Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Revenge of the Yellow Book

Anne Wareham tells me that her garden, Veddw, has been dropped from the National Garden Scheme's Yellow Book next year, apparently as a punishment for the piece she wrote in the Spectator earlier this year.

She say the Chief Executive of the NGS, George Plumptre, told her: "I don't think you have any concept how many hundreds of humble, innocent garden owners and NGS volunteers were deeply hurt by your diatribe in The Spectator earlier this year."
Anne has a reputation for being controversial; some would say abrasive. That's what she does; in the cosy world that is British horticulture, she is the grit that helps create the pearl in the oyster. Perhaps a better analogy would be to compare her to the stone in your shoe that stops you in your tracks and makes you question your preconceptions.
The NGS, on the other hand, is a charity. It has no business being controversial, abrasive or - apparently - vengeful. I don't know George Plumptre very well, but he has always seemed to me to be a sensible sort of chap, so I very much hope that this is a misunderstanding.
Personally, I don't always agree with Anne's views. We differ greatly on the subject of lawn edging, for example. However, I think she has very interesting things to say about garden design, and about the way we appreciate gardens.
I went to a lecture by Sir Roy Strong during the Olympics, and he was talking about how the British inhabit a landscape of the imagination - a make-believe world which has more to do with sentiment and nostalgia than it has to do with reality.
He cited The Haywain (below) by John Constable - one of the most famous paintings in the world - and pointed out that Constable didn't paint it from life, but in his London studio. Not only that, he painted the scene as he remembered it from his childhood.

We British have a very irritating tendency to look back, like Lot's wife, or Orpheus (and remember what happened to them!), at past glories. Gardeners are always trying to recreate a Sissinghurst or a Hidcote, and public taste applauds and colludes.
I'm not at all convinced that it is healthy to wallow in les temps perdu. Tempting, yes, but ultimately unexciting and uncreative. At least let's not get cross when someone tries to prod us out of our Edwardian daydream.


Anonymous said...

Oh dear, couldn't Anne just 'live and let live' - she does indeed have some interesting points to make but must they be made quite so unkindly? There is room for all types of gardens; big and small, cutting edge or cosy, surely?? What on earth is wrong with visiting an undemanding garden and enjoying tea and cake? A wide range of garden-types in the yellow book would be ideal and I would suggest that many people work quite hard to ensure that this is what it contains. Cheer up Anne!

Vanessa Cook said...

I agreed with most of Anne's points re NGS but thought her comment 'deadly, draining yellow shadow which has been cast over our gardens' was unnecessary and made the whole article look spiteful, sad as the point was well made

Helen Gazeley said...

I have always considered the inability to take criticism to be a sign of small-mindedness and insecurity. I'd hate to think that about the NGS. Anne may state her points of view strongly, but she is perfectly entitled to do so. I hope, as you say, it's a misunderstanding.

Jill Anderson said...

I didn't see Annes article, & I hope she wasn't unkind, it's unnecessary to get a good point across. But a bit of controversy is good to shake things up & helps us develop as designers, gardeners etc.

Papaver said...

It does seem a bit harsh to drop Veddw from the NGS, would not a better punishment have been to make them stay in the Yellow Book? At least it would have shown a sense of humour about it.

Arabella Sock said...

Hmmm.. To lose RHS sponsorship may be regarded as misfortune, to lose NGS backing is beginning to look like carelessness

Anonymous said...

The problem seems to be that some find it hard to accept that many really do just like to have a potter around a 'nice' garden, have some tea and cake, buy a plant and go home having had a lovely day and raised a bit of money for charity. Doesn't really sound like something that warrants quite such an attack. Many of the gardens are people's own personal spaces, designed to please them. I see nothing wrong in that either. Not everyone likes cutting edge, or fashion just like many prefer the favourite classical music pieces to something more modern or the traditional ballets as opposed to contemporary dance. I agree we should challenge ourselves with new ideas but I don't want to be challenged all the time. There are times when cosy is nice and what is needed. I don't think the NGS was ever meant to be about anything other than a good way to raise money for charity. Maybe working with the NGS to accommodate a wider range of gardens would have been more constructive.

