My Garden World: a Review

by frankbeswick

Television gardener Monty Don has produced a well-researched, observant study of the species found in his farms, gardens and the wider environment.

Monty Don's home garden, Long Meadow, is the site from which he presents the long-running programme, Gardeners' World. This book, his latest in a list of works studying gardening and gardens, is original in the sense that it is a book whose roots lie in the garden of his farmhouse, while the scope of the text ranges more widely. This is a work written in a readable style with concise prose. It is the product of a mind well-stocked with knowledge of wildlife. I commend it.

Picture courtesy of Vinsky2002, of Pixabay

Long Meadow

Reading about a place that you see assiduously on Friday night television three seasons a year [Winter excepted] gives you a new angle on it and the presenter. Long Meadow has been the home of the presenter for over thirty years, and the garden has become a much-loved experience introducing  weekend to British and Irish garden lovers. It is located in Herefordshire. Readers unfamiliar with Britain should not confuse this with Hertfordshire, which is north of London, while Herefordshire is in the West Midlands bordering Wales. It is probably England's most rural county.

Part of the charm of the book is that Monty finally introduces readers to his house, a farmhouse constructed in the Tudor period, oak timbered, as was the custom in the sixteenth century, but with some oaken beams possible dating back from a previous structure in 1372. The garden is a walled garden which Monty has given to flowers and vegetables. There are traces and hints of earlier structures in the garden.  For example, he has a brick hop kiln dating from the eighteenth century, which he now uses for storage. We learn that the farm has several fields and that he has  an apple orchard with over forty trees, in keeping with the ancient apple-growing and cider making traditions of this county of Western England.  This kind of information adds charm to the book.

We also learn that he owns a farm in South West Wales, in the county of Monmouthshire, a hill farm from which some of the wildlife observations in this book were made. The farm is never shown on television and so this is an experience new to readers and viewers. His hill farm is in stark contrast with his Herefordshire home, which is set in the highly fertile, alkaline clay of the West Midlands, low-lying and is an area prone to flooding as the rains that cascade off the Welsh mountains to the West engorge the western English rivers, such as the Wye, which flows through Hereford, whereas the hill farm is on steeply-sloping, thin acid soils. However, the author's opportunity to draw on a wider range of experiences broadens and enriches the garden world about which he writes.

The book answers some questions. I have long pondered how he cultivates the garden on his own, but he mentions hiring a gardener, and having an orchard, which   we never see. These  make for lighter gardening. We also discover that his son runs the hill farm.

The book is replete with Monty's joy in his garden world, but there is a poignant appendix, which      details how on the day after the writing concluded Nigel, Monty's beloved dog, died suddenly. Nigel was a television star in his own right, much loved by the nation, and English viewers mourned his passing. The writing in this appendix is sensitive and revelatory of Monty's feeling for his friend who now lies under the orchard.   

Wildlife

The book is divided into twelve sections, one for each month, and each is subdivided into short or medium length passages about plants or animals that Monty has observed. There is a rich focus on the wild plants found in the Herefordshire and Monmouthshire countryside; and the author's appreciation of their beauty is revealed, but not at the expense of a good discussion of the plant in botanical and ecological terms. But he does not neglect history, and so he is apt to muse upon how whether a plant that he finds in his garden is a leftover sprung from the eighteenth century herb garden tended on the spot by his predecessor in what is an old, long-established farm dating from the Middle Ages. He finds, for example, Butterbur in a ditch and explains how its leaves used to be used for wrapping butter made on farms. This is an example of his deep knowledge of the uses of plants. He warns readers of which plants are  poisonous. He has a deep knowledge of trees and can explain the qualities of  different kinds of wood,  where relevant, yew for example. 

Bird recognition is one of Monty's strongpoints, and his keenness on raptors repeatedly shines through the book. He never misses an opportunity to  wax upon the impressiveness of a raptor that he has espied in this remote area of the Welsh borders, sometimes known by the ancient term, The Marches. Raptors ranging from various owls, buzzards, sparrowhawks, the now revived red kites and kestrels are all celebrated in his pages. Yet he does not neglect other birds, the full range of which that have visited his garden are celebrated and given the same thorough account that he gives to plants. The book helps readers to identify different species of bird, so clear and accurate is the writing.

Mammals, reptiles and insects play their part in the book, and Monty deals with foxes, polecats, shrews and voles, along with snakes and amphibians. He recounts of finding a fierce polecat in a fox trap that he had set up to protect his chickens. Unwilling to kill such a rare creature, which is at home in the Herefordshire and the Welsh borders, he drove it in his car and released it some distance away.  Occasionally Monty digresses by writing of experiences on holidays, but he does this to introduce a creature that he has not seen at home. Thus he writes of seeing a pine marten in its favoured home range in the Scottish forests near the Kyle of Lochalsh, near Skye. 

 

Reflections

The book is  not merely observation, for at times the author deals with sensitive issues of hunting and conservation. When speaking of game birds he reflects on issues about shooting. Some people think shooting for sport is morally wrong and resent large parts of Britain are kept as shooting estates and that many farms have shoots on them. Moorland is maintained for grouse shooting and some woodland for shooting pheasants. Monty discusses the issues carefully and observes that without the conservation undertaken by shooting estates parts of rural Britain would be neglected. 

He also points out which creatures are in danger of disappearing. He identifies the curlew, a moorland bird, and this struck a chord in my heart, for years ago as evening  fell on a lovely summer's day I espied two curlews flying home to nest. It was not far from where Monty lives and as I looked West they were silhouetted against the setting sun. I did not realize that these would possibly be the last that I would see in Britain. The memory is still  alive in me.  

The book, while being four hundred pages long is written in a style easy to read and the author manages to retain the readers' attention with his concise prose. A good read. If you love gardening and nature you will enjoy it.

Updated: 10/23/2020, frankbeswick
 
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frankbeswick 25 days ago

Numenius arquata is the only curlew species found in Britain. I did not know when I saw them that they were endangered.

DerdriuMarriner 26 days ago

frankbeswick, Thank you for the practical information and all the Monty Don product lines.
Did you know when you saw the curlew couple that they were endangered? Which species did you see? I know the long-billed curlew quite well from central and western United States residencies.

frankbeswick on 10/25/2020

Your plans sound good!

Mira on 10/25/2020

Several years ago I bought Around the World in 80 Gardens, a set of 4 DVDs written and presented by Monty Don. I hadn't seen him on TV and was struck by how congenial and pleasant he could be as a presenter and guide to those gardens. I will look for more DVDs with him at the British library.

I like this approach combining descriptions of garden plants with the wildlife they attract. I miss seeing more of a variety of birds here in Bucharest. On my trips to the gardens of various monasteries around Bucharest I've seen lots of magpies. I find them quite beautiful! There is little variety of birds though. And in terms of mammals, I haven't seen much around Bucharest or in the countryside, even though Romania is famous for its forests -- but then I've seen very little of these wonderful natural areas. I do plan to remedy that in the future.

frankbeswick on 10/23/2020

Most was seen from the garden. The garden was the focus from which nature was observed, and it maintains the gardening theme that runs through Monty's books.

blackspanielgallery on 10/23/2020

Much of what you reference could be observed from garden, but just as easily from woodland, such as wild animals, birds, and different wood yielded from different trees. It seems as much a nature book in many ways, which is also interesting. Could gardening be the primary focus with nature a strong secondary? That is the impression I get.

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