The old day job brings a brief escape from the surreal juxtaposing chaos of Facebook and Twitter. Off we go into the great outdoors for some down to earth chat with gardeners in the real world.
In my new day job, social media too often has me in thrall. I’m enough of an old hack to be reluctant to give more information about the pending article which may soon appear in old fashioned print. Or the publication that commissioned it. What if they don’t print it? Or, worse, what if it appears edited beyond recognition?
But can’t resist telling you it was a lovely surprise to be asked to write about some of the great Scottish gardens I first discovered more than 20 years ago. And a double treat that I got to work on six tantalisingly short profiles with a good friend and colleague. Woodland and walled gardens worth visiting. Of course the deadline didn’t actually give us time (or travel expenses) to get out and meet the head gardeners face to face but – despite harsh realities of this disastrously cold spring – it was amazingly cheering to speak with people who so clearly love their day job.
No denying the hard work. Maybe escape is never the best word to use in connection with gardens and gardening. I’m remembering Ian Hamilton Finlay’s much quoted line: “Some gardens are described as retreats, when they are really attacks.” Whatever he meant by that ( if you’ve visited Little Sparta there’s more than one possibility), I’m also remembering my own brief attempt to launch a project presenting the best of Scottish gardens as ‘more real than the real world”.
Timing is all. (I pity anyone trying to launch a new product during the wall-to-wall media coverage of the life, death and escalating legend of Mrs Thatcher.) In this Year of Natural Scotland, I often think my Tread Softly idea was just a year or two too early. With another friend, and beautifully crafted samples produced by a bright young design team, I set out to find funding for an eco-guide to Scottish gardens. Inviting the public to explore sensitively managed habitats more ‘natural’ than the surrounding countryside, we briefly attracted sympathetic interest from Visit Scotland, National Trust for Scotland, Forestry Commission and Scottish Natural Heritage.
Perhaps I simply blew it with Visit Scotland when I pointed out that there is no longer any such place as wilderness. No hill, glen, peat bog or coastline – no matter how bleakly beautiful – is untouched by human actions. I can still see the look of shock on the young executive’s face. It didn’t fit with the VS marketing strategy at the time, celebrating the glories of ‘wild’ landscapes: those barren hilltops eroded by sheep, rabbits, deer, pollution, hillwalkers and climate change.
Of course there are remote spots where nature still has the upper hand, give or take the tides of plastic washed up on achingly beautiful beaches, bouncing down tumbling burns, hanging from old oak trees. Take a walk in the fairy-tale shelter of the west coast woodlands, dripping with lichen and mosses, and you see what wonders still happen when nature is given a fighting chance.
But I still believe that the most sensitively tended gardens give the best example of how to work in harmony with the birds, bees, beast and butterflies trying to get a life around us. So we should more accurately celebrate The Year of Semi-Natural Scotland. Mind you, that wouldn’t win any funding either.