The Royal Horticultural Society’s Chelsea Flower Show always prompts me to look at my garden and plan for the future. The fact that the show was held in September rather than May this year has, in a way, been an advantage; I like making plans in September, I suppose because of years of starting the new academic year at this time.
The Show Gardens, even the small ones, are usually impractical for the average gardener but there are always ideas one can use: flower combinations, interesting plants for shade or even imaginative paving. When the flower show was cancelled last year and delayed this year till autumn I felt my (tiny) plot was in need of some new inspiration. Tom Stuart-Smith provided me with that inspiration. Now I have been to Chelsea, I am returning to his book, for more ideas, both sensible and wildly impractical for my little plot.
Ever since I saw Tom Stuart-Smith’s first garden at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show in 1998 I have wanted him to write a book. I loved the way he combined plants and made a formal, traditional garden look interesting and different. But gardens at flower shows only give you a single glimpse of a designer’s ideas. Now, after over twenty years’ wait we have a book on his gardens and ideas. Drawn from the Land is a magnificent book; it describes twenty-four projects including private commissions and public garden such as RHS Wisley in Surrey. There are design sketches and fabulous photography. Each garden is described by Tim Richardson, one of the most engaging being Tom Stuart-Smith’s own garden, The Barn in Hertfordshire, just across the lane from the house where he grew up and first developed his passion for plants and gardens. There are also two essays by Tim Richardson on planting and design and two by Tom Stuart-Smith in which he reveals his influences, inspirations and methods.
I bought the book when it was published in May and since then it has variously sat on the kitchen table, on a bench in the garden or in the summerhouse, my three favourite reading spots. I have dipped in and out of it and marvelled at the gardens and the stories behind them. As with the Chelsea gardens, all outscale my tiny London patch but in every garden I have found something of interest, even if I can only dream of putting some of the ideas into practice.
Unlike many of the beautiful books published on gardens this one is beautiful and genuinely interesting. Tom Stuart-Smith, by working with nature and the landscape creates unique and very wonderful gardens. Writer and historian Tim Richardson is the perfect person to describe both them and their stories.