Interview - Anne Wareham, author, The Bad Tempered Gardener

Anne Wareham was star of Channel 5's I've got Britain's Best Home and Garden, founder of thinkingardens.co.uk and owner of Veddw garden in Monmouthshire. Now she is the author of the thought-provoking book The Bad Tempered Gardener.

Anne Wareham, author, The Bad Tempered Gardener - image: HW
Anne Wareham, author, The Bad Tempered Gardener - image: HW

Q: What one thing in gardening really annoys you.

A: Rose bushes are awfully ugly and there are far too many rose gardens, for instance Bodnant or Sudeley Castle. They're awful. No-one says it but they are if you look at them. They're blobs on sticks. The look even worse sitting in beds, when the beds are bare. They take far too much looking after to get a decent plant.

Q: In the book you say you do not care for children gardening.

A Children are inseparable from their parents these days and have to follow each other around all the time. They should be allowed more time to play by themselves rather than being dragooned into worthy activities all the time.

Q: Why is garden writing so unsophisticated compared to cooking writing, for instance?

A: You're expecting a sophistication from gardens that will take around 50 years to acquire. But even Stephen Lacey in the Daily Telegraph, writing about the magnolia garden at Caerhays, comments mildly that there are an awful lot of magnolia and camellia plastered around the place. Ten years ago I don't think anyone would have said that. That such a thing is now possible will develop people's capability. There was no outlet so what was the point in anyone developing those skills. The only one who did was Tim Richardson, and he doesn't have a gardening background. Elizabeth David was in much the same situation 50 years ago. Gardening was at the same stage as food was then. Now it is where food was in the 1950s.

Q: Do you mind the stance you take making you unpopular?

A: I will find out how well the book goes. It's the work I didn't get and on the whole I don't get an audience.

Q: Why does the book not name people and places you do not admire?

A: I did name some but the publisher took them out. At least they let me acknowledge that happened, which was a relief. It was not particular people I wanted to have a go at. I just wanted people as examples. I did mention specifics - for instance, The Spectator, which should be the one saying something about gardens if any should. I was not having a go at Ursula Buchan, but why did The Spectator bother doing gardening at all? The pressure is how reliable is the advice and how many plant names. Editors don't want excitement or originality - what you'd think a good audience would like.

Q: In the book you slam someone who says you are a fan of cacti, even though you are.

A: I'm trying to make sense of why it sounds so wrong. It's patronising. The whole garden world is patronising towards gardeners. It's a hobby for the challenged middle-aged. It's not supposed to be intelligent.

Q: You say you don't like gardening - can you explain?

A: I like the result, not the effort. I have four acres and it's single-handed. It's hard work and often unpleasant and demands your attention when it needs doing.

Q: Is growing your own as pointless as you say?

A: God knows why people grow their own veg. You can't easily grow the food you most want. I used to garden to 10pm then I'd have to pick the veg and the slugs from it, then cook it.

Q: How well do you think the book will do?

A: It's one of those things that might or might not. It might just die. Who wants a gardening book that complains about gardening?

Q: How long did it take you to write the book?

A: A couple of years. There aren't many laughs. The book is me. Some people think it is quite funny. It's unadulterated me.

Q: What is your view of blogging and Twitter in garden writing?

A: They will ultimately make it impossible for the garden world to go on being quite so bland and dishonest because the gulf between the two will grow wider and wider. Print media editors print what they want to. There's dialogue in social media. It will gather momentum.

Q: Why do you think garden writers are no good?

A: There are no good garden writers because editors have never permitted there to be. Editors won't print certain stuff. I don't think we should be blaming the writers. It's the expectations of the media and the editors.

Q: Can you take criticism yourself?

A: I am over-sensitive. It doesn't mean that I shouldn't do it. You cut me and I'll bleed. It's a blokey public school thing. If you dish it out you should expect it.

CV
1970s-80s: Social worker
1987: Bought Veddw in Monmouthshire
1995: Opened Veddw
2004: Founded thinkingardens.co.uk
2008: Judge, I've Got Britain's Best Home and Garden, Channel 5
2011: The Bad Tempered Gardener published


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