From the August 2009 issue of the Study Group Newsletter.
AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 GARDENS
Monty Don BBC with Weidenfeld and Nicholson 2008
No doubt quite a few Study Group members watched this program recently on ABC TV. I didn't see all the programs including the one on Australia and New Zealand because we had a power blackout! I really enjoyed the episodes which I saw. I found the choice of gardens refreshing as it was a good mix of old and new, grand and modest, traditional and idiosyncratic gardens. So I was rather pleased when I picked up the book of the series at my local library recently. I actually think it would have been better to have read the book before seeing the series. I had read the chapter on Northern European gardens before seeing that episode which was really rewarding.
One of the appealing features about the series as seen on TV was how Monty Don's commentary was based on his own reactions to each garden rather than a more academic and theoretical approach to garden design. His personal reactions come through even more in the book including some charming revelations of the difficulties and hardships of filming the series. I have heard several criticisms of the Australian episode. It would be interesting to know who suggested the gardens which could be featured. I am sure residents of every country included or excluded from the series would question the choice of gardens from their area. I imagine Monty Don would have made the final selection himself.
Friends have told me that he did not seem to warm to the Australian gardens. The aim of the series was to investigate the extent to which gardens reflected the culture of each country. He no doubt picked up the Australian ambivalence to our native flora and the yearning for an English style garden which is still present here after 200 years. He was not impressed by the nostalgic English style of Kennerton Green but he was enthusiastic about the Mornington Peninsula Garden which had progressed from an English style garden to one which used native Australian plants. I was surprised that he first came across the idea of a waterwise garden in South Africa after he had visited Australia in the middle of a drought!
Here are some of the ideas and thoughts which really resonated with me from the TV series and the book.