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HORTUS  120  Winter 2016)
HORTUS 120 Winter 2016)
Villa Emo, Veneto

Chalk pastel by Simon Dorrell

We are awaiting a new supply of the winter issue (HORTUS 120) from our printers in Spain and we will mail copies to renewing and new subscribers shortly.


HORTUS 120 (Winter 2016)


Price (not including postage) 9.50





Extracts From The Current Issue
From: the editor's introduction to HORTUS 120


This issue of HORTUS marks our thirtieth anniversary. When I began this voyage in 1987 I had high hopes it would last the whole year and reward its founder subscribers with four plump issues. I could not have envisaged its longevity - magazines have come and gone since, but we plough on, offering garden and garden-related topics in a traditional format. It has survived national economic depressions as well as a few personal upheavals. To date some fifteen thousand pages have been filled by almost all the English-speaking world's most acclaimed garden writers, with contributions from experts in other fields. HORTUS has led me through a sequence of amazing gardens and dear friendships that I could never have imagined. This is neither the time nor place to name them, although I cannot let this opportunity pass without giving sincere thanks to you, the subscriber. HORTUS has taken not a penny from the public purse, and precious little from a handful of advertisers. It's kept afloat by you, the reader, causing no hesitation on my part to encourage - nay, plead for - your long-lasting future support and a spreading of the gospel. Like plants and (sometimes) gardens, subscribers drift off to the great compost heap in the sky, so the need for ever-new 'seedling' subscribers is paramount.



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From: 'Tradescant's Diary' by Hugh Johnson



14 September 2016: To Kew (again) to see how those Broad Walk borders are coming on towards the end of their first season. Wonderfully, is the short answer. It wasn't the ideal day to go; promenaders were very few; it was ninety-one old-fashioned degrees in the shade - of which, of course, there was precious little. A parasol-seller would have done good business.
The borders do have a relatively shady end, the one nearest the Palm House and the Victoria Gate. Big trees provide a reason to plant less light-loving plants, from ferns and hellebores and epimediums to lilies and (the stars of the season in so many places) Japanese anemones. The beds are based on eight huge circles, each dedicated to a theme, usually a plant family. In each circle a yew pyramid forms a focal point - and points you to a clever illustrated key to the planting. Grasses are used (but not overused) here and there throughout; the bright gold tassels of Miscanthus nepalensis were one of the highlights.
The Orangery end is as sunny as can be; penstemons and crocosmias were firing it up, while the bed dedicated to the daisy family, the Compositae, was a banquet of heleniums, asters, rudbeckias, heliopsis, helianthemum and all things that have sun in their name. Along the whole thousand foot length colours have been mixed masterfully in long satisfying sweeps. It is plantsmanly, it is painterly; in short it is a triumph.



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From'Jardin Majorelle, Marrakech' by Madison Cox


My first vivid recollections of the fabled garden date to my initial visit as a young man to the dusty-rose city of Marrakech in the late spring of 1979. I was a guest at Dar es Saada, home of the late French couturier Yves Saint Laurent and his partner, Pierre Bergé. Horst, the legendary photographer, was staying there as well, shooting the couple's house, renovated a few years earlier by the Marrakech based, American-born designer Bill Willis, for American Vogue.
The walled city, by day mysterious and sun-baked, was transformed into an exotic and caliginous reverie by night and the whole experience was mesmerising. At Dar es Saada the voluminous rooms were sparsely appointed with colonial furniture and modest locally-made rattan pieces set against a myriad of zelliges, brightly-hued Moroccan tiles laid in intricate geometric patterns. My hosts' gar- den was composed of a long reflecting pool planted with papyrus and water-lilies and ringed with terracotta pots filled predominately with red geraniums, a few citrus trees, a bubbling, carved white marble fountain and a towering pistachio tree beneath which were laid boldly-coloured Berber carpets on shady patches of cool green grass.
One hot and languid afternoon during my stay, we walked around the corner to visit the Jardin Majorelle, which although open to the public, was in a dishevelled state of romantic abandonment. Tufts of overgrown yellowing lawn were interspersed with gigantic cacti, bleached dead bamboo trunks, like broken chopsticks, criss-crossed crumbling walkways. The place was nearly empty except for hundreds of toads and a few amorous local couples hidden within the tangled masses of vegetation. Within nine months Saint Laurent and Bergé had purchased the Majorelle complex composed of both public and private gardens and structures, saving them from demolition at the hands of real estate developers. The adventure was about to begin.
Thirty-six years later, this past July, precisely at closing time, a few minutes after 6 p.m. on a hot mid-summer evening when the temperature was still hovering around 97°F, I walked across the Jardin Majorelle, greeting many of the parched employees as they drifted slowly home after a very long day's work. This year's Ramadan, the annual ritual of Muslim fasting which lasts an entire lunar month, fell between June and July, some of the hottest and longest days of the year. It is at moments like this that I reflect on this garden and what it means to me as it has played an important role in my career.



