I rarely get time to the read the weekend papers, as I am normally out in the garden, pottering. But by Monday I had time to catch up with the gardening section of the Telegraph, where I enjoyed reading Stephen Lacey’s piece about “his favourite hands-in-the-soil gardeners”. All were truly inspiring and very worthy of celebration, and he made an important distinction in choosing these characters rather than those who design but do not get their own hands dirty. Beth Chatto, Sir Roy Strong, Tom Stuart-Smith and Fergus Garrett are amongst the big names in gardening today, pushing the boundaries and defining how we design our outdoor spaces, leading by example.
However, virtually all are blessed with one, if not two things in common. The first is space. Although the article was unspecific, it was clear that all these wonderful characters had found greatness through gardening large plots. Of the 20 individuals or couples mentioned, none appear to have found recognition through a small garden, and by that I mean and acre or less. Fair enough, the brilliant John Brookes has long been a champion of small garden design, but Denmans (the garden he’s directed for over 30 years) can hardly be described as compact. The second common theme appeared to be a decent bank balance, although that is an assumption, and perhaps unfair. Yet we all know large gardens are not cheap to create or run.
So whilst I would not argue with Stephen Lacey, or quibble with those he honours, it is disappointing not to see any gardeners of genuinely small spaces held up as an example. It should not require a large plot to demonstrate greatness in design or skill, and in many ways a tighter plot demands higher standards and greater discipline. I wish I had more of the latter and a little less of the former. Perhaps a top 20 British small gardeners list is overdue. It would make great reading for those of us who find the best things come in small packages.
Below, Sir Roy Strong at his garden The Laskett in Herefordshire.