If you are looking for a Christmas present for a gardening enthusiast then consider Isabel Bannerman’s Husbandry: Gardening With Mr B.
Bannerman and her husband, Julian, are famous for the exuberance of their garden design work, the grandeur of their clients, and their courage in taking on run-down but romantic houses and gardens to live in.
Husbandry is about Ashington Manor Farm, an Elizabethan relic in Somerset, where they moved in 2019. It is also about larger-than-life Julian, and how the couple work together on projects. Drawing on her own experience, in relation to such revered writers/designers/gardeners as Russell Page and Margery Fish, Bannerman makes many interesting asides on garden design and planting.
To give an inkling of scale, these two wonderful lists follow Bannerman’s observation that she and Julian are not so interested in planting as in providing an assured underlying structure: “the elements that define a garden are: paths, walls, well-defined changes in levels, pools and canals, paved sitting places … gates, cobbles, trellis, tables …. Structures – arbours, pergolas, fruit cages, chicken houses, donkey sheds, tool sheds are also invaluable as a backdrop to planting.”
In fairness to her, Bannerman did not have North London gardeners in mind when commending those donkey sheds (much though some of us would love to have donkeys). But if you edit the list down to path, wall, trellis, sitting place and get those sorted before planting, it would help with any London garden bigger than a balcony.
More to the point, however, is that this alluringly illustrated book is about the love, excitement and slog that goes into gardening. Bannerman also has a poetic awareness of the fleeting moment – and of scent, the essence of memory. The operatic scale on which the couple choose to work makes the book all the more entertaining and admirable to read.
HUSBANDRY, Making Gardens with Mr B by Isabel Bannerman is published by Pimpernel Press, £14.99.