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From 'Dorset's Shangri-La: Abbotsbury Subtropical Garden' by Ambra Edwards


Every job has Days from Hell. Today, Stephen Griffith's customary calm is wearing a bit thin, as he wrestles with the massive bale of paperwork he must complete to meet the health and safety requirements of opening the garden by night. For three weeks every autumn, Abbotsbury Subtropical Garden is floodlit, the paths picked out with lanterns, the graphic shapes of palms and bamboos thrown into spectacular relief with banks of coloured uplighters. It is pure magic.
'Every year we swear we'll never do it again,' mutters Steve, Abbotsbury's curator. It's a nightmare; the trip hazards alone fill pages - the usual steps and tree roots, miles of electrical cables, small dogs on leads unnoticed in the dark. Not to mention the thousands of lamps to be positioned and candles to be lit; the garden staff to be cajoled into working at night (which can only be achieved by granting time off in lieu by day - and this at such a busy time of year).
But every year they do it again after all, because everyone loves it so much - small people rushing round in witches' hats . . . lovers wandering hand in hand through the shadows . . . Even stout and stalwart garden visitors of a certain age find an unwonted spring in the step and twinkle in the eye, for who could not be swept off their Hotters by the sheer romance of it all?


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From 'A Late-Blooming Passion: Millhall, Kirkcudbrightshire' by Tim Longville


One of the great joys of the National Gardens Scheme and of its Scottish equivalent, Scotland's Gardens, is the way new gardens of high quality and real originality are continually being discovered and added to their respective lists, even in areas you think you know well. The perfect proof of that is the garden of Alan and Debbie Shamash. My own garden is on the English (Cumbrian) side of the Solway Firth. Theirs is on the Scottish (Kirkcudbrightshire) side. So we're almost neighbours. (In Victorian times, we could have crossed the Solway easily and quickly by ferry. Nowadays, you have to drive laboriously to the head of the Firth then down the other side. So much for progress . . .) And ever since we moved here, thirty years ago, I've regularly visited the many fine gardens on the Scottish side and had innumerable conversations with gardeners there. You know the sort I mean: 'These are plants you should try.' 'These are gardens you should try to visit.' Yet though Alan has been making the Shamashes' garden for more than twenty- five years, I had never heard of it until a couple of years ago when they were persuaded to open it for Scotland's Gardens.
The garden is three miles west of the picturesque small town of Kirkcudbright, the economy of which combines farming and fishing (its harbour, the best natural one on the Scottish side of the Firth, is still home to a working fleet) with tourism based on its atmospheric old houses and its reputation as an artists' town. That reputation began when many of those associated with the Glasgow School lived and worked here in the early years of the last century. The most notable or at least noticeable was E. A. Hornel, whose handsome house, with its studio and library still intact, is now owned by the National Trust for Scotland, which also maintains the walled garden Hornel created between the house and the water's edge, with its odd stylistic combination of Jekyll and Japan - one very characteristic of 'artistic' gardens of its period. The Shamashes' garden doesn't have the benefit of an atmospheric old house but it does have a setting which is both atmospheric and picturesque




