Music to my ears

How sweet are these words, at the end of a long article by one C. E. Baines.

More succinctly (and with more humour, and humanity) than any other piece of writing that I know, these casual words acknowledge the contribution of the designer as well as the complementary contribution of the loving and engaged garden owner.  I love that the owner only has to survey the work for a minute before seeing what’s wrong, and that he recognises that he’s the best person to fine-tune it to meet his needs.

That’s the real point I wanted to make.

But I love it for several other reasons, which, if you don’t mind being distracted from the main point, may also be of interest.

I love it because it was sent to me by that most humble superstar of Australian garden writing, the late Jean Galbraith.  She would have been in her early nineties at the time, and still contributing occasionally to The Age in Melbourne. She added this scrawled note.

JG Note

I’m just guessing, but I’d take a bet that one day someone will discover that this was the last known occurrence of the words ‘companionable’ and ‘fellow feeling’.  The words she referred to are the ones photographed above, and my fellow feeling with the author has grown tremendously over the twenty-eight or so years since she sent it.

And I love it because it led me to a hunt for further copies of ‘this most delightful of garden magazines’.

My Garden cover 1

Currently I have all but 10 of the 216 issues published between 1934 and 1951 (thanks almost entirely due to a single purchase from Gil Teague at Florilegium).  As you can see, A.A.Milne contributed to it, as did a great list of known names, including Capt. W.E.Johns (of Biggles fame – the editor of this mag claiming him as his own ‘find’ in relation to his garden writing), Old Vita S-W, a very young Graham Stuart Thomas and Will Ingwersen. There’s gold in every issue.

And I love it because Jean Galbraith sent it to me out of real concern for my disillusionment with professional gardening, back in my apprenticeship days.  I love that, even as a very old woman, she understood that she had the power to encourage and bless a very young man.  What a star.


  1. Michael, thank you for sharing your inspiring thoughts, stories, some great tales and quirky snapshots. They do remind me why I am doing what I do.

    1. Thanks Jan. Surprising how often we need reminding, isn’t it?

  2. Thank you for the beautiful article. I think a garden should be as individual as one’s signature; all different, a reflection of personality and ideas. Fashions will come and go, but in the end; ultimately transient. In my parents humble housing commission back yard a deep red rose (probably the Allistar Clarke rose with the politically incorrect title) Rosa ‘Blackboy’ and Porcelain Vine (Ampelopsis) grew. Together these climbers made a wonderful and impenetrable thicket against a sagging fence. A precious memory as a small girl was my father lifting me up to see a nest of baby black birds deep within the tangled mess. It was magic, and now in my 50’s have a deep appreciation, indeed devotion of creating garden spaces that remind me of a blessed and loving childhood.

    1. Amazing how deep those memories run. And how influential they can be, all the way through life

  3. Perfect. As an online publisher and reviewer I’m often sent books to review but so often the prose is second-rate compared to what was written last century. It had a simplicity of expression combined with a breadth of vocabulary that makes much of what’s written today look overworked. And I also like that C.E Baines is picking up pick, hammer and trowel, signifying the dual contribution planting and landscaping make to a good garden. These days it seems that writing or thinking about one has to exclude the other.

    1. I put the quality down to the fact that print media was the only media. All the energy, time and money (or at least its equivalent in that era) that is now funnelled into movies and TV had to go through print back then. When you think how much money people used to make, simply writing stories (I mean fiction), just for weekly mags. Reading is what we all did for entertainment.
      But I guess there’s no point in bemoaning the loss. If standards were still that high, I wouldn’t stand a chance…

  4. What is easy to overlook, reading that extract, is that he does mention beginning with an professional.

    Leaves me rather wondering why…..

    1. The way I read it is that he understands that professional design can make a very important contribution to making a great garden, but only up to a point. It takes a fully engaged owner to take it to the next level.
      Many is the time Christopher Lloyd said to me that if he ever left Dixter (and there were moments in history when that looked almost inevitable), he’d have to employ a garden designer in the new garden. He knew that design was his weakness, though no doubt, like the bloke in the above quote, he’d have been critical of the result, and have immediately set out to repair or improve the weaknesses. And it would be stupid to think that just because you’ve handed a job over to a designer (whether of your house, your interiors, your garden), then you’re relinquishing any right to an opinion on the result, or that the result should be above criticism, or improvement in the way or fine-tuning, or even simply personalising.

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