We caught up with LKP author Kendra Wilson to find out more about the brains behind our first gardening book, the intriguingly titled My Garden is a Car Park. Beautiful and useful, it's a gardening book that you'll want to read from cover to cover…
Can you tell us how the idea for the book first came about?
As soon as people find out that you have any understanding of gardening, they start asking you questions, in a slightly panicky way. Before I trained as an under-gardener at Cottesbrooke Hall in Northamptonshire, and before I started writing for Gardenista, the American style blog, I was already being called on for advice. Concerns that people have are just as much to do with arranging space, as tackling the great unknown: plants.
People tend to ignore gardening until something in their life changes. When I was in my early 20s, I rented a basement flat from Antonia Fraser and Harold Pinter. They lived upstairs and had a garden the length of a city block. I had a little yard and was perplexed one day to receive a note from Lady Antonia saying 'Please can you water the poor little pear tree? I'm afraid it's going to die.' I didn't even know that I had one. It was only when I had my own flat with my own courtyard that I became obsessed with gardening. It was in Kings Cross and was overlooked by hundreds of hotel windows, and there was no soil and little light. I learned to tackle at least five of the problems discussed in the book during those years.*
Tell us a bit about your own garden...is it, or has it ever been a car park?
My next garden was in Leicestershire and I'm still there. There is no vehicle access so it is not a car park but it is still a rich source of dilemmas, which I'm only tackling with confidence now. Problems and their solutions don't really change, though planting style does. My garden has provided me with at least ten problems,** though not all are in the book. Some problems and solutions are just too simple, like: 'I have 100 feet of hideous Leylandii hedging.' Answer: 'Get rid of it.'
What would you say is the single most common mistake made by gardeners who are just starting out?
Impatience is understandable but I would urge new homeowners not to dismantle the garden just because they've done the same indoors. Live with it, study it, get to know it. The best gardens evolve over time. A friend of mine inherited an old-fashioned but rather fabulous shrubbery at the front of her house, with some small trees and a mature wisteria. It had been lovingly tended. She razed it to the ground then turned to me and said 'What shall I do now?' In the end a contractor rolled out some turf and she planted a new wisteria in the same place (they can take years to flower).
And (apart from getting hold of a copy of your book) what’s the one most useful piece of advice you can give?
Go visiting. In the city, a botanical garden is inspiring, and so is a nose around other people's gardens. The 'Yellow Book' published by the National Gardens Scheme is a guide to mainly private gardens open for charity. It's hard to predict whether you'll like the garden from the description but you will learn something.
What would you say is the most underrated plant or flower?
There is a lot of received wisdom in gardening. People are put off growing really magical flowers like oriental poppy or peony because someone tells them that they don't flower for long enough. So what? The psychedelic pink petals of Papaver orientale 'Turkenlouis' last for less than a week but what a flower, even in bud. Plus, the foliage is bright and textural in early spring. Opt for joy.
Who’s your gardening hero/heroine?
I like bossy, opinionated gardeners and I've provided a list of them at the back of the book. They are more fun when they are unapologetic plant snobs, informed by years of experience.
Which are your favourite gardens to visit for inspiration?
Great Dixter, predictably, because it is all about ideas. Despite its Arts and Crafts layout, it is the opposite of a museum.
What’s next for you?
I have a couple more books for Laurence King in the pipeline…
*My garden is overlooked; my garden is too small; my garden is shady; my garden has no soil; my garden is like a child's tea set.
**My garden is overlooked; my garden is long and narrow; my garden competes with the view; my garden is an awkward shape; I'd like a smart vegetable garden; I'd like a wild garden that isn't a mess; my plants prefer to grow in the path; my garden is full of old rubbish; I don't know where to begin; I spent all my money on the house.
Grab a copy of Kendra's book here