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From 'A Postcard from Denmark' by Rosemary Lindsay


A garden trip to Denmark organised by HORTUS and Boxwood Tours was guaranteed to be delightful. For me it promised another reason to go to a country I have loved visiting over many years. As a teen- ager I stayed with a family in Kongens Lyngby, a suburb of Copenhagen, and some years later I worked for a few months for a Danish architect in his beautiful house and office in Valby, a little further out. I struggled with the language, described by Danes as a throat disorder, and learnt to make the right noises but it would be an exaggeration to say I could actually speak it, just gaining a rough understanding. I have returned several times with my family - Legoland being an essential detour - and singing with an English chamber choir. We gave concerts in many beautiful churches both in Copenhagen and, particularly, in music festivals on Jutland, far to the north in the windswept wide stretches of sandy landscape, right up to Skagen where the tides from the east and west collide spectacularly. The churches are full of light with white interiors except for the gorgeous dark colours on the pews, pulpits and furnishings - purple, navy blue, bottle green, maroon, and always a model ship suspended high above the nave, 'for those in peril on the sea'. Works by the artists of the Skagen Painters' School are permanently on view in the Skagen Museum and art gallery.



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From 'Gardens Royal, Gardens Executive: The British Monarchy and the White House Grounds' (with a postscript written on 9 November 2016, the day after Donald J. Trump won the next US presidency) by Marta McDowell


The eighteen-acre landscaped grounds of the White House in Washington, DC probably don't bring British kings and queens immediately to mind. But the ties are there - some indirect, others strong - over the two-hundred-plus years of White House history.
The District of Columbia, and with it the home of the American president, sits astride the boundary of two original English colonies, Virginia and Maryland, each named for a queen. The former was christened for or by - depending on whose account you read - the first Elizabeth, some time after the 1584 reconnaissance expedition commissioned by Sir Walter Raleigh and chartered by the Virgin Queen. Henrietta Maria, queen consort and wife of Charles I, lent her name to Lord Baltimore's Maryland Colony in 1632. The Virginia Company established the first permanent English settlement between those two dates. John Smith was a member of the company which landed in 1607 and built a fort at Jamestown, named for James I.



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From 'An Affair of the Horticultural Heart' by Abbie Zabar


The early morning sky is more pink than blue on my way down to the mother of all farmers' markets. I'm riding the front subway car, ready to scope out plants for myself, for my clients, and for the science classrooms where I volunteer. While New York City has one of the largest transport systems in the world - nearly 1.8 billion subway rides, last year alone - at this hour no expedition could be easier . . . or more compelling.
From my tiny Upper East Side apartment - where I live and garden in a postscript space on the roof - to the Fourteenth Street/ Union Square Station, we're talking sixteen minutes with the Lexington Avenue Express - if there are no incidents. Plus I'm looking to be home again, transplanting, before the sun is at my back.
The stalls of the Union Square Market - crisp and white as laundry on a line - span three city blocks. At the height of the season close to one hundred and fifty regional fishermen, bakers, wine- makers, orchardists, dairies, nurserymen and farmers converge in prime open-air public space, along with Asian, Italian and French camera crews on location and kindergarten children on field trips, outfitted in neon-coloured vests. The panorama is less an homage to Seurat's 'Sunday on La Grande Jatte' than a Breughel genre painting of village rural life, with a cast of extras.

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From 'Moving on from Country Life' by Judith Tankard.


