ClassicsOnline Home » HARDYMENT, C.: Pleasures of the Garden (The)
The Pleasures of the Garden begins in ancient China and ends on the Isle of Man; it admires both stately landscaped parks and a soap box full of red geraniums on a fire-escape. It shows that gardening is for everybody, whatever their resources. It features classic writers on gardens such as John Evelyn and Gertrude Jekyll, famous historical figures like Pliny the Younger, Francis Bacon and Thomas Jefferson, the novelists Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë and Robert Louis Stevenson, and the poets John Donne, John Clare, W.B. Yeats and Rudyard Kipling.
By Mary Cummings
The Pleasures of the Garden
Selected and Introduced by Christina Hardyment
I have long had the habit of listening to audiobooks while gardening, so from this it has been a natural step to create an audiobook collection of the writings of gardeners and those who love gardens. It is a gardening anthology specifically for our rushed and troubled times. Its purpose is to remind us of the pleasures, not the pains, of the garden—though it does occasionally touch upon the latter. I hope it will provide both practical and spiritual inspiration, alongside historical and technological interest, and, in places, bring forth smiles or indeed laughter.
The majority of the writers who appear in this anthology can fairly be described as having classic status. The collection ranges widely through time and place, for garden-lovers occur in every century and every country, from Ancient China to English suburbia, from Pliny in first-century Italy to Robert Louis Stevenson in 19th-century Hawaii. Some of the books I have chosen deserve to be heard at much greater length, and some, notably those by Gertrude Jekyll and Reginald Farrar, will I hope be enjoyed complete and unabridged one day. However, gargantuan poems such as William Cowper’s The Task or Alfred Tennyson’s Maud are quite adequately enjoyed in brief; and the writings of John Evelyn and Thomas Jefferson actually benefit from being abbreviated. Garden writers can be pompous and pretentious, lyrical and light-hearted, deliberately and accidentally funny—or both, perhaps, as seen in D.H. Lawrence’s hymn to a red geranium: ‘…even God would have to have a nose / to smell at the mignonette. / You can’t imagine the Holy Ghost sniffing / at cherry-pie heliotrope.’ I hope that there is something here for every mood.
To manage this vast and heterogeneous collection of what are literally other men’s flowers, I chose four themes. The first concerns love: pure love of gardens and pure (and impure) love in gardens. The second is about garden design: ostentatiously artificial and artfully naturalistic, for great mansions and homely cottages, making the most of the different seasons. Francis Bacon, Joseph Addison and Gertrude Jekyll all offer ideas for winter gardens, and Jekyll adds gardens planned for the scent of their flowers and the sound of their various leaves, most memorably ‘the great Reed, Arundo Donax [which] makes more noise in a moderate breeze than when the wind blows a gale, for then the long ribbon-like leaves are blown straight out and play much less against each other; the Arabs say, “It whispers in the breeze and is silent in the storm”’.
The third of my themes concerns practical matters. There are many ingenious ideas worthy of modern consideration—though few of us will be able to establish the ‘brood of nightingales’ which William Lawson deemed an essential in the 17th-century garden of his vicarage at Ormesby, Teeside. Pliny dined around a large basin ‘which serves as a table, the larger sort of dishes being placed round the margin, while the smaller ones swim about in the form of vessels and waterfowl’. Reginald Farrer peppered the sides of a Yorkshire gorge with a shotgun filled with seeds; the successful results can still be seen. ‘Use your hand as a sieve to protect delicate seedlings during watering,’ suggested the ninth-century monk Strabo. In this section are so many mentions of the joys of growing mignonette and violets that I plan to plant quantities of these top Victorian favourites next spring. Here too we find awe-inspiring professional gardeners like James Philip of Erddig and amateur gardeners who frankly admit their own mistakes, one such being Elizabeth von Arnim.
Finally, I looked for poems that offer solace to weary souls, whether they are seeking peace and wisdom (see the works of John Park-in-the-Sun and John Clare) or want something more dramatic (Swinburne). Some find proof of God’s existence in their gardens; some find the fate of plants to be a metaphor for that of humanity; some are just humble about the pleasure they take in gardening: ‘It is like taking care of a friend in old age, who has been kind to us when he was young’, reflects mine host in Bulwer-Lytton’s Paul Clifford.
When possible, I have chosen descriptions of gardens which can still be visited today. They include Pliny’s villas at Laurentinum and Lake Como, Elizabethan Kenilworth, Jane Austen’s home at Chawton and John Clare’s at Helpston, Francis Bacon’s gardens at Gorhambury and John Gerard’s at Hatfield, and Kew, praised for its ‘tropic umbrage’ by Erasmus Darwin in the 18th century and for its glen-like rock garden by Reginald Farrer in the 20th (we also hear that it was the scene of a sensation in the 1890s, when bloomer-clad lady gardeners appeared there). Great Maytham Hall in Kent inspired Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden. William Morris’s gardens at the Red House, Bexleyheath and Kelmscott Manor, Oxfordshire have been appropriately restored; so too have many of the gardens designed by Gertrude Jekyll and Avray Tipping. Reginald Farrer’s home at Ingleborough Hall, Yorkshire, and William Robinson’s at Gravetye Manor are still horticultural legends.
The greatest reward that I reaped from my research is the important lesson that gardens are not just for working in but are for reflection and recreation. Short of time and money to pay for help in the garden as most of us are, it is too easy for a garden to become a reproach rather than a pleasure. Since composing this anthology, I have provided my own garden with more places to sit and developed a Zen-like tolerance of weeds (‘just flowers in the wrong place,’ as someone once said). I hope that you will do the same.
Notes by Christina Hardyment
The music on this recording is taken from the NAXOS catalogue:
DELIUS Spring Morning / The Walk to the Paradise Garden 8.557143
Royal Scottish National Orchestra; David Lloyd-Jones, conductor
JENKINS Fantasia in F major ‘All in a Garden Green’ 8.550687
The Rose Consort of Viols
Under the Greenwood Tree Greensleeves / Green Goose Fair 8.553442
Estampie; Graham Derrick, conductor
MENDELSSOHN No. 30 in A major, Op. 62/6, Spring Song 8.554055
Péter Nagy, piano
Elizabethan Songs and Consort Music Fantasia / Gallyard 8.554284
The Rose Consort of Viols
FIELD Nocturne No. 11 in E flat major / Nocturne No. 13 in D minor 8.550762
Benjamin Frith, piano
English Festival Allegretto / Allegretto (Intermezzo) / Moderato (Romanza) 8.550229
Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra; Adrian Leaper, conductor
SAMMARTINI Affettuoso 8.557298
Aradia Ensemble; Kevin Mallon, conductor
MACDOWELL To a Wild Rose / To a Water-lily 8.223631
James Barbagallo, piano
English String Festival In Minuet Style / Air 8.550331
Capella Istropolitana; Adrian Leaper, conductor
BRAHMS Intermezzo in A major: Andante teneramente 8.550354
Idil Biret, piano
PURCELL Fantazia Upon One Note in F major, Z. 745 8.553957
The Rose Consort of Viols
LAWES Paven 8.550601
The Rose Consort of Viols; Jacob Heringman, theorbo; David Miller, theorbo
Music programming by Sarah Butcher