Gardens are weird entities, oddly historied. Some days, they’re the subject of a story, more often the background to navel-gazing human dramas. Each retelling, whether through stories or photographs or videos, gives a different impression to that which you’ll experience walking through the garden on any given day.
So, when you go to visit a garden that you’ve read about since you were an adolescent in sweatpants, there’s an aching fear that it won’t live up to your imaginings. After everything that I’d read about Chelsea Physic Garden - its historic significance and formative role in the lives of so many figures in European horticulture - how could the experience of the place live up to the weight of its history? A few weeks ago, I stifled that anxiety and twisted the brass handle on the 8-panel wooden door in a weathered brick wall.
As I stepped into the garden, my anxieties quickly slid away. I breathed in deeply the perfume of a massive Himalayan Musk Rose (Rosa brunoni), diverted my eyes from the weird rockery pond, and ducked through the intimate paths towards the rising plumes of a tree fern (Dicksonia antarctica).This garden isn’t just a scaffold for stories. There’s more to it than shreds of history and forgotten drama.
According to its website, The Chelsea Physic Garden is the second-oldest botanical garden in England. In the 1953 book Old London Gardens, Gladys Taylor writes of its founding: “It was not until 1673 that the Worshipful Company of Apothecaries (founded in James I’s reign) obtained the lease of a garden 3½ acres in extent from Charles (afterwards Lord) Cheyne."
"The ground lay in the remote village of Chelsea, and the rent was £5 per annum for a term of 61 years.” The apothecaries kept care of the garden over those years, building up significant collections of useful and medicinal plants. Taylor goes on, “By the time the lease of the Chelsea Gardens expired in 1722, Sir Hans Sloane was Lord of the Manor of Chelsea and owned the property. He granted the land to the Apothecaries forever for a yearly payment of £5, on condition that it should always be maintained as a Physic Garden. This arrangement lasted until 1899, when the Apothecaries gave it up, and the London Parochial Charities, supported by various smaller bodies, took it over.” Today, the Chelsea Physic Garden has the patronage of the Prince of Wales, as well as being overseen by a board of trustees (including the estimable landscape designer Lady Arabella Lennox-Boyd) and a full-time staff. There’s an extensive archive of information about the history of Chelsea Physic Garden on their youtube channel.
Despite this lofty heritage, the spaces within the garden are intimate and charming. It feels like the kind of space where you’d set a mild British TV drama. Bits of the garden are broken up into different themed areas. Medicinal plants. Edible Plants. An Historical Walk. Global plant collections.
The bits of absurdity really engaged my imagination. The fuzzy blue towers of echium, straight from the Canary Islands. Tree ferns and fan palms shaking in confusion at the chilly breezes of the City. Absurdity is a quality that we don’t see enough in contemporary gardens. Given the pressures to create gardens that are cost-effective and high-performing, there’s an incredible tendency for garden designers to stick with ideas that are safe and proven. Fantasy is displaced by big data and evidence-based design practice. We’re all too apt to ignore Martin Asslin, “The shedding of easy solutions, of comforting illusions, may be painful, but it leaves behind it a sense of freedom and relief. And that is why, in the last resort, the Theatre of the Absurd does not provoke tears of despair but the laughter of liberation.” (Martin Esslin, Absurd Drama, 1965)
There are some elements of the Chelsea Physic Garden that seem startlingly fresh and almost modern. Wonderful bay standards are let to grow quite loosely, until their shaggy heads are nearly touching. Beneath a romping array of betony (Stachys officinalis) and meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria). The exaggerated proportions feel like something that you’d find in a contemporary show garden.
Down by the glasshouses, a selection of salvias thrum with bees. Their flowers vibrate in grey light, all shades of purple and blue. Surprisingly to a North American, there are no hummingbirds here to enliven the collection with their frantic ballet.
As I walk back to that threshold to the mad city, past the clipped hedges and pelargoniums in ordered terracotta rows, I wonder - what will be the legacy of today’s public gardens? Will they continue to involve and influence gardens three-, four-, and more centuries out? Future historians will have these ridiculous treasure troves of public-access images from Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, websites and blogs. Will the stories they tell about our gardens differ because they’re recorded in images rather than words? Will they be buried in the haze of electronic overload? Or will our legacy remain like that of the Chelsea Physic Garden, equally joyful and absurd?
I’m as immersed as anybody in the contemporary media of gardens. I love a good feature on a glamorous high-profile designer, a Facebook group virulently defending their favorite garden style, or a well-funded public garden project. Such recognition is exciting in a discipline that’s often dismissed as frivolous.
Media coverage and public attention, however, aren’t the core of horticulture, gardening or design. What makes for good horticulture, good gardening, good design is presence. Presence with place, presence with people, presence with plants. To give such presence, we need to adopt an attitude of humility.
Humility sounds like an odd attitude to take towards garden design. However, gardening is conversational. It involves a relationship between oneself and other people, places, plants and living beings. For all parties to benefit, garden design requires the gardener to enter fully into what David Whyte would call the “frontier” of conversational experience. It's a relationship that's typified by presence and openness - that is, humility. I've been thinking about what qualities might characterize a humble approach to garden design. On consideration, humility in garden design seems to reveal itself through three distinct faces: integrity, subtlety, and generosity.
