Poetry + Garden

Le jardinage est un art, ou peut l’être jusqu’à devenir une source d’écriture, du moins de ravissement qui peut même s’exprimer sous tant de formes.

One long article published in end 2009, this back-up from Intelligent Life magazine (witty quarterly from The Economist), cannot be forgotten once read : « The Poet and the Plantsman » by Julie Kavanagh about James Fenton. JF is indeed a poet-journalist-critic and a devoted lover of gardens, « as close to a polymath as I know » once said Carmen Barach, curator in the Department of Drawings and Prints at the Met (The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York).

His [James Fenton’s] garden hasn’t directly inspired a single poem (the flowers in “Yellow Tulips” were bought from a shop). But Fenton’s partner, the African-American writer and academic Darryl Pinckney, sees Long Leys infiltrating his work in all kinds of ways. “His selection of D.H. Lawrence and his garden poetry, the Oxford lectures which are very connected to the garden… A certain idea of Englishness goes with it. It’s an intellectual setting for him, a place of contemplation-he’s not there for countryside life. I’d look out the window and see James walking around and I could tell from the pace what he was working on-verse or prose.”

Only a poet would savour the arcane vocabulary of horticulture with such relish: “monocarpic” (dies after flowering), “edaphic” (pertaining to the soil), “tomentose” (woolly underneath leaves). And the garden itself reflects the eclectic idiosyncrasy of Fenton’s poetry, which is both English and cosmopolitan. Old English roses are underplanted with tropical gingers, and the flamboyant planting Fenton loved in the Philippines-“a shrieking fringe of cannas and a yelling assortment of bougainvilleas”-can be seen in beds where strident colours compete for attention. “Would Vita Sackville-West have approved? Or would she have thought it common?” Fenton playfully muses in a passage recommending plants that might have failed a taste test. His approach owes much to Christopher Lloyd, who made the celebrated garden at Great Dixter in Sussex and battled against the timid palette and “ghastly good taste” of so many gardens. “Lloyd’s deployment of dahlias was a gesture of defiance.

& :
– James Fenton’s website + lecture called « Brenzano (1503 – 1572): Painter, Poet, Man » (@YouTube) with the short introduction by Carmen Barach mentioned above.
– Robin Lane Fox’s witty weekly gardening column in FT Week-End (paying access unfortunately).
Art de l’arbre | Forest – Forêt – Wald – Metsä – Mori (@WebOL).


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