The garden historian and place maker on Spring Wood, The Little Prince and learning to make whistles. Written by Anne De Verteuil.
My first memory of being outside in the garden is of escaping the nursery on a farm in West Surrey to spend hours in the woods and fields with the men, learning all the country crafts, from making whistles out of a shoot of an ash tree to stooking sheaves of corn so they would stand in a storm.
Being taught Botany by Oleg Polunin, author of Flowers of the Mediterranean, still influences my work; and the writing and photography of Vivian Russell opened up new ways of seeing for me.
The one object that sums up the way I look at the world is a stout hazel thumbstick.
The book that I would pass on to my grandchildren is The Little Prince, a complete guide to the way we should relate to all species. For my students, Hints on Landscape Gardening by Hermann Pückler-Muskau (1834), encapsulates the wisdom of two centuries of European place making.
The cover of Gerard’s Herbal is on my mood board, along with Bridgeman’s plan for Spring Wood and one of Turner’s views of the River Ure at Hackfall. There are also photographs of Christopher Bradley-Hole’s garden for John Coke at Bury Court, the garden made by Nori and Sandra Pope at Hadspen, of Ninfa and a flower-filled Armenian mountainside. And a Fibonacci ‘golden section’ gauge made for me by a cousin... All this with Nina Stemme singing Isolde’s Liebestod in the background.
Taking on the rescue of Spring Wood was my sharpest learning curve. Charles Bridgeman’s magical baroque garden for the 3rd Duke of Bolton at Hackwood is now fortunately reunited with its house. Although I had spent years dealing with public authorities whilst working at the Planning Bar, it was only then I understood how hollow were the protestations of interest by such bodies in heritage assets and how little they understood them; a situation always blamed on ‘other priorities’.
Each new commission is a high point in my life, and each rejection slip a low.
If I could wander for eternity in one space it would be The Ile St Pierre (or, in German, St Petersinsel) in the Lac de Bienne in Switzerland. It was to this island that Jean Jacques Rousseau retreated for two months in 1765 and about which he wrote in the Fifth Walk of The Reveries of the Solitary Walker: ‘If only I could go and end my days on this beloved island without ever coming off it.’ There I would have time to compile for myself a flora of the island, the Flora petrinsularis, which Rousseau had intended to do.
I hope I will be remembered for emphasising the importance of process as well as design in the making of landscapes, for the creation of the concept of the Naturesque, for the encouragement of an understanding of our common European heritage, for questioning orthodoxy and also, I hope, for a smile.