Walking through this garden is truly a reminder that seeing a plant, touching and smelling are still the best ways to learn about a plants.
In the 1600’s, the engaging study of botany and plants, really depended on only 3 sources: herbals (such as Gerard’s), collections of plants (pressed, dried, glued to sheets of paper and labelled), and excursions to countries where teachers were learning from living plants. The challenge-some plants were being studied by looking at dead plants glued to a page. It just wasn’t the same as learning by growing a living plant, nor very diverse. So a group called the Apothecaries set out to find land in London just after the great fire, where they could cultivate rare plants and sow seeds and slips from plants that were being brought in from other countries.
And so begins the garden intended for study and the advancement of botany and not just a garden to grow plants used for drugs. The reputation of a garden for medicine is steeped in history. Because truly medicine men and healers became the only teachers of botany. Early descriptions of plants were written by them. Even digging deeper into history, a wonderful old book I bought at a bookshop at Hay-On-Wye, The Romance of the Apothecaries Garden at Chelsea (1928) states: Primitive man crawled out of his cave and had to “discover that the roots and leaves of wild cabbage were wholesome, but that the plant monkshood nearby would stop his breath” …and so the cave man became, of necessity a field botanist–a better one than many a modern Londoner.”
Today, a walk through this 4-acre plot that is surrounded by brick walls and iron gates to keep out the hustle and bustle of London is still following its original intent. A place to study, learn and experience useful plants. For me, it was truly a reminder that seeing a plant, touching and smelling it are the best ways to learn about plants.
A garden that is more like walking through rooms of an art gallery with works from an abstract artist. The hedges behaving like picture frames all around to bring it together.
Travelogue Wales: South of Abergavenny, just over an hour drive past Raglan Castle was a visit to a private garden. We walked down a small gravel lane off the main highway to a gate almost hidden under a tree. A hand-written sign led into the garden of Anne Wareham author of the book, The Bad-Tempered Gardener. Prior to our visit, I did wonder what a bad-tempered gardener’s place would look like (I had not heard of the book.) I don’t remember being bad-tempered in any garden, even when stuff dies, explodes (yep, a hose), overtakes (horsetail, ugh!), and just flat-out defeats me after a day spent in it. Veddw House Garden
We were greeted near the small conservatory by Anne’s husband, Charles Hawes, a talented, well-known photographer. He mentioned she wasn’t home (I won’t spend too much space here telling who I later saw sneaking out the back door, while I was alone photographing one of the back gardens.)
Charles gave us a warm welcome and spoke about the garden before he let us explore on our own. His described it as “a garden with edges being rough and ready”, which is a good visual for the way the lush planting borders threaten to spill over and have the run of the place. I did like his description of simply letting the plants “have it out”. As I looked around, it made me think how I’d love to pursue that garden method.
After our visit to the garden, I had a lucky find-out of thousands of used books crammed on a shelf in a little book shop at Hay-On-Wye (a village famous for books. The streets are lined with dozens of used and antiquarian bookshops.) Here area few snippets from the book:
What do you think? Bad tempered? “Gardening is boring. It is repetitious, repetitive and mind-blowingly boring, just like housework. All of it-sowing seeds, mowing, cutting hedges, potting up, propagating is boring and all if it requires doing over and over again. If there are enjoyable jobs they’re mostly enjoyable for the result, not the process.” Anne Wareham, The Bad-Tempered Gardener
Or simply telling it like it is
“The very best trick is to try things and see. Experiment; take risks, particularly if they involve less work. This way innovation rises and innovation is badly needed in the gardening world. If a job seems exasperating, expensive or boring, stop and think whether there might be an easier way. Plants want to grow; they are on your side as long as you are reasonably sensible. If they don’t like what you offer, offer them something else quickly and see if it suits better.” Anne Wareham, The Bad-Tempered Gardener
Next Travelogue: Going Herbal at the Physic Garden
I have been watching the buzz on this book for a while and waiting for it to emerge into pages. I will honestly say that I thought it sounded fun, but was not really sure if it was a book I would go out and buy.
The title evokes images of an old movie set. The dark stone walls of a castle dungeon and distillery equipment steaming with fragrant concoctions…but I digress.
I am a fan of the author, Amy Stewart and have all of her previous books, so it might have been just a purchase as a fan and not necessarily of the subject matter.
But of course, Amy you had me at the aperitif, as most good beginnings should.
This is not a tale of a curmudgeonly old botanist,who is more interested in pistils and stamens while imbibing too much.
The Drunken Botanist is much more fun. Who knew that walking into a liquor store would inspire a garden writer. Everything on the shelves is rooted in botanical history, from hops in beer to the nectar of Agave. The book is a historical exploration how plants return to us in another formulation. Herbs, grains, veggies, and exotic plants have for centuries given us medicine, remedies, food and flavorings this book gives you a look at the fermented side of plants.
Even if the study of liqueur isn’t your thing, the botanical journey is definitely worth the read. Cheers!
Amy’s garden, colorful and edible…or should I say drink-able! On right: peppers, celery, basil, strawberries, Calendula, cucumber, lemongrass….photo courtesy of Amy Stewart.
Go Local: If you are in Tacoma-check out our very own craft cocktail lounge. www.1022south.com
Local lecture from Amy: March 27th at Powell’s books in Portland, Oregon and March 28th at Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park. Washington. More events listed at www.amystewart.com.
Free Book : I have a copy of The Drunken Botanist from Amy and am giving it away. NAME THAT PLANT! What Pacific Northwest native fern would you steep in water to create a bitter cocktail syrup that hints at a licorice-flavor mixed with orange water. Post a comment here, on Facebook or stop by Urban Garden Company in downtown Tacoma to drop off your answer. One of the correct answers will be drawn randomly. Hurry and answer by March 31st, the winner will be drawn April 1st.