For those you (American readers perhaps) who don’t know who Delia Smith is – she is our equivalent of Martha Stewart, except that she only does cookery, hasn’t done time, and is, let’s fact it, a bit of a frump. So it was a bit of a double-edge sword when I heard that Alan Titchmarsh said that “having Noel Kingsbury visit your garden is a bit like having Delia Smith to supper” on this year’s Chelsea Flower Show TV coverage. The person who was being threatened with a visitation was Joe Swift.
In the end I never did get to see Joe’s garden, but have had to write it up for a book I’m doing on designers’ own gardens blind. He’s very busy, I only come to London once a month etc etc. Plus there was the article I found online, in either the Mail or the Express website about his garden. Neither of these is my favourite publication, so I didn’t take it too seriously, to be fair the photograph was only of the front ‘garden’, and featured some bare concrete, empty beer bottles, a bag of rubbish and an upside own milk crate – and a couple of local types saying things like “that Joe Swift outa get down here and tidy up his garden (to be read in cockney accent). A total gutter press non-story in other words. You should have seen our ‘front garden’ in Bristol.
Its been an interesting book to do, as a lot of designers have gardens which are real personal spaces. Somewhat surprisingly, Joe Swift did not do his garden for a TV make-over, but Penelope Hobhouse did (well part of her old garden at Bettescombe). Its been interesting too, hearing about design approaches too. Like Joe Swift’s ‘modular gardens’ concept which sounds like a complete negation of what many designers see as design (genius of the place and all that) – but I now can appreciate the rationale so much better. Cleve West has been my latest victim. Again a bit diffident about letting me in, but a wonderfully green oasis in the suburbs type garden, tiny, very intensely designed, contemporary but very planty.
Some designers use their gardens for experimenting with lots of new plants, or trying out new concepts – but none of the living ones do this on anything like the scale of the late Mien Ruys in Holland, whose garden was several acres of design laboratory (but she did inherit her father’s nursery), or the late Roberto Burle Marx, who had what amounted to a private botanical garden. Others are just very personal spaces where they simply do what they want to do, without worrying about clients. None yet features a rectangular lawn with yard wide borders around the edges.