Let's face it. If I had had a good review from Robin Lane Fox I would have been worried – a sign that I (and by extention Piet Oudolf) had sold out, joined the establishment, become a safe pair of hands, retired to planting petunias and pruning hybrid tea roses. Like the artists who cherish their rejection from the Royal Academy, we know that condemnation by particular people is a sign that we are doing the right thing.
Robin Lane Fox is one of those treasures of British life, a long-standing, opinionated and conservative commentator on gardening. He is one of a kind – the 'crusty old fart', who we do particularly well in Britain, annoying, but in the end, rather lovable. The sort who hang around in gentleman's clubs in London or senior common rooms in exclusive Oxford colleges, with an intravenous drip of vintage port into their veins, fulminating at every opportunity about the silly mistakes of the young, the idiocy of letting women into the club, blah, blah, blah and blah. Lane Fox's day job is “Extraordinary Lecturer in Ancient History for both New and Exeter Colleges”. You get the idea – clever chap, just not very clued in to the modern world, the sort of person who when you say “estate” to, thinks of a friend of his with a big house and deer park and a couple of tenant farms 'on the estate', not a crap place to live on the edge of town with a library and swimming pool that's just been shut, and a rip-off bus once an hour into town and the job centre, where the only thing that makes life worth living are the fantastic drifts of flowers that the clever guys from Sheffield University have just done between the tower blocks – this is what 'estate' means to most people.
A pasting from Robin Lane Fox is like a thrashing with a wet lettuce, a back-handed complement playfully received. But quite why he drags in “actress Rosario Dawson, full-frontally naked from head to toe” into a review of a gardening book, I completely fail to appreciate; for God's sake you old goat, leave your sexual fantasies out of reviews of our book – perleeze.
Reading in a bit more detail, Lane Fox is revealing his prejudices a little. He admits of course to subjectivity (what a relief that is); he clearly does not understand that some people want a vision of nature, either in their gardens or their public spaces – that is a big shift in the aesthetic, one of those world-changing paradigm shifts that the ol' boys in leather armchairs in their clubs and senior common rooms had better get used to, the guys who like their double roses and camellias, and peonies out in the quad spaced out neatly with bare earth between them, lined out politely around the outside of that beautifully lush hallowed green, striped grass that no-one is allowed to walk on. And which the rest of us can hardly ever even see, because we are not even allowed in past the porter's lodge.
Our book is addressed to all gardeners and designers of planted spaces: private gardeners, community gardeners, volunteer gardeners, professional gardeners, and of course landscape designers. It is about trying to communicate a vision of nature which may be small-scale and private or big-scale and public. That is quite a challenge to get into one book, but the principles are the same. But the public aspect is important. Lane Fox can sneer about “German garden shows” but the whole point of those German garden shows is that they are about regenerating places which will then give pleasure to the entire community, not just for one summer, but ever more. The whole thrust of the despised “German planting” is actually about making beauty democratically available. Public space has been too often overlooked and under-utilised. Isn't quality public landscape a democratic right? I would like to think that some of what we discuss and show will help bring alive those public spaces, so we can all benefit.
Here's the book in question: Planting, a new perspective