THE MODERN MINT BLOG

Jun19

Around the World in 80 Gardens – Monty Don

‘Around the World in 80 Gardens’ is a television series and book by Monty Don. He does exactly what the title says – travels all over the globe visiting remarkable gardens. Some he walks away from bouncing with excitement, others he is disappointed with, but never once do you feel he hasn’t appreciated the chance to see a new garden or left having not learnt something.

It is a book we have come back to again and again, each short chapter giving enough information about a garden philosophy and its maker to inspire our spirit of imagination – like this quote from Strilli Oppenheimer, “where’s the colour? That is the antithesis of the way that I feel comfortable in nature. I could quite easily – and find it exciting – do nothing at all with a garden and just watch it become totally wild again and meet its climax, then find another rhythm…  There is a wholelife force that happens when you start relating with nature.”

How wonderful is that?! It brings up all sorts of questions about the way we garden, what we find beautiful, what our starting point is and what levers we pull to set off in the direction we want to go… the book has many of these nuggets, just a few sentences hidden away in every other chapter… here is what James Van Sweden said…

“I wanted the house to be floating in a meadow… so all the grasses used in the garden are native and the garden is based around grasses.”

Monty Don then goes on to explain what he sees…

“There are no edges. It all merges out into the landscape… it has great confidence in that it appears natural and effortless…

… despite the apparent nauralness, I realised that he has used a wide and extensive range of plants to create the artless effect.

It was as though he had taken the idea of a flower border, shaken it up and set it down with all the pretension and preciousness taken from it.”

The mind boggles at what that looks like, the joy you would feel trying to create something like that.

We were drawn most of all to his meetings with designers in their own home – Fernando Caruncho, Juan Grimm, Jacques Wirtz – although his trips to Brazil and Cuba were fascinating too. Brazil for the way the term ‘garden’ had no meaning whatsoever in the Amazon (it is just the rainforest, here, right by where we live) and Cuba for the systems it uses (all organic) to grow food.

Then, of course, Monty had the experience of being on his own to enjoy the garden at Ryoan-ji…

We highly recommend that experience to anyone!

What comes out again and again in the book is that context is everything. That bunch of rocks over there? It is a garden, if you are in Kyoto and stood in the rain. That Plumbago, isn’t that a houseplant…? No! Of course not! These are lovely moments, when your own… it’s not ignorance… it is… it’s a conditioning towards your own surroundings, that blinds you to the obvious… and so when you are removed from your ‘habitat’ you end up feeling surprised. Surprised that the rest of the world gets right along without you putting any thought into it.

Much like what happens in the garden when you don’t have time to ‘work’ on it…

Speaking about the gardens he enjoyed most, Monty Don said, “Most of my favourites are modern, break the mould and are strongly architectural. I found myself, not bored, but less inspired by plantsmen’s gardens…”

Then he got onto the subject of native plants…

“Elsewhere in the world indigenous plants play a key part in establishing national identity. In Chile, Brazil, South Africa, China and India I saw gardens designed to celebrate the local cultural heritage. The British don’t do that because plant-collecting was a way in which we demonstrated our domination of other countries and displayed our new-found wealth… we have an incredibly rich and fascinating plant heritage which we downplay, so I am planting oak, ash, hawthorn, yew, aspen and alder, as well as primroses, violets, roses. What I want is a garden that is less of a display and more integrated into the landscape…”

(If you want to grow some of our own native plants, try starting with these native trees…)

It is thoughts like that, ideas like that, which make us keep coming back to this book. For the small gems of ideas that can be found when traced across the globe…

Click on the image to buy the book now!

Or find the DVD of the whole series here…

Jan12

A Topiary Calendar – When To Prune

When do you prune? Below are a few pointers on when you need to think about your topiary and hedges this year, so you can make sure you clip at the best time and not waste any effort doing work you don’t need to do… January & February Roses, fruit trees and wisteria is where the focus lies. Yes, it is cold and the work can be unpleasant because you are often stood on a ladder with your secateurs, barely moving enough to warm the body, but get these jobs done well, with care, and you can enjoy the fruits …

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Jan11

The English Garden Magazine – On Our Topiary Workshop

Last September when I and topiary artist (and mentor) Charlotte Molesworth ran a weekend of topiary masterclasses we had a visit from the garden writer Non Morris. You can read more about Non and her garden design work and writings here. She has written a lovely article for the February 2022 edition of The English Garden Magazine about her afternoon working with us and learning about topiary – I’m really thrilled by the piece, because she mentions not just a little of the wonderful history of Balmoral Cottage and how the garden grew, but also shares a little of how …

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Nov17

Topiary Provocation Autumn 2021

This Autumn I have presented another ‘Topiary Provocation’ to keen gardeners and designers. If you want to know more about topiary, the report on what we discussed and where modern topiary is going can be read by clicking the link below: Topiary Provocation Report Autumn 2021 This report is free to post on your own website or blog, just credit Modern Mint, and don’t change anything within it. Alternatively you can just share it with keen friends… or enemies? I did a similar meet-up with garden designers in spring 2021. Here is where you can read the Topiary Provocation Spring …

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