THE MODERN MINT BLOG

Jan26

The Beth Chatto Gardens

The great writers have a wide range about their work. They will go from a tragic scene to a comedic scene, melodrama to vulgarity, realism to fantasy…and tie it all together, make it seem as if this width of styles fits together seamlessly and simply…because it does. It gets described as ‘their’ style.

Would you strive for the same in your garden?

This is not easy to do, it takes a lot of experience, and practise. It takes guts to try it. To be bold!

Beth Chatto is an example of someone who did this.

She drew on what she knew and she went for it in her garden in Essex. She explains there were failings, plants that didn’t take straight away, that disappeared or sulked. But she stepped up and tried it, and the garden is truly impressive, giving no idea that anything went wrong. When meandering through it, you sense you are in capable hands.

The story she writes switches easily and confidently from tone to tone, doing what the great writers do.

The gravel garden developed from the old car park. On a calm, sunny day the heat reflects back from the earth, the oils in the drought loving flowers are released and the pathways are encroached by plants edging their way forwards. It is compelling, almost a wander into a world we didn’t think possible. Heads of flowers seem to be enlarged or stems enlongated as they deal with the lack of water, yet it has elements we recognise and enjoy the familiarity of like lavender, sage and verbena. Atmosphere is everything, and the gravel garden is the pacy set-piece to open the story and hook the audience.

In the water garden are plants to marvel at – the absurdly large bog plants, the brazen stems of the dogwoods and the roots of the swamp cypress stretching up and out of the water. These preposterous plants are a reason to smile, a way to mix the ludicrous with the appropriate.

The scree garden is a cute oddity. Small, with a cloistered feel, it makes the viewer pause, look closely at what is growing. It is not as dramatic as the wet and dry gardens but presents itself clearly, almost a monologue to the onlooker about what these plants are and what they can do. An answer to the question it posed itself, or, if you like, the sweet cherry placed upon the top of the cake.

The woodland lends a peaceful heart to the story, the reader being asked to enjoy a subtler atmosphere, a more understated flower prescence. It can be a difficult one to sell to people uninterested in gardening. What are they looking at? What are they supposed to enjoy? Nothing is screaming out, nothing is as vibrant or colourful as what has come before. Herein lies its power. It contrasts with the rest of the garden and allows you the experience of a different world, a tool for comparison and prompter of questions. It is probably the part of the garden to cherish the most.

The juxtaposition, the playfulness in mood between each garden is strung together by Beth Chatto’s organisation of the planting, and occasional glimpses of the surrounding Essex countryside. There is balance within these disparate elements and it is what all the great writers have managed. To tell a story in their own style.

Something to attempt in your own garden.

One of the best books by Beth Chatto, do read it…

Mar19

Wasting Water

Well worth a read in the BBC today – a note on how wasting water in the UK “as socially unacceptable as blowing smoke in the face of a baby.” Read the report here. I have written a talk about how we use water in the  garden. It was written when I moved from Hampshire to Essex and found out for myself just how dry this area of the UK is. It completely changed the way I garden. The lack of such a precious resource as water made me question what we can do to save it, store it and …

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Mar14

The Foie Gras That Tastes Like Nature

Ethical Foie Gras? Is That A Real Thing?   Foie gras – can it be ‘grown’ ethically? The video showing how this farmer works suggests it can… We first read about this in a book called The Third Plate by Dan Barber. I loved it and I love how Eduardo the farmer, who farms on the Dehesa in Spain, has a ‘take half leave half rule’. When talking about how the geese eat his olives… “They’re always quite fair. If you make sure the geese are relaxed and happy, you’ll be rewarded with the gift of fatty livers. That is God’s …

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Mar04

Hardy Orchids Via James Wong

Hardy orchids – here is a subject I would love to know more about – so lo and behold, James Wong has written about it in the Guardian! Read the article about hardy orchids here. I love having orchids in the house, just your usual run of the mill buy them in any shop orchids, but it is a pleasure to read about the plants that will grow outside and cope with this weather. (This insane weather! From the hottest days of February on record to Storm Freya, all within a week. Weather is always such a factor in gardening, but …

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