Ornamental gardens worldwide to inspire greenfingers

There are plenty of gardening books out there if you are looking for some inspiration

“What Are Gardens For?” asks the title of a stimulating, illusrated book by Rory Stuart (Frances Lincoln, �16.99). It may not be a question gardeners often take time off to ask themselves, but winter is coming - the season to down tools and read. To give an idea of Stuart’s wide scope, here are some sequences from the index, “Lane Fox, Larkin, layout … meaning and metaphor, Mecca, memories … Shinto, Sissinghurst, Sitwell, smells”. No c for compost or p for pruning, this book is all about the why of gardening rather than the how.

The opening chapter deals with the garden as a place productive not only of food but of enjoyment, solace, healing. However, it is in the chapters on garden visiting, criticism, taste, style that Stuart gets into his stride, with statements such as “the absence of criticism (…in the sense of intelligent evaluation … ) seems all too common in garden writing…”. He discusses the ways in which gardens are difficult for critics, because they are always changing, before addressing how they can be thought about, eg in relation to the house, the wider landscape, their own layout, etc. None of this is new, but Stuart puts it well, using his wide reading, garden visiting and design practice to good, sometimes caustic, effect.

Two books from The Crowood Press offer expertise on how to make the most of two groups of plants that are not easy to use well in the garden, bulbs and grassses. Christine Skelmersdale, in her “A Gardener’s Guide to Bulbs” (�25) is drawing on forty years’ experience at her Somerset nursery, Broadleigh Gardens. Her introductory sentence, “A bulb, technically a geophyte, is a plant that produces a swollen underground storage organ” gives you the tone – clear, authoritative, unpatronising. She divides her subject into the four seasons, with spring getting the lion’s share. With generous illustrations, this is an inspirational and informative book for anyone interested in bulbs.

“Ornamental Grasses, an essential guide” by Cliff Plowes (�16.99) opens his study with the surprising information that grasses have been included in nursery plant lists from as long ago as 1600 and that Humphrey Repton had already designed an all grass garden by 1740. But for those of us still catching on to how versatile, elegant and useful these plants can be, this well illustrated book is full of information on what to grow where and how to look after them. With his wife, Gill, Cliff Plowes runs Oak Tree Nursery in Yorkshire, specializing in grasses.

As a refinement on his well-received book about the history of London gardens, the landscape architect Todd Longstaffe-Gowan has written another major work, “The London Square” (Yale, �30). While people living within the Ham&High area (more or less a square-free zone) will not find much of their own to dwell upon, as Londoners there is plenty of interest, starting in the reign of Charles 1 and proceeding to the present.

A lot seems to hinge upon railings, the whole contentious topic of inclusion/exclusion, with those left on the outside understandably annoyed – the author quotes John Clare’s remark, that enclosure was to create “a wider space / between the genteel and the vulgar race”. Several of the illustrations are evocative photographs taken during the Second World War, with the railings being removed for melting down to make armaments. Contrary to popular belief, says Longstaffe-Gowan, most of them were actually used for that purpose, not thrown in the sea.

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? Feed the birds.

? Cut most overgrowth back as much as possible but leave tidying up ornamental grasses till the spring.

? Sweep up the leaves once they have finished falling. To make good leaf mould they can be put in dustbin sacks pierced with air holes and hidden somewhere out of sight.

? Finish planting spring bulbs – November is the recommended time for putting in tulips.

? Leave some heaps of organic matter, piles of branches etc. for toads, insects and other creatures to hibernate in.

? Brighten up your window sills with miniature cyclamen, pansies, violas. etc.

? Visit Syon Park’s Enchanted Woodland at night – spectacular lighting in the trees and the Great Conservatory. Fri. 16th Nov – Sun 2nd Dec. Fris, Sats, Suns only, 5 – 9 pm last entry 8pm. More details (prices, refreshments etc) www.syonpark.co.uk

? At Clifton Nurseries, Mon. 19th Nov. Talk given by Matthew Wilson (Gardeners’ Question Time panellist) on Garden Basics, 10 -30 – 11.30 am �5 inc refreshments. Wed. 21st Nov. Christmas trees in stock, Fri. 23rd Nov., talk on Christmas trees, 11 am – 12noon �5 inc refreshments. Mon.26th Nov., Learn How to make Edible Wreaths 10.30 am – c 12.30pm �40 inc. all materials and refreshments. Book any of these events through www.clifton.co.uk or 020 7289 6851 5a Clifton Villas, W9 2PH