" CANTANKEROUS " GARDENERS [To the Editor of THE SPECTATOR.]
SIR,—Gardeners in their criticism of gardeners can be scathing ; none more so. Curious that men so gifted in fostering the flowers of nature that positively enrapture our souls should be not less efficient in producing such displeasing flowers of speech, and (seemingly) harbouring such downright • Mr.-H. E. Bates, in your issue of August 6th (pp. 249-250), does not err on the side of charity and forgivingness in his criticism of my old friend Wm. Robinson, who died in May, 1935, at the great age of 96. It is worth saying that Robinson was on the best of terms with Gertrude Jekyll, his distinguished fellow-worker in the adorning of England. It may be true, as Mr. Bates says, that Robinson's " huge and crusty volume grows yearly more out of date/' I am not competent to judge, but how could it be otherwise when the hand of the writer had lost its power long before 1935 ? Still' it continues in demand, and no bookseller would regard a copy as dead stock.
Robinson had honourable and kindly instincts, despite that misleading rugged manner and aggressive speech. Periodically he pruned his bookshelves, as a gardener would revise his flower beds. What he disposed of he did so with a savage kick. Hence the Maupassant remark. Like a born Irishman he was prone to say a great deal more than he thought, or felt. His eulogy of Lord Carson was couched in the same vein of exaggeration.
Towards the end of his life he became very angry with me because he had learned that I had enlisted the sympathy and interest of the Prime Minister (Mr. Ramsay MacDonald) in his life-work. A knighthood was in view ; not because such a recognition would honour Robinson but because the inclusion of his name would distinguish any list. The old man would have none of it. To what depths of depravity had I descended .even to think of such a thing ! I did not resent these unreasonable outbursts of temper. The gentle answer produced in the course of time its natural result. I was granted absolution, and given a new photograph of the old warrior in his Gravetye garden.—Yours, &c.,
Ken Wood Farm House, N.W. 3. W. RALPH HALL CAINE.