THE MODERN MINT BLOG

Jan28

Landscape Informs

Pond-1-e1395231086270

We have recently been presenting a new garden talk – ‘What Do I Do With This Space?’ – to a number of gardening groups in Essex. (To find out where we are presenting the talk next, please visit the Talks page.)

What looks like a simple question has turned out to be incredibly complex to answer, and in a one hour talk of free form ideas we barely have time to scratch the surface. What do people do with the land around them? How does the landscape inform their lives and the choices they make?

For example, some people have enough money, time, skill and labour to make their garden into whatever they can dream of. They can prove their dominance over nature – think the way the Bawa Brothers gardened in Sri Lanka…

Or there are places where nature wins, and the people who live there shape the lives the lead and the way they garden to the pulse of the wild. The gardens of Scandinavia look the way they do because of the weather…

Between talks we are still asking this question, still researching in the hope of finding further similarities between each new answer we discover. The latest notes we have made, and we will try and work this into the next talk, is from a book we have just finished called ‘Gossip from the Forest’ by Sara Maitland.

Gossip from the Forest: The Tangled Roots of Our Forests and Fairytales

It is a beautiful book about our relationship to fairy stories and woodland – exactly what we are wanting to read about when trying to answer the question ‘What Do I Do With This Space?’ – and its form is unusual too; each chapter is about a forest she has visited, its history and relationship to a theme or character from fairy stories.

These chapters are then followed up by a retelling of a fairy tale – her ‘Seven Dwarves’ is composed of such strong, elegant images it becomes hard to stop thinking about when finished (we read it again, enjoyed it again, like a piece of music that has got into your ear and travelled through your body, taking up residence under your skin) while ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ is a story that leaves you uneasy, glancing into the dark corners of the room wondering if there is more to the shadows than an absence of light.

We want to quote from her here – quite a long quote – so please forgive us, but it seems important to capture something of the wonderful ideas she offers us about our relationship to the landscape…

“… landscape informs the collective imaginations as much as or more than it forms the individual psyche and its imagination, but this dimension is not something to which we always pay enough attention.

It cannot be by chance that the three great monotheist religions – the Abrahamic faiths – have their roots in the desert, in the vast empty spaces under those enormous stars, where life is always provisional, always at risk. Human beings are tiny and vulnerable and necessarily on the move: local gods of place, small titular deities, are not going to be adequate in the desert – you need a big god to fill the vast spaces and speak into the huge silence; you need a god who will travel with you.

It cannot be simply accidental that Tibetan Buddhism emerges from high places, where the everlasting silence of the snows invites a kind of concentration, a loss of ego in the enormity of the mountains…

I am just trying to give some better-known examples of how the land, the scenery and the climate shape and inform the imaginations of the people… I believe that the great stretches of forest in Northern Europe, with their constant seasonal changes, their restricted views, their astonishing biological diversity, their secret gifts and perils and the knowledge that you have to go through them to get to anywhere else, created the themes and ethics of the fairytales we know best.”

As a garden designer we must constantly ask the question – What Do I Do With This Space? – and it is from books like Gossip from the Forest that we learn the landscape, not just the space we are working on right then, but the landscapes we have lived all our lives in, have been influencing us and the stories we tell from the very first day we were born.

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 …

READ MORE

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 …

READ MORE

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 …

READ MORE