“ I needed a garden.“

Grünes Blut führte ein Interview mit der Gartenjournalistin, „Gartenmacherin“ und  „Garden Influencer No. 1“ Anne Wareham aus Wales und Holte Zur Verstärkung DETLEV BRINKSCHULTE vom Blog „THEORIE DER GARTENKUNST“ Mit Ins Boot.


Bekannt geworden durch ihre direkte Art in Kolumnen, Büchern und Ihrem eigenen Forum „thinkingardens.co.uk“ , hat Anne Wareham mit ihrem Ehemann, dem Gartenfotografen Charles Hawes nahe der britisch/walisischen Grenze den Garten Veddw angelegt. Wiederkehrend wird dieser unter die 100 schönsten Gärten Englands gewählt.
In ihrer Arbeit fordert Anne den Garten insbesondere in der Rezeption ernst zu nehmen und als vollwertiges Kunstwerk anzuerkennen. Voll mein Ding. Für Detlev, als bekennendem Anne-Wareham-Fan, und Grünes Blut ein wirklich guter Grund Anne zur Diskussionskultur rund um das Thema Garten und allem was damit zusammenhängt zu befragen und sie in ihrer Arbeit vorzustellen.

Interview: Anne Wareham, Detlev Brinkschulte, Anke Schmitz ∗ Textbearbeitung: Ane Wareham, Detlev Brinkschulte, Anke Schmitz ∗ Fotos: Charles Hawes

GB: What is a coherent garden for you personally?

AW: One with a single vision informing it, where that vision also informs the whole. So the result is experienced as one garden however many parts it may have.

GB: How would you define a garden? Where would such a definition start and where might it possibly end? 

AW: This is a difficult one and I’m afraid I possibly haven’t really understood your question. I have far too often seen someone attempt a definition of  a ‚garden‘ only to have resulting boring discussions about whether it has to have plants or not. Or more seriously, what the difference is between a park and a garden. I think a garden is like many things – you know it when you see it. The question about naturalistic becoming a mess is equally problematic, since the eye tells you. But visible containment and clear edges help to counter a sense of mess. At Veddw it’s the hedges which play this role. But it is clear too, perhaps, that a ‚mess‘ is subjective and some people will see the slightest disorder as a mess.

DB: If gardens are acknowledged as art what is „art“ in this context? Nice water lilies à la Monet or rather sculptures placed on a property like in Little Sparta? What exactly means „garden“ and „art“ for you? 

AW: Gardens are not art because of what may be put in them, and certainly not by virtue of imitating a work of art in another medium. They become art when they communicate something beyond decoration and visual pleasure -„the fourth component of aesthetic experience, symbolic meaning“ perhaps? (see https://www.apollo-magazine.com/the-oldest-drawing-in-the-world-has-been-discovered-but-is-it-art/)

DB: Do you have exemples? Gardens that are „art“?

AW: Glen Villa http://www.siteandinsight.com/. Now go to Pat and ask her the question!

….gardening itself is seen as a harmless activity for boring people, a ‘hobby’, and so the results are not to be taken seriously.

GB: Why is there so little discussion about gardens in the public domain? I mean it’s strange: Creating gardens seems to be on of the only art forms, in which no one dares to tease in public. In Germany we do not even have a proper reception at all …

AW: In the UK it may have something to do with the fact that so many gardens open for charity, so they have come to be associated with good deeds, which must never come under critical examination. We actually got thrown out of the National Gardens Scheme because I wrote an article critical of their standards, in the Spectator. Also, perhaps, because so many are in the private domain, even though open sometimes to the public, so that abrasive comment or criticism is seen as impolite and failing to acknowledge the ‘work’ that has been put in. The idea that it is the amount of work that has gone into a garden that creates its worth is a popular one in the UK, and many (most?) garden articles start off with a description of the dereliction that predated the enormous efforts of the current owners.
And then, gardening itself is seen as a harmless activity for boring people, a ‘hobby’, and so the results are not to be taken seriously. Can’t believe it could be worse in Germany.

DB: Well, you don’t get the media attention for a garden or a flowershows over here and in the papers it’s real estate. There is the word „Gartenkultur“ in German but what you get is nice flowers, lots of decoration and more or less no „garden culture“. The open gardens, “Offene Gartenpforte”, is most of the time an event for nice ladies sipping tea pretending to be in England. Germans like institutions and we don’t have a RHS (Royal Horticultural Society). There is a always a little bit of envy in May … We have a discussion going on about „Schottergärten“, crushed stone gardens, because they are viewed as low maintenance gardens and the question if a frontgarden, with stones and one conifer, is 1) a garden at all and 2) private and/or public and if you are impolite when you criticize it.

