Husbandry: Making Gardens with Mr B
by Isabel Bannerman
Pimpernel Press, £14.99
‘Making a garden together… is what Mr B and me like to do best,’ writes garden designer Isabel Bannerman. Husbandry tells the story of the garden she and her husband are currently making at Ashington Manor in Somerset, where they moved three years ago. But, as the title suggests, it is also a book about a quixotic marriage, and a working relationship that has lasted for four decades. And it is brilliantly done.
There’s an exuberance and generosity about the Bannermans’ gardens that is very beguiling, impressive too, since here, at Ashington, as in their previous gardens at Trematon Castle and Hanham Court, they start with a fair amount of chaos. But finding a balance between ‘chaos and charm’ is the key to the Bannerman style. ‘We like a bit of wonk,’ says the author.
Since most of us are not professional garden designers, it’s refreshing to be told at the outset that there is no such thing as taste, only ‘one’s personal whims and fantasies’.
But a great deal of excellent advice follows. Understand, for instance, that a garden ‘is always in the throes of becoming something else’. Take time to absorb its surroundings. Understand, too, the soil you have inherited. There is excellent advice on paths, and what they should be made of. Plants are not the start of her own garden making, says Bannerman, but whatever plants you use, use a lot of the same thing.
She is also refreshingly honest; the newly planted rose garden at Ashington has not worked out as she hoped. ‘Maybe it will come right, or it could be one of those little bits which never works.’ We all have those.
Isabel Bannerman’s last book, Scent Magic (2019), was a luscious production, heavily illustrated. Husbandry is more modest, the size of a paperback, but so beguiling in its content, so poignant in its perceptions, that when I had finished it, I started at the beginning once more, to read it all over again.