In 1994, I wrote in HORTUS about acquiring several dozen bound volumes of that incomparable weekly, Country Life, thanks to the sharp eye of David Wheeler who spotted them in a Hay-on-Wye bookshop and offered to ship them across the pond. Together with early volumes dating from the magazine's birth in 1897 that were already on my shelves, I was hoping to eventually have a near complete run. Over the years, thumbing through these heavy tomes offered one of life's greatest pleasures, and from a practical stand- point afforded me bits of knowledge that I was able to use in several books, notably Gardens of the Arts and Crafts Movement (2004), Gertrude Jekyll at Munstead Wood (1996/2015), and Gertrude Jekyll and the Country House Garden: From the Archives of Country Life (2011). Through the latter book I became acquainted with Country Life Picture Library, which became one of my treasured resources for research because of their trove of unpublished photographs of country houses and gardens that never made the cut in the magazine.
The problem of where to house this growing collection, including hundreds of loose subscription issues that had been flowing in weekly since the 1980s, proved tricky to resolve. Many of the rooms in our house in the suburbs of Boston were filled with the Country Life volumes as well as countless stacks of loose issues tucked away here and there. If that wasn't enough, I soon began acquiring other periodicals, such as The Studio Magazine, William Robinson's numerous horticultural weeklies, and American magazines of the same period. At the same time, my book collection devoted to British and American country houses and gardens was growing by leaps and bounds until the entire house became a library. Collections included all editions of every book by Gertrude Jekyll and William Robinson, plus dozens of lavishly illustrated folios on Italian and English gardens published by Country Life Library. As a result I no longer had to leave home to consult references in dusty libraries because I had them all at hand.

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From 'The Tools of the Trade: Garden Implements', Part Three by Peter Dale

If the wheel - its invention, putting it to use - be reckoned the single most important, the most fundamentally enabling, step in the evolution of civilisation, where does that put the wheelbarrow in the history of gardening? Or in the history of anything, of everything really? Nineteenth century railway embankments? Eighteenth century canals? Capability Brown dragging a hill a bit this way, or digging a lake over there? Unthinkable without wheel- barrows. The draining of the fens, the making of the Great Ouse, in the seventeenth century? Imagine life now without earth-movers, mechanical diggers, JCBs. Unthinkable! But what about Maiden Castle, what about Silbury Hill? The earth there was probably dug and lugged by slaves . . . or their equivalent. And that's not something to celebrate, not at all. Only the wheelbarrow would have eased the labour. The wheelbarrow, the liberator, the engine of man's progress.
In the smaller, more specific context of the garden - and looking beyond the ride-on mower, the chainsaw, the automatic watering system - what tools do we really need? Something to delve with of course, and something to chop, snip and sever, but when it comes to shifting heavy soil, to sweetening tired earth with heavy dung, to bringing in a cumbersome crop of apples or potatoes, it's a wheelbarrow we look to. But even if wheelbarrows are so obvious, so ordinary, so ubiquitous, should we still be taking them for granted? Perhaps it behoves us to stop for a moment and consider the physics of barrowing. Something like half (at least) of the weight of a load is redistributed, unloaded (on to the ground) by a barrow, and that frees up a corresponding half of your muscle-power to thrust the load forward. Or backwards. That wheel of the barrow becomes, in effect, a sort of third leg for the barrower, and it is that leg - not you - that bears an awful lot of the weight.
Something of the sort happens if you drag a sled, and wheel- barrows may well have evolved from sleds: you off-load a good deal of a burden's weight on to the earth itself. But you still have to drag a sled, and that makes the lugging easier than it was but still not a breeze, not by comparison with a wheeled-sled, a wheeled-barrow.
Think, if you will, of something comparably simple and similarly humanly configured, ergonomically man-or-woman compatible, something which fits onto (into, down the sides of ) the human body so snugly as a wheelbarrow. An armchair of course (but that doesn't move). A bicycle (but it can be a tricky thing initially to clamber on to). An exercise machine (but it wears you out before you can wear it out).




