Alice Rawsthorn Looks at the Great Gardening War of ’07

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Think back to being a kid and somehow landing on those British shows on PBS. You might not have always understood what was going on, largely because you were a clueless child, just like the rest of us, and everything on nearly every network didn’t make much sense (it still doesn’t, for that matter — zing!). But what’s the one piece of information you feel like you collected from watching these shows? That’s right: don’t screw with British people’s gardens. They’re nuts about them. And rightly so. Alice Rawsthorn proves that point in her newest piece in the International Herald Tribune, “Controversy Over Changes at Hadspen Garden,” which is about opening up a public competition to design a new garden for the Hadspen House in Somerset. And it has nearly everyone up in arms, transcending even the debate about that specific garden and launching into a national discussion about gardening in general. See? They take it pretty seriously and thus, it makes it a really fascinating read, even if you’re like this writer and can just barely keep house plants alive. Here’s some:

Open competitions and public critiques are regarded as good practice in most areas of design and architecture, but not in gardening, where commissions have traditionally been handled privately. The response has been so stormy that the Museum of Garden History in London is staging an exhibition (on view until Sept. 15) about the evolution of the new Hadspen garden. The museum also held a fiery debate last month at which Hobhouse defended his scheme to an impassioned audience of gardeners, garden designers and landscape architects, including his mother, the venerable garden designer Penelope Hobhouse.

The row has stretched far beyond Hadspen’s walls by aggravating underlying tensions in garden design. Who should design gardens? Gardeners? Garden designers? Landscape architects? Or architects? And how should they be chosen? Can outsiders contribute? And who owns the finished garden?

Also, if after reading that you find you’re in a Rawsthorn mood, she’s got this great piece from late last week about the design firm Graphic Thought Facility.