Victoria Summerley said...

Thank you, everyone, for posting your comments. I open for the NGS myself, and I know from personal experience that most owners put in a huge amount of work to raise money for what they feel is a very worthy cause. Many are either cancer sufferers, or - like me - have lost loved ones to cancer, which makes their contribution even more heartfelt and poignant.
The NGS does not see itself as a guardian or critic of garden design. The only criteria they impose on gardeners is that the gardens must be well kept, and supply 45 minutes of interest. After all, they are charging the public for admission.
But having said all that, I still defend Anne, and the iconoclastic role she plays in British gardening. If nothing is ever challenged, nothing ever changes, and the result is stagnation.

Ms B said...

"It ain't what you do it's the way that you do it, that's what gets results" the words of the song are what sprang to mind when I originally read Anne's article & they still apply.

"Eighty-five years ago the National Gardens Scheme was created and blighted gardens in the UK forever.
....tainting all it touches
the deadly, draining yellow shadow which the NGS umbrella has cast over our gardens"

These are all quotes from the article which I found unnecessarily antagonistic making it more difficult for some, particularly many involved in the scheme, to look calmly & clearly at the points Anne was trying to make. I also thought the article overwhelmingly emphasised the negatives with no real recognition of what the scheme achieves on many fronts & no suggestion as to how things could be changed or improved.

Personally I don't think the NGS has ever professed to show the best of garden design but also feel there could be some tweaks to make the scheme perhaps more rigorous (& not just when it comes to weeds).

I agree Anne has every right to make her views felt as the NGS have to include/exclude gardens: in this case they have both gone about it in the wrong way.

James Golden said...

Thank you, Victoria, for your reasoned position on the matter. Anne can certainly be prickly but I'd say the garden establishment in the UK, and over here in the USA, is much too polite and self-satisfied, and could use a kick in the rear once in a while.

Helle (Helen) said...

First of all, one only knows from Ms Wareham herself what Mr Plumptree actually said. I have sometimes been called a stirrer myself, having a hard time with always just accepting the given convention about things. But, as so many have already written, maybe Ms Wareham would do herself and her mission a favour by toning down her criticism. My hackles are usually up just when I see her name under an article. But I'm also sure that she won't listen to a word that I; or anybody more qualified to criticise, might have to say.

Clive said...

Very interesting to read the original article which does seem rather OTT, especially as it is criticising something that she was part of. I am a fan of challenging where it is due, but here she does appear to have shot herself in the foot.

NGS appears not to use its power in the gardening world (although it could), it doesn’t push design or give views on trends or types of gardens merely creates a window to look in on what a section of the British gardening public are doing. This is why it is fabulous....especially considering it is almost completely run on the ground by volunteers. There does however seem to be a dichotomy at the heart of NGS in that is the scheme just about raising money (in which case anyone can open) or is it about opening good gardens as a way of raising money. I have seen gardens which fall on either end with some amazing ones with oppressive horticulture, and the very odd one that I think shouldn’t be open and is damaging to NGS’s reputation..... I think this could be improved, but it is more of a tweak than removing a ‘draining yellow shadow’

Anne Wareham said...

In response to those who think that I should be quiet and tactful in raising this issue (you think the Spectator would publish it??!) in campaigning over this issue - I began that about 20 years ago. Totally ineffective - like bouncing a jelly bean on a trampoline.

I have professional colleagues who told me 'softly softly' and as far as I know they are still softlying but I don't think we know anything about it? Or even who they are and that they agree with me??

I have annoyed,but clearly from personal correspondence and social media responses, I've hit a nerve and there is support out there - and critically people seem to be thinking about it. Which may be worth a great deal.

I have no idea why anyone would doubt that I am quoting George accurately - maybe it was a bit unbelievable?

thechthonianlife said...

It looks to me very much like all Anne Wareham is pointing out is the fact that gardening, like classical music, is one of those things that deserves a good audience but gets the terminally unimaginative, hidebound and conservative instead.