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From 'Brethren of the Spade' by Charles Nelson

Peter Dale's recent musing on the spade (in HORTUS 118) prompts this digression, although there are no veritable spades in it.
The phrase 'Brethren of the spade', invoking the fraternity of gardeners, appeared in a number of contributions to John Claudius Loudon's The Gardener's Magazine during the late 1830s. One 'A. C.', in May 1835, commented that 'If I feel disposed to question and rebuke the brethren of the spade and pruning-knife, for having allowed those fine fruits to perish through carelessness or neglect, I feel a desire equally strong to praise them for the improvements which they have made, in forcing this cold and sterile climate to furnish us with fruits and with flowers of foreign descent'. John Scott, in the May 1841 issue, remarked: 'Bred in some of the best plant gardens of Europe, I have had an opportunity of becoming acquainted with thousands of species little known to some of my brethren of the spade.' The phrase occurs in only a sprinkling of other printed sources during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. (The earliest instance of it in print, in the form 'Fraternity of the Spade', occurs, perhaps surprisingly, in The Marches Day: A Dramatic Entertainment of Three Acts by John Finlayson, a Scot, first published in 1771.)
In 1949 Dr Earl Gregg Swem, librarian emeritus of William and Mary College at Williamsburg, Virginia, published an account of the correspondence between the English plantsman Peter Collinson (1694-1764) and the American politician John Custis (1678-1749) of Williamsburg, under the title Brothers of the Spade. Swem took this from a letter that Collinson had penned on 15 December 1735: '. . . for Wee Brothers of the Spade find it very necessary to share amongst us the seeds that come annually from Abroad. It not only preserves a Friendly Society but secures our Collections . . .'. Collinson's correspondence with Custis had not been published in the 1830s, so the nineteenth-century authors who employed the phrase cannot have known that letter as a source.


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From 'Sad News from the Home Patch' by Tom Petherick

I first met Melanie Eclare at Walcot Hall in Shropshire in the summer of 1996. My three-year spell at Heligan was coming to an end and I was dithering about what to do next. Part of me hoped in my heart to escape back to India to continue working with the rural poor, make use of my newly found expertise in vegetable growing and massage my world-saving ego.
On that sunny morning Melanie put a pair of secateurs in my hand, took a pair herself and directed us to the big border of roses and Buddleja alternifolia around the side of the house saying 'we have some work to do'. It was definitely a trial and thankfully I passed.
I didn't see her for a spell, busy as we were. At the time she was mixing gardening with photography, having been granted a Merlin Trust Scholarship by Valerie Finnis; clever old Valerie knew that Melanie could make a significant contribution to horticulture . . .
In mid-July Melanie contracted acute myeloid leukaemia and after a short and very brave fight died on 3 September this year.
Goodbye my love, fly with the angels.




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From 'Digging with the Duchess' by Sam Llewellyn

by Tom Petherick
It is winter. The trees are black, the sky grey, and Dick the shepherd blows his nail. But there are a few bright spots. One is that the enormous oak that blew down in the spring gales is now burning brightly in the morning-room grate, giving the lie to the ancient Herefordshire saw that lightning-struck timber never burns. The other is that the pumpkins have gone.
Not that one has anything against these hefty cucurbits. The sleeping-bag-swathed giants are always good for a laugh when they are hoisted out of the unclosable boots of the Ford Capris in which they are traditionally delivered to the veg tent at Kington (pop. c 2,000) Show. As a household, though, we grow them to eat, not show or carve into Halloween heads. Not this year, though. This year the seedsmen let us down. Your seedsman is precise about varieties of zinnias and sweet Williams and most other things, but he seems to blow a mental gasket when it comes to pumpkins.
I should explain. Your finest domestic pumpkin, it has always seemed at the Hope, is a thing called a Baby Bear, roughly the size of a two-pint teapot. We also grow from home-saved seed a nameless bluish-green object which achieves twice that size, and while it lacks the Bear's flavour is popular because you do not get all that many blue vegetables, and the Duchess says it reminds her of that awful little Huysmans person who wrote À Rebours. Be this as it may, the blue thing has the innocent talent of coming true from seed. This year the Baby Bears entirely failed to do what it said on the packet. They grew to the size of junior hot air balloons, looked pretty much inedible, and in September were heading for the com- post heap when the telephone rang . . .

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Book Reviews:

Clark Lawrence reviews
Garden of the Italian Lakes by Steven Desmond

and David Wheeler looks back on a few of the outstanding
garden books published since HORTUS began in 1987

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HORTUS 121 (Spring 2017) will be published on 30 March

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