Margery Fish is my absolute gardening heroine. She almost single-handedly invented cottage gardening which, as many of you know, is my own preferred style – a jumble of easygoing plants all jostling for space in crowded borders, with trees, shrubs , roses, fowers and fruit all mixed in together.
And it’s very encouraging to note that she didn’t start gardening until she was about 47 years old. Here’s Margery doing a spot of pruning:
I think we should all garden wearing smart suits don’t you? Standards have definitely slipped…
This is her garden, East Lambrook Manor in Somerset which she started to create with her tyranical and controlling husband Walter Fish in 1937.
Walter Fish , a former editor of the Daily Mail, was 18 years his wife’s senior, and proposed to her ( Margery had been his secretary) after he retired. Big mistake! Mind you, Margery was no spring chicken at 41- here are the happy couple on their wedding day:
They bought East Lambrook because Walter was convinced that war was imminent and that they should escape London. But that was where the trouble all began- trouble that Margery details in her book ‘ We Made a Garden’ which is one of the best books I’ve ever read about both gardening and the awfulness of life in the garden with Walter. I urge you to read it!
So whilst we read about the creation of this beautiful cottage garden, it’s interspersed with eye-watering accounts of Walter’s controlling nature. Here are just a few quotes:
“Walter would not tolerate any unhealthy or badly grown plant. Often I would go out and find a row of sick looking plants laid out like a lot of dead rats.” (Walter used his silver topped cane to flick Margery’s plants out!)
“Another plant, Delphinium nudicaule liked me so well that it produced some fat buds, which I watched daily with excitement. then one day to my horror I found that the whole top of the plant had been sliced off. When I remonstrated fiercley all that Walter said was that I had better stick to ordinary delphiniums!” ( Walter’s wretched cane again I think)
I admit to deceit in the matter of such things as manure (I used to steal it from around Walter’s roses,remembering as I did his oft-repeated comment that “women have no sense of honesty!”).
“Walter realised that it would be some time before the climbers would make an effect on the walls, so one day, without telling me he bought a collection of stuffed heads and mounted horns at a London sale room. Very soon heads, antlers and horns sprouted from every available wall inside and out.” ( It was years before they rotted in the rain and fell off, meanwhile looking ghoulish on the beautiful hamstone walls.)
A tiny part of you begins to wonder if she didn’t, in the end, bump Walter off, burying him in the dead of night beneath the nearest holly bush.
But it was one final act of control that really annoyed me. Walter hated Margery planting to soften things, a thing much admired by their visitors( and therefore jealously trashed by Walter) – so much so, that he concreted over a large space outside their front window. As Walter was a fairweather gardener, Margery would nip outside whenever it rained armed with a crowbar….
“A lot of Somerset cement has become loosened, some of it helped, i admit by a crowbar, and now I have little plants creeping over everything.” Wonderful Margery Fish who, after Walter’s death went on to become a brilliant writer and authority on all things Cottage Garden – love her!
Which leads me on to how you can have too much hard landscaping in a garden. In fact I was asked recently to look at a garden in Adlington where a crowbar was definitely needed to make more room for plants to soften the whole area- just like Margery Fish would do.
So I recommended taking out about a third of the paving to create box edged planting beds, then planting against the house walls to soften them and building a central raised bed with cloud pruned topiary and water feature to provide an interesting focal point.Phew! Here we are building:
And this is the finished look- much softer, with interesting planting, much of it evergreen, so that it looks good all year round. I think Margery , crowbar in hand , would approve.