Landscaping: Top 10 lists a risky business

By Leigh Bramwell

2 comments
The roses collected by Josephine de Beauharnais can still be seen at l'hay les roses in Paris.
The roses collected by Josephine de Beauharnais can still be seen at l'hay les roses in Paris.

At the moment I'm fascinated by lists. Last year it was studies - why blondes are happier, whether people with cats have fewer health problems - and now it's 21 famous schizophrenics, 15 celebrities with chipped teeth and the like. I'm not saying who they are in case it's not true and I get sued, but you can look them up yourself if you want.

Hopefully, I'm safe with the world's most famous gardeners, although one columnist who compiled such a list for the Daily Telegraph got into hot water over it.

Realising he had offended some gardeners by leaving them out, he had the following advice for them:

1. Compile your own list, making sure my name is on it.
2. Print it out.
3. Repeatedly strike out my name using a sharp HB pencil.
4. Repeat steps 1 to 3 until you start to feel better.

Which demonstrates how idiotic such lists are. Unfortunately, most lists of famous gardeners are made up largely of those who have been made famous by television, which tends to preclude the plant-hunters, botanists, scientists and plant breeders we have to thank for the diversity of the plants we use - and anyone who died before getting their own garden show.

One common choice who hasn't been on any chat shows I've ever seen and who truly deserves a place on any list is Piet Oudolf, the influential Dutch plantsman. A leading light in naturalistic planting design, he has been largely responsible for the trend for form rather than colour, and for our introduction to grasses as valuable garden plants. He's worked all over the world and won the commission for the Olympic Park legacy planting.

Carol Klein has certainly been on television a lot of late but how could you not love her mad hair, curious dress sense and extraordinary "non-television" voice? She's been No2 on the BBC's Gardeners' World and has her own cottage garden series. Creative and passionate, she knows truckloads about plants and gardens, and the pace and integrity of her programmes take me back to the days of Maggie's Garden Show. I also make an effort to stay awake for Monty Don on Gardeners' World, and it's not for his posh accent either.

Although British gardeners dominate these lists I did come across an American list. I recognised the name of Allan Armitage, who was described as "a fountain of herbaceous knowledge". Yes, he has been on the telly, but he's best known for his books and wide-brimmed hat.

I'm a bit ashamed to admit that the only other names I recognised were Michelle Obama and Martha Stewart. I'm sure they do have wonderful gardens but - and call me cynical if you like - I suspect they spend very little time up to their elbows in dirt.

The garden at Mawarra Manor is a famous surviving example by designer Edna Walling.
The garden at Mawarra Manor is a famous surviving example by designer Edna Walling.

I don't suppose Josephine de Beauharnais did either, and it must be admitted that she was certainly more famous for marrying Napoleon, which is possibly a bit like being famous for introducing gorse to New Zealand. However, I'd put her on a list because Josephine was a passionate gardener and had a famous 19th-century collection of roses at the Chateau de Malmaison. The roses she collected can still be seen at l'hay les roses in Paris.

Close to home is Edna Walling, a designer in the style of Gertrude Jekyll. Walling was born in Devon, England, and came here with her parents before settling in Australia. In the 1920s she developed a village with "English" gardens at Mooroolbark, contributed to the Australian Home Beautiful magazine and wrote Gardens in Australia (1943), Cottage and Garden (1947) and A Gardener's Log (1948).

I haven't mentioned any New Zealand gardeners here because I don't want to be inundated by emails telling me who should have been there but were not.

Quotes to sprout ideas

I love reading garden quotes, and there are heaps of them because just about every famous person in the world has said something notable about gardening.
My two favourites have to do with trying to live a more self-sufficient and sustainable lifestyle.

"The first supermarket supposedly appeared on the American landscape in 1946. That is not very long ago. Until then, where was all the food? Dear folks, the food was in homes, gardens, local fields, and forests. It was near kitchens, near tables, near bedsides. It was in the pantry, the cellar, the backyard."
- Joel Salatin in Folks, This Ain't Normal: A Farmer's Advice for Happier Hens, Healthier People and a Better World.

"The greatest fine art of the future will be the making of a comfortable living from a small piece of land."
- Abraham Lincoln

- Northern Advocate

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