Tangled Branches: Cultivated
happenings in and around my zone 6b gardens in northern Virginia and in central Virginia
Tuesday, January 29, 2008
Dear Friend and Gardener
The December/January selection for the Garden Bloggers' Book Club, brainchild of Carol at May Dreams Gardens, is Dear Friend and Gardener by Beth Chatto and Christopher Lloyd. The book takes the form of two years worth of correspondence between the authors. I knew the names Beth Chatto and Christopher Lloyd, but my knowledge of their work and accomplishments was only slight. I'd heard of Beth Chatto's famous Gravel Garden and read some short articles by Christopher Lloyd in Country Life. So, I was eager to get to know them better.
The book was perhaps a bit predictable - a lot of "we went here and saw that", "so-and-so came to dinner and we talked about....", "the weather has been miserable", etc. The sort of thing you would expect two friends to tell each other. Except, these letters were not spontaneous communication. They were written as a project for a book publisher. Contrived? Well, maybe. That's what I thought at first, but there was still much to be enjoyed and learned.
One of the most enjoyable aspects was watching the seasons change through the eyes of Chatto and Lloyd. The descriptions of the weather and its effects on their gardens were vivid enough that I could imagine myself there seeing it. Beth Chatto, writing on New Year's Eve:
...the wind is bitter (straight from Russia, so the papers say), but it is brilliantly sunny, even warm on my face as I sit by the window looking out onto the garden. The bleakness of winter is relieved by patches of green; feathery bamboos, various conifers and evergreens, and the bright green algae growing along the shady side of oak boles and branches all illuminated by the long, slanting rays of sunlight. In contrast, leaf-losing trees trees and shrubs form delicate traceries of buff, brown and black against the blinding whiteness of the snow.
This isn't a how-to book, but if you're looking for garden wisdom, you'll find it sprinkled in here and there. A bolt from the blue for me, came in Lloyd's complaint about the renaming of plant families. This happened while I wasn't paying attention and I never knew why. Here's Christopher Lloyd on the subject:
I got in a word with dear old Prof. Willie Stearn, and asked him why we'd been forced into using the suffix 'aceae' for all plant families, thereby impoverishing the English language, which has taken on board words such as composites, umbellifers, crucifers, legumes, labiates and so forth. Apiaceae for Umbelliferae, Poaceae for Gramineae, are not nearly so user-friendly, in any case.
He took my point, but said that we were going back to what Lindley had decreed. Lindley was a great man and his dictum should be followed. Not much comfort there....
Fortunately, the book has a very good index, so if I want to find an exchange about, say, Galanthus, I'll be able to do it easily. I liked the book well enough, and will probably keep it on my shelf to re-read passages and to use as an occasional reference.
I found myself wanting to know more about Chatto and Lloyd. Obviously, I could and should seek out their other books, but internet searches rewarded me with additional details.
- Beth Chatto on her friendship with Christopher Lloyd, and how Dear Friend and Gardener came to be
- Beth Chatto Gardens website
- Great Dixter House and Gardens (some nice pictures and descriptions of the house, which Lloyd mentions frequently in his letters)
- Many photos of Great Dixter, taken by Christopher Lloyd's father. Lots to see here, including the young Christopher, a gardener in hat, coat and tie trimming a hedge, and much more
- Christopher Lloyd obituary