Updated: Feb 12, 2021
"If Fergus, with all his vigour and enthusiasm, brought the garden a new vitality, Lloyd gave his young gardener an equally precious gift. He taught him to look, to look hard, with precision and without prejudice; to see the qualities inherent in every plant; to see the garden changing, ebbing and flowing, not just season by season but week by week, day by day". So writes Ambra Edwards in her beautiful book "Head Gardeners", about Fergus Garrett, the head gardener and creator of dazzling displays at Great Dixter. The skill of looking is the foundation of all design, and all gardening. This sort of looking is really more about knowing, about trying to get to the essence of things, whether individual plants, or groups building up a plant community, or the relationship between all parts of a landscape. But it begins with observing, in a spirit of openness, and seeing how the richness and detail of the scene seem to expand as your attention becomes more focused.
The book "Head Gardeners" is a celebration of the expertise and dedication of men and women who work behind the scenes in great gardens: we look in awe at the results of their skill and hard work, but too often they, the gardeners, go unremarked. Horticulture has been on the wane in the UK, but there is a joy to be found in the creativity of growing, and doing so with a solid understanding of the earth and the nature of plants - and it is a skill which is needed urgently, and at a larger scale, as we note the changes in weather patterns and the effects on plant systems. Plants are the source of everything - our food, clothes, the very oxygen we breathe. They are the root of all ecosystems. So it makes sense to respect those who understand plants, whether botanists at Kew, or gardeners at home, experts in forest ecosystems or back garden pond builders, and to encourage the study of horticulture. This book is lovely, insightful, and leaves you with not just respect and greater understanding, but more of an affection for these head gardeners, masters of their craft. What if there aren't others to follow in their footsteps? This book makes you wish that schools would start teaching horticulture early, while threading together a daisy chain is still the highlight of a summer's day, and dismissiveness hasn't set in, and the promise of learning more about plants seems as curious and interesting as it actually is.