One of my favourite pictures in one of my favourite books about one of my favourite gardeners is of a writing desk on which there are several photographs, a framed portrait of the Brontë sisters that once was folded and still bears the marks, a pen and inkwell stand, a lovely china bowl of what I imagine is pot-pourri, several stamped and addressed envelopes that look as if they are waiting to be opened, a couple of sheets of postage stamps depicting the crowned head of a young Queen Elizabeth, a scribbling pad dated 1962 (a poignant date) and a small closed diary. There is also a packet of lens cleaners, a silver letter-opener in the shape on an arrow complete with its flight-feathers, and a blotter, the kind that is hand-held and you rock backwards and forwards to dry the ink on your paper. It is an intensely personal collection and when I look into it I feel an intruder.images.jpg

Only half the desk is in range of the camera lens but on that half are at least six small vases of flowers. It must have been the northern summer at the time because in one of the vases — a charming ceramic pot — are several sprigs of lily-of-the-valley; in another — this one decorated with what looks like a Chinese scene — is a mixture of small rose buds and foliage; another holds some white flowers that could be anemones; yet another — this one with a dark glaze — holds a large modern rose perfectly set off with some asparagus fern. At the back of the desk and against the wall and in a vase that is hidden from view are three stems of unopened magnolias beautifully set off by their large shiny leaves.

It is a black and white photograph so I cannot tell you about the colours of the flowers; I can only tell you that each little bouquet is lovely.

The desk speaks of someone who writes and loves flowers. Of course, is does! Because the writer is Vita Sackville West (pictured above on another occasion), poet, novelist and creator of the famous Sissinghurst garden in Kent in England. One of the photographs on the desk is of her husband, diplomat, fellow writer and gardener, Harold Nicholson. The date on the scribbling diary is poignant because she died in 1962.

The photograph is amongst the last pages of Jane Brown’s Vita’s Other World: A Gardening Biography of V.Sackville-West, a brilliant 1985 account of the making of that famous garden — ‘a garden made from deep within memories and experience’ as Jane Brown so eloquently puts it. The same photograph is in my copy of Anne Scott-James’ equally important book, Sissinghurst: The Making of a Garden, published in 1974. Continue reading

Climbing Roses and Their Wandering Ways

This is just how a climbing rose should be: hanging in luxuriant flounces and reaching in all directions. The white climbing rose is Lamarque and it is growing across the front of the home of respected rosarian, Walter Duncan, in his beautiful Heritage Garden in South Australia’s Clare Valley.  The garden is open to visitors.

‘You can almost never have too many climbing roses,’ says Monty Don, well known English broadcaster and garden writer. I absolutely agree. In fact, I agree with everything Monty Don has to say about gardens and have kept an eye on his writing ever since 2008, when he won me with his television series Around the World in 80 Gardens.

He is an interesting man. He is a self-taught horticulturalist and came to gardening in a round-about way after a series of jobs and an unsuccessful attempt at writing fiction. Of himself he says: ‘I was – am – an amateur gardener and a professional writer. My only authority came from a lifetime of gardening and a passion amounting to an obsession for my own garden.’

One of the obsessions in his own garden, other than his passion for organic gardening, is his roses and he writes about them frequently. I have a similar obsession and having just pruned my climbing roses I was interested to read what he says about these particular plants. ‘Just let them grow’, he says. ‘Allow them to grow as big as they really want to, rather than being constantly curtailed and clipped to stay within the limits imposed by our back gardens.  If you have room on your house or a suitable tree (an old apple tree is perfect), try growing a rose up it so it can grow untrammelled, and if this is not practical, then pergolas, arches, fences, walls and bowers are all ideal for training a rose over.’ That’s his very good advice.

My first garden was a tiny space behind a tiny terrace house. I was new to gardening but my head was full of wild fantasies about what I would grow there. I would have trees and flowers and a pond and vegetables, and the flowers would be mostly roses, masses of them. When the more practical aspects of what would actually fit into this tiny space finally dawned on me, I settled for one small-growing tree, a ‘pond’ contained in an old Chinese bowl, some vegetables in pots and three climbing roses. But the climbing roses did have masses of flowers, so my fantasy came true in a small way. Continue reading