The Marvellous Margery Fish and her Cottage Garden
I’ve been collecting gardening books for as long as I’ve been gardening, which probably explains why I have an entire wall of books on anything garden-related, including many bought second hand over the years. For the past few weeks I have been trawling through them, putting together excerpts for an evening of gardening entertainment that is being held in aid of a local charity. It has been great fun and has reminded me of the many fine garden writers who have largely been forgotten.
One of my favourites is Margery Fish – and in particular her first book ‘We Made a Garden’ (1956). She didn’t come to gardening until her late forties, when she and her husband Walter moved to East Lambrook Manor in Somerset. The book was originally called ‘Gardening with Walter’ but the publisher decided there was too much Walter and not enough gardening. Theirs was not an easy gardening relationship and reading the book, you are left with the impression that Margery was amazingly tolerant and long-suffering of Walter’s autocratic ways.
When Margery built dry stone walls in the garden and planted them with alpines, Walter decided she was spending too much time ‘poking belly-crawlers into rat holes’ instead of jobs he thought more important. Deadheading was another bone of contention with Walter snipping the heads off the roses, but never picking them and Margery resentfully tidying up behind him because she couldn’t bear to see the beds littered with dead flowers’. When I read that her method of deadheading naturalised daffodils was to use an old sword specially sharpened for the purpose and she writes ‘one can slash off a lot of heads in a very short time’ I suspect that this was one way of getting over her frustration with Walter!
He liked ‘his’ drive and ‘his’ paths to be pristine, so Margery always hoped he would not be around when she was swopping plants with her friends who were unaware they were scattering earth over ‘the sacred drive’. After Walter’s death Margery was freed of the need to compromise and East Lambrook Manor garden became known as the home of English cottage gardening and is now Grade I listed. Margery came to regard the gravel drive as a ‘convenient rooting medium for stray seeds’.
Although I never visited the garden in her lifetime, I did go there some years ago and was charmed by its abundant informality. I will give Walter the credit for giving its underlying structure, but its beauty was entirely down to Margery.
‘We Made a Garden’ is still in print (with nicer covers than my copy!) and is a great read.
For details on how to visit East Lambrook Manor Garden go to www.eastlambrook.com