In “The Deckchair Gardener” Anne and her mischievous and irreverent Gnome make it plain that all of us gardeners out there have been had, utterly had by the gardening nonsense that we have been reading over the years. What was gospel truth is taken by the collar and shaken to show up some crazy ideas being peddled by the experts as advice.
The book’s formula describes Specialist gardens and breaks the year down into the seasons. Each season is furnished with tasks to do lifted from the gardening press. Quoted verbatim, I recognise a lot of the suggestions (or are they hectoring commands?). Taken out of glossy magazine context or away from the mesmeric lure of television garden porn, they stand naked as demands for only the credulous to obey.
Over the years, I have intended to carry out some of them – just not quite got round to it. Take this lot for the winter months – lift planted patio pots up on feet to improve drainage, let the frost and worms break the clods of soil up. Anne has tried both and found the activities are pointless – pots are fine without and the clods of earth simply do not weather.
Lurking under the cheerful gnome facade, the serious message is to take a different approach to gardening activities. Be a bit sceptical and be willing to experiment. Do not swallow the usual medicinal “do this now in your garden” that gets recycled every month by a rather dozy gardening press.
A good deal of these instructions will make you laugh aloud. Take : ” Cover heavy clay soil with polythene and keep it drier and allow winter digging”. Well for a start, Anne is a disciple of the no dig principle. The very idea of battling with a slimy acreage of wind whipped plastic defies logic. As for digging, this destroys intricate soil structure and causes weed seeds to germinate. A convert on paper, I cannot stop myself reaching out for a fork.
Debunking is one thing, the Deckchair Gardener has a a stronger second strand. Enjoyment – cut down on pointless tasks like digging up your leeks and putting them in a holding trench so that you can dig them up again. Do only what gives you enormous pleasure. It might be primping the lawn, raising prize chrysanths, even digging. All that is up to the individual. Sitting still in your garden, drinking in the space will be part of the enjoyment.
The sub-title is “101 Cunning Stratagems for Gardening Avoidance and Sensible advice on your realistic chances of getting away with it” I didn’t go for tedious counting of Anne’s particular stratagems but I did make myself a list of dead good useful tips. Some of which I practice already. Anne and Charles Hawes have made a garden at Vedww that is hard to quarrel with from the design and planting side (I know that Anne would prefer a quarrel). The experience of making a garden of some size, without throwing money and labour at it, gives a good deal to share.
The top tip is mulching. Want to make a new border? Start by laying down 8 inches of wood chip. Weeds will be choked off, soil conditioned for planting later in the year. This is seriously useful: I am telling all my more patient customers this from now on. Cut down the perennials in the borders in the autumn and leave in situ. This will give a light winter diet to the plants. It is all they need. Otherwise, do not feed. It is a bit like the zoo, plants should be mean and lean, the rich diet will make them tall and sappy and likely to need staking.
The specialist garden sections give good instructions. For the meadow garden, this includes dealing with the viewer’s expectation of bright annual meadow colours. That sort is a one-off on poor ground. A muted sward of native plants is what is achievable. Others specialist gardens include one of gravel or majoring on hedges. Vedww is clearly the model – and it’s true, geometry and pattern are bestowed once the hedging plants begin to get to a sensible size.
Two other matters: sow thinly and cut any new large perennial in half with a bread knife. My take on the latter is make sure it really is big enough.
Anyone who longs to get away from the self conscious pappyness of our glossy gardening magazines will chortle over this book. I’d like to see it in hardback, with photographs and pages wrenched around by a hipster art director but then I guess you’d never take it into the garden, and that is the place to read this.