AW: I’m not sure we are really terribly different here. I cannot applaud the RHS, having many issues with them. And they with me. Nor many of our garden institutions and media. But I must acknowledge that we would be poorer without them. And could be richer if they were only better. (I recently wondered, if computers will soon be able to write, as they say they will, whether most people would be able to tell the difference from the garden writing they see now.)

DB: I would guess right now they are rather recycling old issues every month. Maybe the advice for the decoration has changed from: „blue plant pot of the season“ to „pink pot with dots. Quite…

GB: So for me the obvious question is which programs or other media is worth reading or listening to? Could you recommend any to the readers?

AW: Well, thinkingardens, of course. Given that most garden writing published in the established media and magazines is only allowed to be bright, cheerful and anodyne, the best writing is probably published privately online in blogs and on websites, maybe podcasts and videos are also worth exploring. One virtue of thinkingardens is that it has a very wide range of writers who you won’t find in the traditional garden media but who may have blogs which are worth reading. This makes it a valuable source for further exploration. And it has a specific section on good garden writing.

….there is also too little humour in gardens and that which there is is often excruciating.


GB: What makes a good discussion around gardening for you in general?

AW: Almost any discussion which starts with taking gardens seriously. The possibilities are endless and exciting – and such sadly discussions rarely happen. Except perhaps on https://thinkingardens.co.uk/ (sorry!) – and at our occasional suppers. We have sometimes met in small groups over good food and drink to talk over a garden topic and I’d recommend this to anyone interested in challenging and satisfying discussion. Takes a little organizing, and preferably a round table. Try it!

GB: What is the fundamental mindset – the core – of taking gardening seriously from your perspective?

AW: Perhaps it is the need to say something? And I think in the end, no more than taking whatever you do seriously if it’s worth your time and energy. It doesn’t mean being po faced about it – there is also too little humour in gardens and that which there is is often excruciating.

DB: thinkingardens is really an exception. You hear a lot of critisism behind closed doors but nobody wants to say it loud in public or write it down. How do you persuade people to write for thinkingardens?

AW: No persuasion needed really – I tend to spot someone who has something to say and invite them to say it. Or they volunteer that they have something they want to say. I am amazed at the quality and number of people there are who have really worthwhile contributions, especially when you see how banal the garden world seems to insist we want to be.

DB: Who reads thinking gardens? Are they mostly professional gardeners, garden designers or generally culturally interested people? Do you have insights?

AW: Professional gardeners and garden designers, serious amateur garden makers, garden interested people of many kinds. Sadly, not so many people who are not part of the garden world in some way. I wish it were possible to find a way to interest the general public, people who are happy to visit galleries and concerts and who read good books, in gardens as something worthy of their interest. I was once interviewed on the major morning news program on the BBC, “Today,” about thinkingardens, and the presenter finished up by asking what on earth there is to think about about gardens. This is in the country of Capability Brown and of English Landscape Movement. And then I once asked one of our most popular art critics, after he had done a lecture on Italian paintings, what he thought of Italian gardens as art. He looked totally bemused and told me his wife was keen on organic gardening.

DB: When you are planing changes, or made them, in your garden – the bird bath, the railing in the front garden – my first thought was: tudor….

AW: – o, you have a thought there! Pennants….

….or the avenue of trees in meadow – you often ask what your follower on Facebook think about it. Do these comments actually influence the garden?

AW: O yes, they do. As does criticism of the garden. For example, the bird bath is angled in a way suggested by a reader. And sometimes it’s the sheer enthusiasm for a particular possibility which gives me the courage to do it. And the discussion can also raise practical considerations which need attention. The suggestions can also totally exasperate me. They do also give me an insight as to how people think about their own gardens. Can be depressing. But I should add just how useful criticism of the garden can be and how eye opening. It’s not easy to see clearly something you look at every day and we have made major changes in response to criticisms.

DB: I guess most gardeners in Germany wouldn’t ask someone. Gardens are regarded as „private“, personal territory, a very emotional little paradise. The same in social media groups: like it or shut up … How important is social media for you and Veddw?

AW: It’s important in two ways – as a means of publicity for the garden, my books and thinkingardens. Somewhat undermined perhaps by my being too political and difficult. And I enjoy it for the exchange of views and the opportunity to be provocative – and supportive – to other garden interested people. I’m quite shy and I avoid a great deal of socialising, but social media is easier for me and fills that gap.

I found myself driven by the need to create the garden despite it being cruel, miserable and expensive work.

GB: You labelled yourself as a garden maker, a person „that is interested in aesthetics and meaning and the result of gardening more than in the activities themselves“. If I understand that correctly you are a creator with a vision, a basic idea in mind what the garden should look or feel like. What do you think where does all the garden makers’ (specially yours!) longing for the very personal look and feel comes from?

