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Book Review: Remaking a Garden: The Laskett Transformed

Remaking a gardenSir Roy Strong, Remaking a Garden: The Laskett Transformed, Photographs by Clive Boursnell, (Frances Lincoln, 2014; ISBN: 978-0711233966), Hardback | £30.00 |

In his autobiographical work Self-Portrait as a Young Man, published last year, Sir Roy Strong writes “All of my life was to be concerned with communicating to the public, opening up the gate of knowledge, keeping the drawbridge down.”  How true this is of this book.

We claim that an Englishman’s home is his castle, but Roy Strong has most generously let down the drawbridge here, granting us entry not only into the Laskett’s garden but also into his personal life.  He and his wife, Julia Trevelyan Oman, arrived at The Laskett – half way between Ross-on-Wye and Hereford – in May 1973.  His account of their thirty year collaboration is the making of the extensive and theatrical garden was published in 2003 in The Laskett: the story of a Garden.  Tragically, that same autumn, Julia Trevelyan Oman died; and at that point it would have been natural for Sir Roy to abandon the place and memories they had shared together and with so many friends.  In that year of her sudden death the garden had become overgrown.  And yet Sir Roy chose to remake the garden as an affirmation of faith in new life and a sign of respect to Julia’s memory as the joint maker.

What has followed is a decade of action, wonderfully recorded in the photographs of Clive Boursnell which fill this book.  It is Sir Roy’s book but, as he says in the Preface, “It is Clive’s pictures that tell the story.”  It is the story of a collective endeavour carried out over many seasons, with Sir Roy’s artistic vision translated into reality by the head gardener, Shaun Cadman, and his assistant, Philip Teague, and by builders, painters, tree surgeons and sculptors.  The work began with a “great cull” – a huge job over four acres and occupying many winter months, but which allowed a complete rethink of certain areas and everywhere brought in new light and opened up views to the surrounding countryside. A colonnade was added to shelter visitors on rainy days, the vegetable plot was removed and statues have found new homes.  The intricacy and surprise of the garden remain, so that “If all the floriferous areas were put down to grass or paving The Laskett gardens would still be an intriguing place to explore.”  Even so, Sir Roy has taken over his wife’s interest in flowering plants – which people like to see – and he has been converted to grasses.  Visitors are now welcomed at the Laskett.  What was originally conceived as private Arcadia has become, as Sir Roy says, “something far richer, a shared joy.”

Remaking a Garden is full of light and life, and Sir Roy insists that the vision and process which it describes have a universal message: Gardening is about change; and, from time to time, about quite radical change.  Be bold…….Growth and the seasons, not to mention the vagaries of fashion, render it a mutant art.”

Helena Gerrish
July 2014