One Day....Part the Second

So here’s the rest of the poem, following on from Monday’s post.  My point was that if real plants were truly in danger of being superseded, the media and the nurseries had to take partial responsibility for devaluing or underselling both the depth and breadth of the appeal of gardening.

As for jargon or historical references that might require explanation:

Cabbage Patch baby – a realistic looking baby doll.                                                

Two innovative Americans – James Van Sweden and Wolfgang Oeme, who’d popularised the use of grasses as ornamental plants                                          

The ‘New Wave’ – an early term for the ‘New Perennial Garden’, the great hero of which is now Piet Oudolf                                                                          

Garden show designs – the type of thing you’d see at MIFGS or The Australian Garden Show Sydney, which were then only ever severely planted with young nursery plants, that gave you no idea what they’d look like when they grew up, or what your spacing should be in a real garden setting                                                                        

John and Betty – a first or second-grade reader from the 60’s and 70’s            

HMA – The Horticultural Media Association – the group I was addressing

To put you back in the picture, you’ll recall that I was just savouring the discovery of real, slow gardening…

I wallowed in this feeling

but with the media grew frustrated,

For in all I’d seen, and all I’d read

This hadn’t been communicated

And taking this thought further, it seemed

That it really wasn’t right

That despite the range of senses involved

The media was fixated on ‘sight’

And should it? Went the thought

For while the visual is preferred

Is there not room for wielding

The evocative power of the word?

As our images improve and reach

new levels of sophistication

Shouldn’t the corresponding words transport

to new heights of elation?

And yet, it would seem that the two

Are thought to be mutually exclusive

And as the images grow more important

The words grow more elusive

For the content of the magazines

Is nothing but titillation

When the opportunity exists

For inspiration and education

And photographers can do still more –

For pics are not just illustrations

At best they convey deep feeling

Not just flowers in pretty combinations

Then the make-over shows, which have their place

By their nature have ignored

That much of the joy is in growing things –

That in the nurture is the reward

For to offer potential garden lovers

The static courtyard, is maybe

About as appropriate as giving

A childless couple a cabbage patch baby

The children analogy stretches more

For as a father I’d say

That while children are more trouble than they’re worth

I wouldn’t have them any other way

The radio has created its very own case,

For garden-doctor talk-back leads

To the conclusion that gardening is nothing

But a war on insects, fungi and weeds

But picking on the media, I don’t mean to imply

They’re either incompetent, or slack

Its not that they’re doing anything wrong

Just the balance that’s out of whack

Lets no longer only dwell

On the aspirational or the factual

but learn from our own experience

That in gardening one touches the spiritual

One cannot learn this second hand

We are forced to do a trade

Of time behind the computer screen

For time behind the spade

And what of designers, like myself?

Shouldn’t we also be trying hard

To show there are more rooms in this house

Than the minimalist courtyard?

‘But it’s the clients fault’ we can always say

A real garden isn’t what they covet

But with some insistent encouragement

I can’t help but think they’ll love it

Who would have thought we’d ever drool

Over images of frosted grasses

That took two innovative Americans to push

While we sat on our arses

Of course clients will say they want low maintenance

But its up to good designers to show

That it doesn’t have to be difficult –

They’ll do – if the know

And furthermore, I firmly believe

The low maintenance issue should go

I’d rather plant than sweep any day

and rather prune than mow

For the minimal courtyard isn’t low on care

It’s advantage is that all can see

What needs doing, and what needs cleaning

Without a horticultural degree

It’s the simplicity of maintenance

That makes them so attractive

We need to show real gardens can be

Both easy and interactive.

While on real gardens, nows a good time

To speak of those garden-show designs

You know the thing, all gimmicks

And nothing but nursery lines

Now the gimmicky feature is essential

to make people stop and look

But why can’t they use some well-grown plants

Instead of just nursery stock

And the nurseries – what are they doing

But responding to a perceived need

And as perceptions are still narrowing

Who is going to take the lead?

And so we come back to the media

As the purveyors of popular taste

Are they also just responding?

and allowing their influence to waste?

And so it seems for all of us theres

Much new territory to explore

The ‘new wave’ shows it is broadening –

So lets explore it more

For gardening is a rich language

In which we can barely claim to be literate

When we use such a limited vocab –

such a small and clumsy bit-of-it

Lets not allow this language to narrow –

There’s room to grow a-plenty

As it is, instead of writing ‘War and Peace’

Were going back to ‘John and Betty’

If our perceptions of beauty are largely learned

Then it can only be supposed

That our ability to appreciate will expand

When to new beauties we’re exposed

For there are forms yet to be used

Though it is possible I’d say

That some may be as silly or inappropriate

As corny rhymes at the HMA

So its up to everyone of us

To each and everyone here

To help to regain the long lost ground

And open up a new frontier


  1. I find it much better listening to you read it. You do it well. So what do you think of Martha Schwartz?

    1. I love, or should I say loved, Martha Schwartz – dunno what kind of stuff she’s doing now. When I first heard her speak in 1989 – not that long after the purple gravel/bagel combo that put her on the map – I ran up to her afterwards and wanted to give her a big cuddle. I changed my mind at the last moment, and just thanked her for clarifying better than any of the plant-driven gardeners speaking at the conference (which included such names as Beth Chatto, Christopher Lloyd, Penelope Hobhouse) what we were really attempting when making gardens. I love that sort of cutting edge design – my complaint was what was happening to actual gardening, how options were being serverly reduced, the range of plants likewise, and how this fabulously life-giving, multifaceted pursuit was being undersold

  2. I love that you have to explain what a Cabbage Patch Doll is… aw thanks for making me feel like an old fogy!!

    1. No worries, Penny. That was actually for the benefit of my huge International readership. Nevertheless, you and I have got a big fact to face in the next few weeks…

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