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Eccleston Square

 21 May 1990


Dear Leslie,
French gardening is thriving and blossoming. In fact, after a three day trip to Paris I am still in shock at the enthusiasm and effusiveness of Ses Horticulturistes. I had to go and do a talk about shrubs at a chateau called Courson about twenty-five miles south of Paris. Martyn, my co-author, went with me. (Martyn is a fantastic botanist who loves most of all searching the mountains of China or Africa or wherever for rare, new or lost plants in the grand manner of the old plant hunters.) Anyway, our French publishers, Flammarion, put us up in the Hotel Trianon on the Left Bank about three metres from the “Boule Miche.” I was in slight trepidation of the hotel as years ago I stayed in the Hotel Petit Trianon on the Left Bank, which was incredibly cheap and itchy – the walls of the entire room were covered in squashed fleas and bugs!


The flower show was terrific. There is a whole new generation of French plantsmen; young, vital, keen and most of them specializing in one area of rarities or another. Of course lots of southern tender plants (I bought three Bougainvillea to see if I can get them to grow outside); but also I met a world expert on Japanese maples, a man with hundreds of carnivorous plants, a man with ancient roses, a man with more than two hundred different scented geraniums (not pelargoniums) and there were also lots of daturas….


The next day I went to see the recreation of the Claude Monet garden at Giverny. About 10,000 other people had the same idea, but it is such a special place for me that I was able to walk around without even noticing them. Years ago I did some experimental photographs in different light, i.e. shots of the same view every hour from dawn to night. The changes were amazing and it showed how accurate Monet was in his subtle observation of light and color. I think it would make a super project to go back to Monet’s garden (on the closed day) and try to make a series of studies in different light….



Cushing, Maine

July 24, 1990


Well Roger you tease! All this about the flea-bitten Petit Trianon and your understandable trepidations and then zip about the Trianon proper…Those young vital keen plantsmen (and women?) and the conference itself sound very stimulating. Frustrating though, for those of us for whom bougainvillea is strictly the stuff of fantasy. Are you sure those scented geraniums aren’t pelargoniums? I ask because I have a fancy geranium catalog that lists over a thousand varieties, seventy of them scented, and they’re all pelargoniums of one sort or another. Can’t say I’m much tempted by any of them, though “Banded coconut” (P. Patulum) sounds kind of engaging.” “white flower, coconut scent, rounded, pale green leaf with distinct zone, trailing.” Oh well, can’t buy everything…Please tell more about the daturas, I think they may have possibilities here – at least more possibilities than bougainvillea….


The white garden you describe sounds glorious beyond words – can’t wait to see the photos and am meanwhile reminded of so many things, among them a garden up north of here (near Bar Harbor) that was designed by Beatrix Ferrand. Lawns leading down a gentle slope to the sea have been planted with wild rose (rugosa, actually) hedges that look very natural but were actually carefully placed to enhance the perspective, making the sweep look far longer that it is. This architectural element is all that’s left of the original, in all probability because this garden was too expensive to keep up. Another aspect of the ephemerality that is such an essential part of gardening, for good or ill….


Cushing, Maine

August 14, 1990


Dear Roger,

Just gave a little talk at the local historical society, title: “Ecology in the Kitchen,” a benefit for the Cushing Recycling Project…So, in keeping with the general theme I talked a lot about using leftovers, storing same in glass refrigerator containers or old yogurt tubs, composting – and eating weeds. Big hit. Almost all in the audience are country dwellers and most had heard of dandelions, but lamb’s-quarters, pigweed, purslane, the usual lot, turned out to be a revelation….


Weeds in my opinion don’t get nearly enough respect and neither does the accidental landscape. We have for instance a whole field of milkweed between the so-called orchard and Lois’s barn. It was in full perfection the middle two weeks of July: fragrance to beat any jasmine and in the butterfly blue twilight a multitude of fireflies to replace the monarchs of afternoon. I suppose that’s the ultimately comforting thing about life in the country – most of its great delights do not come (except inadvertently) from the hand of man….


Eccleston Square, London

9 July 1991


Dear Leslie…

You went on and on about weeds, brambles, etc. in your letter. Over the weekend I met a gardener who squatted a lovely Victorian house in Brixton (South London). The garden grew only broken-down fridges, old cookers, rotting carpet, broken glass, the whole grown over with a thick layer of brambles. He, Marcus, has a solution, perma culture. Have you come across it? It’s an Australian No Dig system. All you do is slash down the weeds and brambles, throw a small amount of bonemeal and then cover the whole thing with about twelve layers of wet newspaper. On top you put a mulch of well-rotted stable manure about six inches thick, you then plant your annuals and perennials straight into it, the same day, giving them about three handfuls of soil each. If you want to plant shrubs you break a small hole in the membrane and plant the shrub in the soil and weeds below, then replace or renew the membrane right up to the stem of the shrub. Water the whole thing well in and bingo! a garden….


Back to early flowering perennials. Have you ever tried woad? I love my great misty yellow mounds in late April or May – this is another thing I will plant more clumps of.


We leave for the States in six days so the next contact will be hugs on your step. So excited to see the garden – keep weeding – keep watering – keep deadheading – keep cooking – here we come.