Tuesday, June 17, 2008

At home with Helen Yemm (and Zoe)

Last Saturday, I met one of my gardening heroines. Helen Yemm is one of my favourite garden writers, not least because of her slightly acerbic tone. (I remember one item in her column, about where to get Felco secateurs serviced or sharpened: readers were adjured to cut out the information straight away and put it in a safe place, so that she would not be inundated with letters from idiots requesting a repeat of the information.) In the uncertain world of gardening, I tend to warm towards people who seem to know exactly what they're doing, and I need to read Helen's column every Saturday before going out into my own garden in much the same way that other people need to have a cup of coffee before they go to work. She always looks so self-possessed and business-like in her pictures or on the television, as if one glance from over the top of her spectacles could rout a clump of bindweed or send snails running for cover.
I hope she won't mind if I destroy this illusion by saying that in the flesh, she looks much younger, she's very glamorous and charming, and she's an extremely entertaining speaker. It's not just people she charms, either: she has the birds in her garden literally eating out of her hand.
The theme of Helen's talk (held to raise money for the National Gardens Scheme) was downsizing. She told us how she had had to move from Ketleys, the most amazing place that included a gravel garden, a vegetable garden, a woodland garden, and an orchard, to a complete wreck. She then explained how she had transformed the wreck into a miniature idyll, using the expertise she had acquired in her previous garden. It's always impressive when someone takes a garden by the scruff of the neck and transforms it, but in such traumatic circumstances, it's nothing short of heroic. Helen didn't go into great detail about why she had to move, but I must confess, my hand itched to give her ex a good slap.

The evening ended with a glass of wine and a wander round Helen's new garden, now burgeoning with hardy geraniums, grasses, libertia, sysirinchium and roses, among many other things. The garden wraps itself round the house, with a lawned area at the front, a pond at the side in full view of Helen's study and herbaceous borders that extend to a gravel garden at the end. It's my favourite kind of garden, with paths and winding routes that lead you on to explore further, and you can read more about it in this month's (July) issue of The English Garden, or in the series that Helen is writing for Gardeners' World magazine. You can also see more pictures on Helen's blog (see link in the column on the right).
There was one final surprise. Zoë introduced herself! She'd been at the talk too. It was lovely to meet her, not least because it was great to have someone to chatter to about the garden. (My husband had come with me, but he's not really a plantaholic.) The world of garden bloggers is a strange one: suddenly you seem to be cybersoulmates with a host of people around the world. So it was rather nice to discover when you meet a fellow garden blogger that yes, they do seem like an old friend, and you could quite happily spend all day talking to them.