths made what she was advocating completely achievable, and her no-nonsense attitude just made sense to me.
Her love of gardening grew out of her passion for floral art, and her method came from her husband’s love of ecology. Her philosophy is simple – choose appropriate plants for your conditions and place them pleasingly. It makes so much sense! ‘The Green Tapestry‘ is perhaps my favourite of all her books, mainly for nostalgic reasons. I borrowed it from the library so many times that I came to recognise the little dirty marks I had made in its pages and I realised it was time to invest in a copy of my own.
I loved the fact it wasn’t full of dreary lists of seasonal tasks, or ‘how-to’s’ for everything that ever needed doing. Her borders appeared artful, and yet naturalistic and unconstrained, long before Piet Oudolf made prairie-style gardening fashionable. She didn’t mollycoddle her plants and admitted her failings and mistakes. Somehow, she took the mystique out of gardening and made creating a beautiful space attainable, given time. I took her advice and found that creating a garden was neither frightening nor difficult.
How could I be? It was everything I had imagined. Calm. Beautiful. All about the plants and not the property that encased them. Simple and yet so complex, brimming with bird and insect life, and reflecting the artistic eye that she is so famous for. Beautifully crafted and yet so naturalistic.
Twenty years later, and I still refer to that book. I always recommend it to new gardeners looking for inspiration. It lives in our little shop, where I am constantly bringing it out to show our customers what can be achieved with a little time and patience. I have since purchased a few of Beths books, and when I remember who I lent ‘The Gravel Garden‘ to, I’ll gladly revisit that one as well.
But it will always be ‘The Green Tapestry‘ that holds the special spot on the bookshelf at Wychwood. I think we all have one book that influenced us above all others, and for me, that is it.