Saturday, May 09, 2009

Thinking about Gardens: The ThinkinGardens website

After three years of garden blogging, I've found a number of blogs that offer something special I want to come back to - a unique sensibility, creative insight, knowledge, humor, a personality I'd like to get to know. It's taken a surprisingly long time to find what I might call a community of, not like-minded bloggers, but bloggers with a core of serious interest in gardening. One of the great things about this new technology is the ease of crossing oceans and sharing with other gardeners in every part of the world (common language permitting).

I've never considered myself an Anglophile in any way, but I've discovered the UK gardening scene offers an awareness of gardening culture and history, and a view of gardening as a serious endeavor, that is lacking in much of North America. Just consider the range of regular newspaper gardening columns or the many TV programs available in the UK. There's nothing like this in the US. Because the British gardening world shares our language, it also makes for a convenient entry point to gardening in Europe and the rest of the world.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries many American writers struggled to find a culture that would allow development of a mature, complex, world class literature that was "American" yet still universal in its concerns. Many turned toward Europe, even moved there - Edith Wharton and Henry James among the most notable. In the end, they found what they were seeking both here and there, but a conflict between the culture of the "old world" and the "new world" always remained. Today, we still seem to feel that conflict, even in the gardening world.

Europe has, in fact, been at the forefront of the ecological planting movement, and is the source of many of the plants we think of as native in some sense. Many of our perennials, though they originated here, were developed and introduced as cultivated plants in Europe. This isn't to say the North American gardening world is in any way inferior, just that the European (and Australian, South American, Asian, etc.) gardening cultures have accomplished much, offer diverse reflections of their vastly different cultures, and can contribute to a broader and more humane understanding of gardening as an essential part of the humane life.

The ThinkinGardens website is one source of extremely varied, highly opinionated, well written, and knowledgeable writing on gardens. It treats gardens seriously, and as worthy of the same kind of critical analysis as literature, music, and art.

The old riposte that the British climate makes most of their garden advice rubbish for those of us who live in the much more rugged North American climate is true only to a degree; it is relatively easy to "translate" British gardening writing. I know very well I can't grow many of the plants I see in British gardening books, but their design ideas, their diverse intellectual debate about gardens and gardening, and their rootedness in centuries of gardening history is a part of my own as well as your gardening story.

We might all benefit from opening ourselves to the broader world of gardening. ThinkinGardens is seeking to extend its readership and find contributors in other parts of the world. I hope you'll try it out. Read some of the essays, garden reviews, letters and see if you don't find it a source of new ideas and possibly even a source of entertainment and a delight.


  1. Thanks for the link. I agree that there's a depth and maturity to much British garden writing that's largely lacking in the US, and I can see that I'll be spending too much time at this site...

    I find it interesting that while some American writers turned to Europe, others turned to their ungardened "wilderness" for inspiration. And now Europe is using many American plants for material for their more ecologically informed plantings, plantings that for me resonate with some of that wildness that was mined by those writers.

  2. Ah, Thoreau, among other writers. William Cullen Bryant even earlier, but that was nature worship.

    Speaking of our ungardened wilderness, do you know the blog Ruminations from the Distant Hills?

    Then we have the disturbing connection between the German ecological/native plant movement, Nazism, and early influences in America such as Jens Jensen - a subject others have touched on before. This may be only a coincidental parallel, but it's certainly deserving of a closer look.

    I think there's enough to kick-off at least three or four books here.

  3. Thanks for the link, I have added it to my favorites so I can explore when time permits.

  4. I'll chime in, likewise, to say thank you for sharing an interesting link.
    I subscribed to the RHS periodical The Garden for quite a few years, and enjoyed reading it. But the format changed, and I found the magazine far less interesting these past few years. The ThinkinGardens website looks like a source for provocative discourse on all aspects of gardening/art of gardens/design - A compelling example of the sort of energy emanating from the internet these days.

  5. I never saw the earlier incarnation of The Garden, but I don't think it justifies the high cost. And I resent having to take a membership in RHS, since I can't take advantage of most benefits of membership. I would renew if I could pay only for the publication, however. We have so few gardening publications of quality. Horticulture is a mere shade of its former self. I find Fine Gardening too narrowly focused and "how to." Garden Design is interesting.

  6. Many thanks for this publicity, James, and I do hope we can welcome a lot more of our colleagues from the US to thinkingardens - and persuade lots of you to write for us at thinkingardens.

    I'd love us to become truly international and offer interest to all parts of the garden globe.
    Best wishes to you all,
    Anne Wareham

  7. Thanks for pointing out this great site.

  8. Thanks for sharing your impressions on American gardening and the link to a site to help broaden gardening thoughts. As a fairly new gardener, and one raised in a different country, I often find myself challenging my own sense of beauty, the need of supplying food and shelter to encourage biodiversity (as much as one has in an urban city in NJ) after all, that's part of why many of us garden, to enjoy the birds, the butterflies, and even, Yikes! the insects, and to make my garden look as tidy as I can so as not to upset my grass-loving neighbors!

    If you haven't yet read it, there is an excellent book to encourage even the most rookie gardener to broaden its views about gardening: Bringing Nature Home by Douglas Tallamy.

    Thanks again for your post and the link.

    I will share your site and the one you suggest with my own blog readers with the hopes to spread the message.

  9. I've realized in my recent travels that America is still such a pup. Our 1880s home which once seemed old and wise now appears spankin' new compared to the ancient city of Petra.

    I am glad I found your blog, I have a lot to learn!


  10. Heirloomgardener, I hope you find ThinkinGardens interesting. There's a lot to explore there.

  11. Maria, I heard Douglas Tallamy speak a couple of years ago at the Millersville University Native Plants in the Landscape conference. I see he's speaking there again this year. I did read his book with much interest. Although I don't grow natives exclusively, I'm convinced we need to use many native plants and encourage others to.

  12. Abby, Speaking of old, I'm reading Penelope Hobhouse's book on Islamic and the even earlier Paradise Gardens. Very interesting how they influenced European gardens and, subsequently, our gardens today.



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