Some years ago, I encountered a garden that has left a lasting impression. With its perfectly choreographed borders, striking design and air of romance, it was a slice of Chelsea Main Avenue style transported to the Cotswolds. The garden was at Temple Guiting Manor and it features in designer Jinny Blom’s new book, The Thoughtful Gardener.
Using examples drawn from gardens she has created across the world and her own modest-sized London plot, she explores her approach to the process of making gardens. The result is a beautifully illustrated and thoroughly enjoyable glimpse into the thinking of one of our top designers.
The creator of four Chelsea Flower Show gardens with a gold medal in 2007, Jinny came into the business obliquely. She describes her life as one that “unfolded as I walked” and it has taken a varied route encompassing drama college and work as a psychologist, a “career I loved”.
Then, on a holiday in Northern Spain, she discovered an unspoilt area in the Picos Mountains, full of wild flowers.
“Always obsessed with plants I was now on fire with them,” she tells us. She left her safe job and “armed with energy, enthusiasm and blind faith,” began her design career, choosing not to study the subject but to learn by doing.
Her initial emotional response to the Spanish countryside still underpins her work. Despite utilising the nuts and bolts of garden design from surveys to determine levels, exhaustive lists of what to include and even marking out a site with sticks, it is more a visceral feeling for the space that seems to drive her.
“More often than not when I arrive somewhere new I get to grips with what needs altering within hours. It’s a sort of fact-based intuition.”
Nevertheless, she will have carried out detailed research first into not only the geography and geology of the site but also its history and even what is growing in neighbouring plots.
Sometimes, as in Temple Guiting Manor, this research will form the blueprint of her plan; the garden at the manor house is laid out on the ancient framework of old farm buildings and animal enclosures.
Yet, her approach is not sentimental: ‘First we must destroy!’ is often her opening line, although she adds that her numerous ‘death warrants’ can be alarming to garden owners.
And it’s not just plants, trees and shrubs that are cleared, any building or structure not worthy of inclusion is swept aside. Conversely, she is quite prepared to build to perfect her design; a ‘little piggery’ was the solution to the meeting point between two sets of box-headed limes in one project. And she lavishes as much care on these constructions as she does on plant choice.
Some elements are regular features: she likes to include water; plants a hedge on every project “as a matter of course”; and ensures there is always something edible, telling us “There is no solace like a freshly pulled radish!”
While she admits to being nervous initially, Blom is now confident in her own judgement, although she believes fear is an essential ingredient in the design process: “only when this heightened state starts to calm down do you understand that a good design is within grasp”.
Written in an engaging, conversational style, The Thoughtful Gardener is also peppered with good advice from the choice of plants – “Plants that are popular are popular for a reason, so don’t be too clever – just plant them and enjoy.” – to the need to prepare the ground well – “Good soil is a reward beyond words.”
Above all, she is concerned with what we leave behind: “Making gardens well means leaving a legacy far in excess of our own short lifespan”.
At one point, she advises: “If you want to be seduced by the subject [gardening], then just look at the pictures and stop reading!” To do so would be to miss a treat.
• The Thoughtful Gardener by Jinny Blom is published by Jacqui Small, RRP price £35. Buy now. (If you buy through this link, I may get a small fee and it doesn’t affect the price you pay.)
• Review copy supplied by Jacqui Small
• For more book reviews, see here
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