Planting passions
'I think there are as many kinds of gardening as of poetry', wrote Joseph Addison in 1712.
Two hundred years later, this was certainly true. The formal style with its terraces, parterres, clipped hedges and topiary, the landscape style and the plantsman's style, designed to show off collections of woodland shrubs or alpine plants, were joined at the beginning of the twentieth century by two new, interrelated styles of great significance for the future of gardening: the natural style and the cottage garden style. From the Edwardian era until the present, these various kinds of gardening have flourished, often all being represented within the boundaries of one garden.
Two great gardeners were responsible for promoting the new garden philosophy by example in their work, and above all through their writing. William Robinson and Gertrude Jekyll had nothing in common as far as their personalities and backgrounds were concerned, but they shared an appreciation of the natural beauty of wild plants and flowers, and of the luxuriance and artless charm with which the cottagers of English villages planted their gardens.
Their achievement was to persuade gardeners into a looser more natural planting style that was particularly suitable for the smaller country and suburban houses that were being built at that time.
Robinson's book The Wild Garden and many of his magazine articles advocated naturalistic planting in woodland and water gardens, and drew attention to the value of native flowering plants to be used among and beneath exotic shrubs and trees. His influence can be seen in the great woodland gardens created between the turn of the century and the First World War in the south of England, in Scotland and in other areas with the benefit of acid soil and native birch and oak woodland. In such conditions rhododendrons, azaleas, heaths and many of the other plants being introduced from Asia thrive.
Gertrude Jekyll shared Robinson's views about wild and woodland gardening, but perhaps her greatest contribution has been to the design of the herbaceous or mixed border. A painter by training, she worked out theories about colour in the garden, put her theories into practise in her own garden and in gardens designed for her clients, and expressed her ideas lucidly in her books. Their recent rediscovery has led to great improvements in many gardens, despite the fact that her planting plans were designed for gardens tended by a large, skilled labour force and therefore need thoughtful adaptation for use today.
Miss Jekyll's immensely fertile collaboration with Sir Edwin Eutyens led to the happy blend of the architecture of the garden with its planting. The style they arrived at together, of romantically luxuriant planting within a firm architectural framework of terraces and garden 'rooms', is still today the ideal towards which most gardeners strive.
The Second World War brought private ountry-house gardening to an end. Houses were requisitioned as military headquarters or as hospitals. Lawns and borders were ploughed up for food production. Almost without exception every major garden suffered involuntary neglect for a period of five years. By 1945 precious shrubs and young trees were suffocated under a tangle of brambles, nettles and elder. Sycamore and ash saplings sprang up everywhere, lodging themselves in the stonework of walls, steps and terraces and prizing apart the framework of glass-houses.
In post-war years there has been no question of returning to the prewar system.  It is no longer possible for owners to employ teams often or twelve gardeners .  Nevertheless, beautiful gardens have risen phoenix-like from bonfires of cleared scrub, nettles, bindweed and ground elder. This has come about through adaptation to changed circumstances: through making maximum use of increasingly efficient modern garden machines; through adapting the layout and planting of gardens to suit the machines; and through dedication and hard work by garden owners and their staffs.
Today, rather than creating special habitats for special groups of plants, gardeners choose plants that will thrive in the existing conditions.
The post-war rehabilitation of gardens still goes on after nearly fifty years, and an increased interest in garden history has led to the construction of gardens which relate to the architectural style of their houses.
In England working-class gardening was encouraged by land-shortage, social imitation and a developed sense of private property. Like pets and trees, gardens became a means of strengthening their owner's sense of identity and adding to his self-esteem. 'Most of the so-called love of flowers,' D. H. Lawrence would write, 'is merely this reaching out of possession and egoism: something I've got: something that embellishes me.)
The cultivation of flowers is an historical phenomenon of great importance to anyone concerned to know how the working classes would use their leisure and direct their emotional energies. It explains why large-scale tenements have seldom been built in England, for they would have deprived working men of the gardens which they regarded as a necessity; and it accounts for the growth of the allotment movement in the nineteenth century. The preoccupation with gardening, like that with pets, fishing and other hobbies, even helps to explain the relative lack of radical and political impulses among the British proletariat.  It is also important as an indication of that non-utilitarian attitude to the natural world
The greatest revolution in home, as opposed to estate, gardening has come from supermarket garden centres. These, aided and abetted by endlessTV garden make-over programmes, have taken the passion for planting to almost every urban garden, large and small.  Designer plants are now available for every condition a gardener could imagine.