I was sent this book to review by the lovely people at Pimpernel Press – I’d never really heard of a garden critic before and thought it sounded entertaining – it was! The opening line of the introduction is ‘You should have been here last week. That’s what people always say to garden writers.’ I don’t think it’s saved just for garden writers – I’ve heard that exact phrase from members of my local gardening club when it’s their turn to host a visit. It’s like the fish that got away.
Tim Richardson is quite a prolific author, having written a number of books about landscapes and gardens as well as being a regular contributor to publications such as the Daily Telegraph, Country Life and House and Garden. He writes about all manner of garden-related topics from trends and events to ghosts, films and accidents in gardens. We visit Europe, the US, China and South Korea, as well as the breadth of the UK in this book and I was pleased to see a few Scottish gardens making the cut – Little Sparta, Jupiter Artland and Broughton House.
‘Sharp Cuttings From a Garden Writer’, the byline for the book title, is about right too, it felt absolutely right that I should photograph the book next to a cactus! Richardson is certainly provocative and I can see why his musings have caused outrage and/or demands for apologies from all quarters – education establishments, gardens, gardeners, gardening bodies and committees. He sticks to his guns too – in one such incident The Garden Design Journal issued an apology to The London College of Garden Design, however below the apology was a statement from Richardson making it clear that he stood by his article. He does remind me, somewhat wryly, of my dad – he doesn’t mind ruffling feathers and I get the distinct impression he aims his grenades with precision and then sits back waiting for the explosions with glee! I’m almost petrified to write this in case he should happen upon it and tear me off a strip or two for my own ignorance and presumption.
This book is a collection of articles that were published mainly in the Telegraph and Garden Design Journal (before he was ‘let go’ after some tongue in cheek comments about a fictitious award/sponsor/winner) between 2004 and 2016. The reviews on the jacket tell us we’re in for “informed criticism”, “an entertaining read”, “incisive, witty, opinionated and thought-provoking” – it’s all of these things. It’s not the sort of book you can sit down and read in one go but is delightful to digest a couple of short articles at a time. As a result of reading the book, I can say that I’ve been educated. – I thought it was plants/gardening I know little about – it turns out there’s so much more that I’ve never even considered. I now have an extensive list of places I would like to visit, both here and further afield, as well as a couple of film recommendations – Alan Rickman and Kate Winslet in ‘A Little Chaos’ sounds right up my street!
Unlikely, but I really do hope that one day my path crosses Richardson’s – he seems like exactly the sort of person you could pass a wonderfully, intelligent, frank (waspish) and entertaining few hours with, over a drink or two. Which has just reminded me about his story of nearly getting taken out by a viburnum that had been blown out of a living wall some 60 foot above, while he was sipping champagne at some fancy gardening event – that’s exactly the sort of thing that would happen to me!
This is a great read for anyone who likes to challenge the status quo, enjoys gardening or visiting them and has ever wished they could stick a literary two fingers up (and for it to mean a damn)!