AW: This I really don’t know. I found myself driven by the need to create the garden despite it being cruel, miserable and expensive work. I needed a garden. And I continue to find myself obsessing about how to refine and improve – and indeed, maintain it. I get an idea about some aspect of how it could be and am then driven to create it. It seems mad to me and I have no idea where that drive comes from or whether it will ever eventually leave me in peace.

DB: You are not alone at Veddw. How does the collaboration, or division of labor, with your husband, Charles Hawes work?

AW: I discussed this at length in The Bad Tempered Gardener, as in our early days it took some working out. In the end we divided the garden, so that the person who ‘owned’ a part got the last say there. But more recently (after over 30 years..) we seem to manage it all by way of discussion, having become quite like minded. In terms of garden work, we both have our skills and our (literal) strengths. I had the good sense to choose a husband who is 6 years younger than me. The garden is important to us both, Charles understands what it’s about, and I’m delighted to say that he is right alongside me in the creation of it and its development. Which, given what it costs, is very fortunate.

DB:In Veddw you made historical references to the area surrounding the garden and the history of the property. The surrounding cultural landscape is quite important for a garden but except for historical references about ha-has it is not very often reflected in a garden. How did you start to connect the garden with the surrounding landscape?

AW: The landscape, both man made and geological, of the Welsh borders is different from that which I was familiar with in England, so I needed to study its history to begin to make sense of it and to begin to feel at home here. I became particularly interested in the elusive (because dead and disregarded) people who had lived here and worked the land before us. I began to want to acknowledge them and the lives they led here, and then also to acknowledge the nature of time, working on us all. It took them away and it will take us – and the garden – away.
My next book will be a history of the settlement which Veddw is a part of – in the 17th century it was wasteland, inhabited by squatters.

GB: Which role has the choice of the „right“ plants for the dialogue with history and the surrounding landscape? For example, do you prefer plants that naturally grow or used to grow around Veddw?

AW: That would be terribly limiting and perhaps not really possible: it was originally heath or forest. But we do have a ruined cottage on the land which has a mass of vinca (periwinkle) behind it, which I am sure was originally planted by someone living in the cottage, and that makes it precious. And a neighbouring field also has a ruined cottage (and a rusted old car) surrounded by masses of snowdrops in spring. These are precious remnants. We have kept quite a bit of original pasture though, which is not quite the same as ‘plants’ as it is a small ecosystem and historic grassland: I believe it has not been ploughed for over 200 years and then only for a brief period. We have local groups working to preserve these meadows and I think their work is very important. https://monmouthshiremeadows.org.uk/ and http://www.parishgrasslandsproject.org.uk/index.html

GB: Sometimes I am just wondering … why is this connection between Garden and sourrounding landscape so important?

AW: Because everyone says it is! So -perhaps that is just a garden cliché. But for me the place we are living in has real fascination. So it is obvious and necessary to me for the garden and the locality to talk to each other and reflect each other congruently. And I wouldn’t want to inflict an eyesore in the landscape for our neighbours. It also makes it an expression of who we are, given that place means so much to us. I am no physical traveller. My engagement is time travelling, reaching into the past to understand my surroundings and the people who have shared it in the past.

GB: I think gardens are the perfect art form for time travelers – especially landscape gardens thematize this on purpose. It takes time to make your way through the park to get from one point to another and this time is clearly designed as a performance act. Also the way you arrange shrubs, trees and beds influences the quality how you spend your time discovering a garden. By that, you can even create lot of drama or enlightenment, as long as you like it and have the space for it 😉 I personally miss this feature in modern garden designs. Everyone seems to be solely focused on the plantings. Many of these incredible design features described in historical books from the 18th/19th and even earlier centuries do not play a role anymore. But that’s just a thought – my first association when you as a garden maker describe yourself as a time traveler.

AW: I’m with you all the way. Maybe you’d write a piece for thinkingardens on that topic and see if we can get a discussion and some – err.. – thinking about it?

GB: That sounds great. Would be a pleasure …

DB: I’m looking forward to your new book …

AW: Thank you!! It will be called ‚Subject to Peculiar Temptations – a history of a squatter settlement, 1750 to the present day‘. A question for you two – in the UK it’s become garden designers who are the people that the media are interested in and want to hear from. I’m aware they work under the constraints of pleasing their clients, so their work is always compromised slightly. What’s the situation in Germany?

DB:The same. Worldwide. On the one hand it’s more and more reduced to a personality show without context. Like in architecture it’s about getting the big name do your garden or park to get the media attention an the selfies on intagram. Must have seen. On the other hand the design an the planting is going to be totally compromised by the client. „but I love roses“….

GB: Thank you both for this interview!