I have been in the bath reading Mark Laird’s latest adventure in print ‘A Natural History of English Gardening’.
I was taken in at first sight, thinking that no book could be so cuboid in form and that it must be a toy castle in a box, then glancing inside I mistook it next for a hoard of jewels, though technically, for the number of illustrations it has in it, it will be shelved with the graphic novels. Unfortunately I have in consequence of his book fallen behind with my correspondence – I sprained my wrist turning the pages and then spent an unforeseen period trying to get out of the bath from under its weight.
I believe I have now solved this problem to my satisfaction and shall in future wear a snorkel when I bathe – like my good friend Mrs C of Solent-side, who always takes that precaution against an unusual high tide. I mention this because Mark Laird’s devotion to detail was in my mind when I read her letter asking how far the delightful place-maker, Capability Brown, took his design – if he designed farms, did he also design door-handles? If he designed flower-beds did he also choose the flowers?
I wish I had an answer to these questions, my instinct is to say that he didn’t, that he was a contractor and a master-planner, but he expected his client’s gardeners to be able to lay out a bed – and they would have been offended if he had taken charge of the shrubbery: the fastidious passions of the plant collector, explored by Mark in his book, were not central to Brown’s work . However my instincts may be at fault: I do not have Mark’s appetite for detail and we tend, do we not, to fit the world to the limits of our own imaginations.