Pure Style in the Garden – Creating an Outdoor Haven by Jane Cumberbatch – was not the garden design book I had imagined it might be. It was far more and far better! Certainly, the author deals with style in the garden but one soon realises that it is the gardener’s style which is being encouraged here rather than that of the garden.
Perhaps never more so than in recent times we have come to appreciate the value of our gardens for our general happiness and wellbeing They have become places of simple pleasures, of constancy in life, a little world within a big, and sometimes bad, world, places of peace where the mind is pleasantly occupied – “There are enough thorns in life, grow a garden!” Voltaire said so very sensibly.
So what is the style Jane Cumberbatch recommends? It is that style of making the most of what we have, of enjoying the simple things of life, of connecting with nature through our gardening, of realising that gardening is as much a state of mind as an activity and that, with the right frame of mind, we can be very happy with very little. Gertrude Jekyll understood the value of simplicity and of the gardener’s outlook: “The size of a garden has very little to do with its merit. It is merely an accident relating to its owner. It is the size of his heart and brain and good will that will make his garden either delightful of dull.” The well-designed garden, the garden with pure style, is the one where the gardener finds happiness, peace of mind, contentment, and a oneness with life – this is the style Jane Cumberbatch proposes.
The author references Edward O. Wilson’s thoughts on “biophilia”, that we have an innate affinity for the natural world and that contact with the natural world is hugely beneficial to our wellbeing. She encourages a gardening style which is natural, simple and unpretentious – her gardening furniture is not spanking brand new and glossy but a little weathered and beaten up, a touch “shabby-chic”, I suppose. Receptacles for cut flowers, where I might have reached for a vase, are simple, often repurposed, regularly junk shop purchases. This relaxed approach pervades her stylish approach.
The book has a seasonal layout, again in a relaxed style, a diary with a collection of thoughts, reflections and references to and quotations from various writers. There are illustrations appropriate to the time of year – the author’s own paintings and photographs – with some plant lists, recipes and seasonal suggestions. All is gentle, relaxed, sort of soft-focused, even a little styled and I felt a hint Dolly Partonish – did it take a lot of effort to look this relaxed?
This book is one of attitude, approach and mindset rather than a how-to gardening book. In one sense it lacks content and in another it deals with the most important content of all, that of our attitude and approach to our gardens, guiding us to be more relaxed and to enjoy our gardening more – that’s the real style!
[Pure Style in the Garden, Creating an Outdoor Haven, Jane Cumberbatch, Pimpernel Press Ltd, 2021, Hardback, 192 pages, £20, ISBN: 978-1-910258-06-4]