A Little Bit of Wonk

How fortunate we are in life to have among us those rare, to be loved and treasured people, those genuine garden experts and high achievers who don’t seek the high ground of “personality”, nor assume a cloak of great importance but retain the simple and pure enjoyment of gardening and of plants and whose love of gardening pervades all they have to say on the subject – we will admire these people and listen to them for we recognise their abilities and their achievements and we will listen to them for we enjoy listening to them. This is the tone which runs through the writings of E. A. Bowles, Margery Fish, Helen Dillon, Sarah Raven and, to hand today, Isabel Bannerman.

There have previously been two wonderful books from the Bannerman pen, Landscape of Dreams and Scent Magic so it comes as no wonder that Husbandry, Making Gardens with Mr. B is a perfect gem. Isabel Bannerman does at least two things exceedingly well in life – gardening and writing about gardening. Julian and Isabel have gardened at The Ivy in Chippenham, Hanham Court near Bristol (I adored this garden!), The Mount near Holt in Norfolk, Trematon Castle in Cornwall and their present garden, Ashington in Somerset which, rather than being the subject matter of this book, provides the setting where Isabel explores and discusses her thoughts on gardening, furnishing an insight into the Bannerman philosophy of gardening, so to speak. The book tracks “the unlikely processes by which we work, the smiles and frowns, the ups and downs.” It is not an account of the creation of their latest garden, though that is discussed and referenced throughout the book, but rather an insight into their thoughts on gardening, on design, on plants and planting. This book is as much a view on their philosophy of gardening as an account of a garden, a book on gardening as much as being about a garden. The Bannermans “do it because we love it and we love to do it” and have come to the conclusion that their “gardening life is about making us happy”

There is much in the gardening world – and I imagine this is particularly so in professional circles in which the Bannermans move – there is much that is competetive, even cut-throat and there certainly seems to be an almost universal need for self-promotion, a constant declaration that what one has or has done is simply the very best, the absolutely must-have, incessant cases of all their geese being swans. In this melieu Isabel Bannerman’s book is so beautifully refreshing, so honest and modest about achievements, so lacking in seriousness, so free of grandiosity and pretention. This is a book the gardener-reader will enjoy.

“Mr B says: ‘Garden designers tend to think it’s a painting they are making, but I think it’s just a fleeting dream. It is evolving, beyond anyone’s powers. You cannot be prescriptive with nature. I think that’s a mistake.'” and Mrs B continues: “This is not about the flamboyance of show gardens, open to the public and desperate for ‘year-round interest’ and ‘maintainability’…Our garden is not frightening, it is nothing near immaculate, it is not plantiferous, it takes only a few minutes to go round and there is no processional route. It’s just a manor farm garden which we love.” and it is a bit wonky in places for Mrs B likes “a little bit of wonk”.

[Husbandry, Making Gardens with Mr B, Isabel Bannerman, Pimpernel Press, 2022, Hardback, 144 pages, £14.99, ISBN: 978-1-914902-94-9]

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