THE WANDERLUST OF GARDENLUST, A CONVERSATION WITH PLANTSMAN CHRIS WOODS
Last week we prepared ourselves for the season of gratitude and this week we here in the US lean into the long Thanksgiving Holiday weekend with an aspirational armchair tour of inspirational new gardens around the world. We’re joined with horticulturist and longtime public garden administrator, Chris Woods sharing with us about his new book: GardenLust.
Chris Woods started his career at the Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew, where he was trained as a gardener. He came to the U.S. in 1981 and has since enjoyed a long career in public horticulture. He has a new book out entitled: Gardenlust: A Botanical Tour of the Worlds Best New Gardens, from Timber Press. Gardenlust is something of a play on the concept of wanderlust….and Chris joins us to share more about his work and the book’s highlighted gardens.
"Just go outside. Go outside and visit a garden, go outside and create a garden. Travel the world and see all the gardens and gardeners. Life, after all, is short."
Chris Woods, author of Gardenlust
Having started his career as an "improver" in decorative planting at The Royal Botanic Gardens Kew in England, Chris came to the U.S. where he led the famed Chanticleer Garden from being a private estate to a beloved public garden in Pennsylvania. After 20 years creating Chanticleer, he became Vice President for Horticulture and External Operations for the Santa Barbara Botanical Garden in California, followed in 2006 by being appointed Director of the VanDusen Botanical Garden in Vancouver, Canada. While pleased to be in Canada, his heart yearned for California and in January 2008 he was appointed Executive Director of the Mendocino Coast Botanical Garden. Chris now lives in Benicia, CA, and is the Advancement Advisor for the Flora of North America Association. He is also a consultant to Kids Growing Strong, a national non-profit to teach children gardening for health.
Chris's past decade at this variety of public garden endeavors can almost be seen as preparation for the writing of GardenLust, an armchair tour of text and photos of 50 of his favorite new gardens – public, private, and corporate, around the world. His wanderlust is our reward in the book. Now an American citizen, Chris has taken the idea of globalism to heart and Gardenlust is a "love letter to the gardeners of the world" for the beauty they make in their spaces. The 50 gardens profiled in the book span North America, Central America And the Caribbean, South America, Europe, Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, India and Southeast Asia, Asia, and Australia and New Zealand.
The autobiography of ourselves is in our gardens – as Chris says of his book: "Each part of me is somewhere there in the book." I feel like this about my garden – don’t you? From the flowers I grow, to the herbs I cook with, my human history is there in the garden if you knew how to decipher it.
I like very much how Chris talks about working to include in the book not just a biodiversity of plants and plant places, but to look closely at the diversity of we humans – because whenever you plant in or harvest from the soil of the earth you are very truly a Citizen of the world – and as Chris remarks: "the garden is a medium that reaches around the world – and can cross all divides."
Here’s what got me in this recent section of my conversation with plantsman Chris Woods: that among his criteria for the gardens to include were: Character and eccentricity – as applied to both plants plus people. How perfect is that. Perfect. Because how many picture perfect gardens have you seen in photos and how many have you seen in real life? And the couple of times I have seen a picture perfect garden - when some poor soul has just about killed themselves for the garden tour coming through - I’ve felt slightly like I'm walking through a still life, give me that garden when the gardener relaxes after the tour, with her shoes off and her hair down and her full character showing. Give me a garden with character and a side of eccentricity and I want to throw myself in a chair and enjoy a glass of wine or cup of tea- and commune. Give me that garden any day. Character and eccentricity is what makes it home, and human.
In the introduction to Gardenlust, Chris Woods writes: “I have asked myself what forms gardens can take now, what needs must they fulfill, and what the indicators are of how garden design will progress as the century advances.” Each garden he’s selected for inclusion in this book “answers one or more of these questions in a significant way. Many new and important gardens have been created in the past 18 years, but which successfully illustrate possibility.”
And possibility builds character. That’s my thought for the day.
And on this Thanksgiving Day in the U.S., post traumatic fire in my region, I’m profoundly grateful for my little (still-sooty) garden, and I'm congratulating her on her beloved character and her engaging eccentricities, including all the ghosts this time of year that I introduced you to in this last month’s A View From Here newsletter. With our need for productivity and looking just-so, we spend too much time telling these important spaces that they aren’t quite good enough, don’t you think?
From your one potted plant on the windowsill to your few pots on the deck or steps, or your larger back or front garden if you’re lucky – go out and remind the soil and plants and sky that fill your view, and which altogether keep you sane and bring you joy, just how damn thankful you are for them.
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I am such a fan of their gloves – the leather ones, the long-wearing weeders, my daughters loved the Womanswork t-shirts and stole mine. My partner, John, a professional plantsman, says his manswork gloves have lasted longer than any he’s ever used. So support Womanswork.com – strong women building a gentle world – support Cultivating Place and enjoy the best gardening gloves (shirts, hats, clippers, and creams) ever.
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