Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Some thoughts on show gardens

This stream of consciousness (below) was a comment I left on VP's blog, on a post looking at some of the gardens at Chelsea this year. Some of the comments seemed to suggest that unless you were prepared to build your own show garden (i.e. 'put up or shut up'), then you had no right to comment on a garden.

Garden bloggers come from a whole range of backgrounds, from award winning garden designers and judges, right through the spectrum to interested amateurs like myself. I do photograph and comment on show gardens, and say which bits I like, which I wasn't so sure about, even though I'm a Know-Nothing Bozo when it comes to the practice of competitive garden design. But looking critically at a garden helps me. I make no claim to any knowledge on the topic, but does that preclude me from making comments on how I feel?

Anyway, I've introduced this post - what follows below is my comment:

"I think it's a shame that some people think that you can't critically analyse a garden without thinking of it as a criticism of the person who made that garden. I realise that because gardening is so personal, it can be hard to separate critical discussion of a garden from how the creator feels about it, but with something in the public arena (such as a show garden), one must expect people to discuss the work.

Can only qualified garden designers pass comment on a show garden? I will never have the imagination and inspiration to design a show garden. So does that mean that I have no right to comment on what *I* find works well or doesn't work so well (to my mind) in a garden? When I spend some time really looking at a show garden, there will always be things that I may not think are perfect. At least not for me. A dozen different people stood in front of that show garden will have a dozen different views. But by looking at that garden, looking at what *I feel* works, what *I feel* could be done differently, I am helping myself understand that garden. I might not understand it how the designer does, but I understand it how it relates to my own experiences, what *I* can take away to use.

Is that not the whole point of a show garden? Or are we to mutely look in awe at what we mere amateur gardeners will never achieve. And if we want to write about what we have learnt, what we have taken away, to share with others? Not everyone who reads what we write will agree with what we say, but at least we have caused them to think about it a little more deeply, too.

Not everyone can design a show garden. But we can all look, we can learn, and as someone who teaches (though nothing to do with gardening) and learns, I find critical analysis a very powerful learning tool. So, when I read about show gardens on people's blogs, and they comment on how *they* feel about a garden, it makes me think: What do *I* feel? And that is good."


Ms B said...

I have just re-read the comments on VP's blog & it certainly seemed like a concerted effort to say that her views of the garden in question were wrong.

How ridiculous! We all have a right to say what we think, particularly when the thing, in this case the garden, in question is very much out there in the public eye. And those comments can range from a very simple 'That is total rubbish' or 'How brilliant is that' to something more thoughtful, in depth & analytical. If designers are going to be so precious about what people say they should not be putting their work out in such a public arena!

Victoria Summerley said...

Wow, what a huge subject. I think everyone is entitled to their view and I totally agree with you, Happy. I think you're absolutely right in saying that garden criticism is usually taken personally - either as a criticism of the designer (rather than the design), or because people feel their own taste is under attack.
I think that the way a garden makes you feel is very important - just as important as the way a piece of music or a wonderful painting makes you feel.
HOWEVER: I think that a lot of people have a tendency to dismiss a design just because it's not the sort of thing they'd have in their own back garden and I find this frustrating.
If no one pushed the boundaries, we'd never have got beyond bowling-green lawns and borders filled with bedding plants, the way my garden looked when my house was built back in the 1930s.
Just as with clothes, the shock of the new gets diluted over the years and many people are now growing things they wouldn't have dreamed of growing (and wouldn't have been able to buy) 10 or 20 years ago.
I'll shut up now!

VP said...

Well said HM. I suspect my commenters may have had something to do with the garden and so felt I was criticising their hard work. My error was having such high expectations for the final result and expressing my disappointment without explaining why that well.

VP said...

PS The ironic thing is I often feel that my blog is too Pollyanna ish!

Victoria Summerley said...

@VP: I've only just caught up with this debate. I thought your comments were absolutely fair - and I think the judges probably agreed. Perhaps that's why Paul Hervey-Brookes' garden only got a silver medal...
I think designers like Andy Sturgeon and Tom Stuart-Smith (and Christopher Bradley-Hole, come to that) show that good garden design is sometimes about what you leave out as much as what you put in.
And I'm slightly puzzled by the implication that because the garden is about biodiversity, we "have" to like it. What is this, the new gardening Puritanism?
I'm going to leave this comment on your blog as well.

HappyMouffetard said...

Thanks for your comments, all.

Victoria - totally agree ref your comment about not dismissing a garden because it's something we don't like or don't understand. If people took a bit of time to think about why they don't initially like it, whether there are any bits they do like, and more importantly, understand what makes it a good garden (or not so good), whether they personally like it or not.

Alice Joyce said...

Enjoying this dialogue. Glad I stopped by (trying hard to catch up with backlog in my google reader).
I've really nothing to add. Well, that's not true!
I have not yet read the comments on VP's site (sorry), but whether or not someone is a designer or 'professional' certainly shouldn't exclude one from having opinions.
Because I enjoy such varied types of gardens and dare I say, styles, it is frustrating when I hear someone dismiss a contemporary design, for instance, because they love cottage gardens.
To this day I recall a Tom Stuart-Smith garden from Chelsea as clearly as when I spent time in it some years ago. Good design can be transporting.
It is art, plain and simple. An art form known as 'the garden.'