27 AUGUST 1983, Page 19

Gardens, plants and butterflies

John Joiliffe

ven without a heatwave, but this year


more than ever, August is the time W. hen most gardens, however well tended or illegally watered, begin to look jaded and parched, and even though the idea of plant- ing seems remote, everything will look dif-

ferent in October: now is the time to make Plans.

Each of these books takes a specific aspect of the garden and examines it with Precision and detail and, in the case of A autterfly Gardener, with a startlingly original poetic imagination. There are other books about butterflies and what they like to eat and drink but Miriam Rothschild's love for them is such that she has created a large garden where their tastes have ab- solute priority, though many of the plants that she provides for them have a strong ap- peal for humans as well. Grassy banks of cowslips and primroses, walls hung with honeysuckle and (especially) ivy, gravel Paths where valerian seeds itself among the lavender, and a whole acre of wild-flower Meadow, mostly grown from seed gathered in hedgerows, and not on any account by digging up plants from their natural habitats. Also included are the brambles and ragwort so dear to butterflies if to nobody else. The elements that have gone into this short and beautifully produced book are spontaneous enthusiasm mixed with a biological erudition which extends in many directions and is intensified by excep- tional industry and powers of observation. But the author is not a know-all, and is never in the least patronising or condescending to beginners. There is indeed a magnificent Rothschildean assurance about her essentially practical recommenda- tions to those who may come to share her tremendous love, but there is also a child- like curiosity, as in the chapter on 'What do butterflies see?': 'Does the sky seem slatted to a large white, alternate lines of bright light and shade, like a Venetian blind or the old Japanese flag — or does it seem darker blue and green away from the sun? ... Like many other things, we simply do not know.'

What she does know, however, is often arresting. The common weed fat hen can germinate successfully after having lain dormant in the soil for 35 years; and she has twice seen Red Admirals attempt to drive off hornets which were trying to invade their sources of nectar. The butterfly's chief enemy is the wasp, and in 1980 the intrepid author (who, in her younger days, found time to captain the ladies of Northampton- shire at cricket) destroyed 126 nests within 50 yards of her house.

The second half of this book is by Clive Farrell, creator of the Butterfly House at Syon Park, and is on, and for, the Indoor Butterfly Gardener. It, too, contains much fascinating information of special value for the addict who wants to breed butterflies

which need higher-than-outdoor temper- atures. It is good, but Miss Rothschild is even better, and can appeal strongly even to someone who doesn't know the difference between a Purple Emperor and the King of Spades. Her literary references are as wide as her scientific learning, and always give the feeling that they are there out of natural enthusiasm, and never in order to show off. Francis Bacon, King Lear, Henry VI, John Clare, Bridges and Hopkins are all aptly quoted, and her own approach — while very much her own — contains delightful echoes of Gilbert White and John Aubrey, here and there enlivened still further by a stimulating 'dash of Leigh Fermor. No review could give more than the palest im- pression of this exceptional book.

Very different, though equally well in- formed, is Gardening on Walls by Christopher Grey Wilson and Victoria Matthews, whose Bulbs was reviewed here a year ago. The authors are botanic tax- onomists, that is to say classifiers and categorisers, she at Edinburgh, he at Kew. They begin with a section on culture, cover- ing soils, supports, training and pruning, propagations, siting and pests and diseases. The gardener who ignores this information will achieve little. The rest of the book con- sists of lists of species and varieties of dif- ferent types of climbers, both evergreen and deciduous, including clematis, roses, an- nual climbers and fruit trees. The effect is daunting at first, rather like being led into a huge room containing hundreds of beauti- ful women, with one or two of whom it might be agreeable to be acquainted, but without having the ghost of an idea of what to say to any of them. But the first section does include useful guide-lines, and the lists also give details of light and shade re- quirements. My only real criticism is that one is never told how hardy things are; nor does there seem to be much point in some of the accurate but dingy line drawings, sometimes of plants already covered in the mainly good colour illustrations. Most gardens contain walls, and most gardeners will find this book very useful.

The Garden in Autumn and Winter also consists largely of lists, of flowers, bulbs, and shrubs grown for their leaves. There is also a valuable section on winter stems of trees such as the Himalayan Birch and Eucalyptus niphophila (hardier than most of its kind), besides the familiar Acer griseum and the lovely golden willows. The only thing lacking is any indication of the size ultimately attained by the various species. Time and again one sees desirable trees planted in places where, sooner rather than later, they will have to be disappoint- ingly hacked about or even removed. Nor is

there much information on what things need in the way of light or shade, acidity of soil, or minimum temperatures. This can be discovered elsewhere (though not always easily), but this book would have been bet- ter still for providing it.

The last two books richly deserve a whole article each. Stately Gardens of Britain by Thomas Hinde (best known in the past for

his novels and' travel writing) is an excellent presentation of 24 sensational gardens ad- mirably photographed by Dimitri Kas- terine, who though well known for port- raits, has a fresh eye for illustrating flowers and gardens and avoids what have become cliches. Of those described, my own favourites happen to be Cranborne, Powis and Pusey, but the range extends from the domestic scale of East Lambrook, via the spacious Sussex shrubberies of Leonardslee and Sheffield. Park, and the Claude-like landscape of Stourhead, to the palatial ex- panses of Drummond Castle and Chats- worth. Commendably, the text is about the gardeners as well as the owners, though most of the latter have the opportunity as well as the energy to do a lot of gardening themselves. Something for everybody, and nothing but the best.

Finally, perhaps the greatest treasure of all, Gertrude Jekyll on Gardening, edited, with an always apt commentary, by. Penelope Hobhouse, who admirably focuses Miss Jekyll's remarkable know- ledge and wisdom onto the problems which face those who make or alter gardens today, 50 years after her death. One ele- ment of her greatness is that she was an ac- complished painter until her eyes weaken- ed, and another is that she was intensely in- terested in 'traditional and vernacular buildings, as well as in the country life and beauty around her.' These were the qualities that enabled her to excel also in 'the careful and harmonious blending of the colour and texture of flower and leaf.' She emphasised that good gardening needs dogged patience and a refusal to be cast down by mistakes and losses. What is worth doing in a particular garden? How do you then do it? The answers to these questions are never discovered overnight. Miss Jekyll didn't publish her first book till she was 56, and she lived to 89, still contentedly learn- ing. 'Plants and trees and grassy spaces must look happy and at home and make no

parade of conscious efforts. Repose and refreshment . . . ' are what the garden should provide. 'The lesson I have learned most thoroughly is never to say "I know" — there is so infinitely much to learn . . . ' This book, which is a distillation of all Miss Jekyll's writings over the years, is sensibly arranged in calendar form, with ex- cellent food for thought for each month. It provides a wonderful method of learning the vital principles of gardening, and will be of the greatest value to gardeners however young or old.