-----In 2004 we bought a falling-down house and 30 acres. This blog documents our progress-----

Saturday, February 02, 2008

"The Laskett" podcast with Sir Roy Strong

One of my favourite books about gardening is "The Laskett", by Sir Roy Strong. I loved it when I read it a few years back, but I love it even more now I realise how much of it has stuck with me. Whenever I see a drift of bulbs on a lawn, or a something painted in gilt, it reminds me of this book.

So I was thrilled to stumble across a podcast that featured an interview with Sir Roy Strong, recorded while wandering around the garden. Here's the link to download ( right-click & save) - it starts about 2 minutes in.

(I love the concept - someone should do a series of interviewing people about their gardens while walking in them).

I highly recommend the book, I'm surprised it's not more well known - it was sheer fluke I stumbled across it.

Here's the link to buy it from Amazon.

Rather than include the (I think misleading) description on Amazon, however, I've researched to find some reviews that I think are more accurate.

From the Independent:

His garden, lovingly transformed over 30 years, is almost too personal to share with others, Strong admits; its construction roughly tallies with Strong's marriage to the opera designer Julia Trevelyan Oman, and the pages of The Laskett drip with affection for her. This triangular Herefordshire site is filled with serpentine walks, vistas, alleys, statues, memorials and visual jokes. There's an obelisk, a folly, and a shed called "Random House" (after his publishers). Avenues, ornaments and formal gardens mark the publication of Strong's books (the Hilliard Garden, Elizabeth Tudor Avenue and the Shakespeare monument) and Oman's productions (Glyndebourne, Covent Garden, the Ashton Arbour, after Sir Frederick, and the Nutcracker Garden). The V&A Temple marks the end of Strong's tenure at the museum. Other features celebrate pets and friendships: the Beaton steps (shouldn't that have been the Beaton path?) evoke Cecil Beaton, himself a keen gardener.

Throughout, Roy Strong is a delightful guide, as unembarrassed to admit his horticultural mistakes as he is to parade his wild enthusiasms, for example for gilding: "We gilded the balls on Muff's monument and on the column to Elizabeth, both to sensational effect... nothing, but nothing, can replace real 22-carat gold leaf."

I suspect not all readers will be as charmed as I am by the knowledge that this man dubs his cats things like Lady Torte de Shell and the Reverend Wenceslas Muff, but I defy any animal lover to read the two-word inscription on Muff's monument (BRAVE and LOVING) without a lump in the throat.

From Country Life:

This is the story of a garden. It is also a story about love. Theatre designer Julia Trevelyan Oman has since passed away, but the book opens with Sir Roy's 'elopement' with her (an elopement that deemed necessary to escape the press; at the ages of 35 and 40, they were unlikely to be pursued by irate parents). The evolution of their garden at The Laskett, their rectory-like house in Herefordshire, is a monument to the love they had had for each other and the friendships they had enjoyed with other people.

From the beginning, Sir Roy knew that it would be a garden of sentiment, where plants evoked memories of people and places: a rosemary bush descended from one that belonged to Dr Trevelyan Oman's nanny, 'Dooks'; a catalpa given as a house-warming present by Lord Plunket (it died; the replacement is known as the 2nd Lord Plunket); even a flowering cherry, given by the father whom Sir Roy detested, planted in a remote corner surrounded by conifers, obstinately refusing to die. Work began soon after the couple's wedding in 1973.

Every time a new book or new stage production brought an influx of funds, some long-planned garden project would be fulfilled. Consequently, professional milestones are commemorated in such features as the Die Fledermaus Walk, the Nutcracker Garden and the Shakespeare Monument (built with the money that went with the Shakespeare Prize, which the author received in 1980). There are areas dedicated to favourite cats, statuary inherited from Dr Trevelyan Oman's father, and 'Flora'- a 'second' of one of the four cast-stone Seasons, commissioned from Italy for the Prince of Wales's garden at Highgrove.

The key to the garden is a temple constructed after Sir Roy left the Victoria and Albert Museum in 1987, after 13 years as director. A Greek inscription translates as: 'Memory, Mother of the Muses'. Not only did the muses live in a museum, but the garden reads as a kind of autobiography, shaped by memories shared by the creators. To underline the point, bushes of rosemary, for remembrance, grow over the steps. The Laskett is a unique document of our time.

Despite the famous names, I found the book to be endearingly down-to-earth and, frankly, inspiring as an example of what you can do with little spare time and some imagination.

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