I’d like to dedicate this post to Robin Lane Fox of The Financial Times. A horticultural pundit whose writing I have always respected, and often enjoyed, but who I am now going to overthrow in a brutal electronic coup d’état. If you cherish the old horticultural order I’d stop reading now (you can watch this instead).
The eminent Mr. Fox has just celebrated 40 years at the FT, and to commemorate his impressive staying power he’s published a new gardening book; Thoughtful Gardening (précis: Three cheers for Dahlias! Down with designers! Two fingers to ornamental grasses!). Plugging the book in a recent column he reminisced on his early days at the paper, and wondered:
Where will it go from here? Is there a 23-year-old waiting to brighten the FT on a Wednesday and then stuff me in the dustbin? I have one advantage. I teach the under-23s in my other role as Oxford tutor and garden master of the great gardens at New College, Oxford. The young ones keep me fit, but throughout the past 40 years I have been painfully aware of a gap in their knowledge of the natural world. I am not afraid of a new upstart. When you read Thoughtful Gardening I hope you may smile and see why.
[Full article available here]
Oh how I spluttered in consternation! I considered writing an ‘outraged of Tunbridge Wells’ style letter listing many, many Latin plant names, but as satisfying as that would have been, it would not have pulled out the infected root of the problem. So I’ve decided to use the internet as god intended, to conduct a spiteful and semi anonymous campaign that may cost a man his job. But first, some justification!
Mr Fox illuminates his thesis by revealing that none of his Bright Young Tutees can describe a primrose. I doubt he’s lying, none of my friends can describe primroses either, I’ve been testing them all week (one of them even had a primrose growing in his garden, he thought it was ‘a baby cabbage’). But these are the same people who have set up a beehives in their Camberwell gardens, who have been thinning and pruning forgotten plum trees behind a Sainsbury’s Megastore, and who grow climbing roses and ramblers up derelict buildings in Hackney.
Take a stroll through the shoddier parts of London, where out of necessity or affectation the young live in stacked flats, and you’ll see countless tomato plants, bean canes, nasturtiums and sunflowers, all poking out of windows, balancing on balconies and cluttering up doorsteps. There is a primrose shaped gap in the young’s knowledge of the natural world, but this should not be mistaken for a lack of interest or interaction with nature. It’s cool to grow.
Robin Lane Fox has developed his idea of gardening to such a highly refined level that these urban gardens are effectively invisible to him. Like ants to a giant. His gardening, thoughtful gardening, is about flowers; it is about the right plant for the right place and companion planting. It is explicitly and proudly not about saving the planet, feeding the 5000 or recreating a wild Britain. These are the areas that excite my peers. They may have stupid, vaguely left-wing and suspiciously vegetarian ways of gardening, and scoff if you like Robin – but it’s all gardening.
So I suggest we march on Moscow. Lets mobilise the bloggers and start stuffing dustbins. Robin should be taken up on his challenge and made to see the error of his ways. We may get nowhere, we may get a new columnist, we may just get a ‘why it’s Christmas day!’ style revelation and an article on climate change gardening. Anyone who would like to be the new Robin Lane Fox should email a couple of speculative articles to the editorial team at the FT, use replacement Robin Lane Fox as the subject and email firstname.lastname@example.org if you need the addresses. As Barack Obama almost certainly famously once said ‘Robin Lane Fox is a fine columnist, but he’s slightly out of touch with contemporary horticulture’.