Last Saturday night myself and my wife, along with roughly a thousand others, enjoyed An Evening with Monty Don. The event was part of the annual Carlow Garden Trail and took place in the Arboretum in Leighlinbridge. Monty talked to us about his life in gardening and specifically the development of his own garden, Longmeadow in Herefordshire.
What shone through is how Monty has so accurately transposed his gentle yet compelling personality onto his garden in its development over three decades. How the story of the garden reflects the story of the man; humble beginnings, hard times, hard work and spectacular results. The garden has been his life’s living, breathing narrative and now stands as the incontestable chronicle of all that has been enjoyed and endured in its genesis.
The abiding memory is his philosophy and how intuitive and easy it should all be but rarely is. He took us through some of his core principles; live with the garden a while before deciding what to do, put plants where they will be happy, let nature impose itself rather than trying to modify it, allow the garden to resonate with the voices of everyone who has ever used it. He described one of his favourite French gardens and its philosophy of “accepting change”; where trees are left where they fall and the path simply mown around them. He referenced the work of South American designer Juan Grimm who insists on working exclusively with local plants to provide subtlety and harmony in merging natural and artificial landscapes.
|Monty Don on stage in Carlow
Monty Don makes me want to garden just like Lionel Messi makes my son want to play professional football. In the hands of someone so good it all looks so easy. What comes through is all of the joy and none of the drudgery, the joy he has extracted from this life literally steeped in the soil. He described with great poignancy the moment of clarity when as a seventeen year old sowing carrot seeds, overwhelmed by the beauty of the setting and the smell and feel of the soil, he realised he wanted to do this for the rest of his life. He talked with humility of his business failings , of having no money and his family and everything they owned fitting into his car.
Monty reminds us that a garden is not just a space filled with plants, that it should reverberate with the story of how its creators have grown with it. At home, everywhere I look conjures a memory; a baby crawling, a toddler wobbling and falling off a bike, tiny scattered pairs of shoes and socks left out in the rain. I see the big timber play tower which I couldn’t wait to finish that will soon have no one to use it. Monty talked about such change, about removal and renewal, about clearing the path for the next part of the story. The neverending story. The garden is alive with your history but that shouldn’t lessen the thrill of embracing the next installment.
I am involved in a project a central component of which is trying to devise new ways of improving the “greenness” of our built environment, of the common spaces in suburbia where most of the population now live. I am of the belief that so much more could be done in this area to foster an appreciation of the natural particularly amongst younger people. My question for Monty was, firstly, if he thinks that this is a valid concern and if so what he thinks could be done. That was the question. I’m sure the answer would have been beautiful and insightful and illuminating but I never got to ask it. With a dozen hands still raised the compére called time.
It was the best Saturday night I’ve had in years and I spent it on a veranda in Carlow, drinking tea, surrounded by ‘aul ones. I was simultaneously euphoric and wistful, stumped and inspired , clueless and wise, young and old.
That’s the power of Monty.