The first face of humility in garden design is integrity. A garden of integrity is true to itself and to its surroundings. A garden’s integrity to place can be manifested by using materials that are easily found and readily available. In rural areas, a garden can establish a sense of integrity to place by using plants or materials that are also used in the surrounding landscape. Just look at the way the garden above melds seamlessly into its surroundings on the coast near Lymington, England. You can't tell where the garden ends and the beach vegetation begins. In urban gardens, a material palette might relate more to the built environment - does building in your city favor wood, brick, stone?
In the photo above, you can see these wonderful woven-twig tuteurs and other plant supports created from woven tuteurs at the Chelsea Physic Garden. Such supports are constructed from the prunings of willows, hazel and other plants growing in the garden. If twig-weaving isn’t your bag, or you need something more contemporary in style, consider sophisticated uses of materials readily available in a hardware store - or to modify hardware store products. I’m thinking of Carrie Preston’s incredible Lace Fence in her Stinze Garden at the 2017 Philadelphia Flower show. Or, back to the plant supports - my clever friend Kim has recently taken to crafting beautiful mesh cloches out of chicken wire. Here’s the Youtube video where she picked up the technique. Ignore the well strange finish, unless you enjoy having a fern-behind-bars at the center of your dining table. Kim put these cloches to a less dubious use, protecting her young hydrangeas from ravenous suburban rabbits.
Seaside gardens, particularly in the tropics, have a distinct palette of regional materials. Consider the extensive use of sea shells, whale bones, and driftwood. This fountain at the Historic Spanish Point in Sarasota, Florida, is encrusted with shells that were gathered on the peninsula’s beaches. I’m not sure that I like it. To steal a phrase from the Spirits Podcast, it’s “kinda creepy, kinda cool”. But it has integrity - the use of shells relates to a local tradition of building and decorating with objects found by the seaside.
The second face of humility is subtlety. Subtlety is about the execution of physical interventures. Subtle interventions are simple, clever, and non-obvious. They’re pared down to the most important elements. Nothing fussy or overcomplicated. Basically, the opposite of an HGTV garden. I often look to installation artists for inspiration in how to achieve subtlety in garden design. You’ve all seen photographs of Andy Goldsworthy’s stunning transient arrangements of leaves and flowers. You’ve probably also encountered some of Richard Serra’s towering copper planes or Ursula von Rydingsvard’s equally staggering craggy cedar bowls. Or even the strange multiple reflecting panels of Beverly Pepper’s Ventaglio III above (shoutout to my friends Gretchen and Liz for modelling in this photo). Such simple and graphic forms offer insight to garden designers on how to employ subtlety in shaping space and arranging plants.
One of the most memorable examples of subtlety I’ve ever seen in a landscape was at a client’s garden in central Louisiana. A late summer monsoon was crashing down, with thunder and abundant rain. Driving up through the ancient live oaks, I noticed something interesting - rather than wide swathes of the flat landscape being inundated, the water was channelled in shallow swales running throughout the lawns. Just a few feet wide, maybe 6 inches deep, these swales created glittering silver ribbons throughout the landscape. Next day, when the rain had passed, these shallow impressions simply blended in with the rest of the green waving lawn. Some earlier designer had recognized the need to channel the water, and solved the problem in a way that created delight - rather than going the obvious route and installing a single massive ditch. Such subtlety requires thought and attention.
The third face of humility is generosity. A garden which opens its arms to others. I’ve been thinking about generosity as a quality of garden design since getting drawn into a bleak argument about the bad behaviors of visitors to public gardens. It’s important to protect our work - and there are also limits to what we should tolerate from our guests - but the last thing we gardeners need is to perpetuate the stereotype of angry old men and women yelling at children to get off our lawns. Maybe we all should be more like my friend Riz Reyes. He once told me that his childhood dream was to have a garden by a bus stop, so the people waiting to go to and from work could enjoy beautiful flowers while they wait. Today, Riz is a gardener at McMenamin’s Anderson School in Bothell, Washington, where his work is shared with many visitors on a daily basis - just look at those stunning borders in full autumn color (photo above).
Generosity in a garden isn’t just about opening the gates to other humans - it’s about supporting non-human beings as well. The Biodiversity in Urban Gardens Project has consistently revealed the value of gardens for supporting wildlife in cities. Whether you’re growing a few hostas in a pot or have a country garden with acres of rutabagas and carrots, it’s time to move past the Peter Rabbit/Mr. McGregor relationship. Designing gardens to be alive with the movement of animals, insects, plants, all other beings sets us gardeners apart with a positive vision for the future.
There’s undoubtedly more to humility in approaching gardens and garden design. But start with subtlety, integrity, and generosity. Then go out and sit in the garden for a bit. Doubtless the garden will reveal new aspects, if only we’re present and paying attention.
Last time I went to London, I saw a lot of stone. And brick. And concrete. That's what visiting a city with architects will do to you. This trip, I went gardens all the way round.
One of the top spots on my list was the Queen Elizabeth Park, designed as the setting for the 2012 Olympics. It's a huge and slightly bewildering landscape - particularly on a Tuesday afternoon, there were only a few people wandering through paths designed to accommodate Olympic crowds. I'd like to see it when there's a festival on, with the spaces alive with hundreds of people and pets.
But, within these gargantuan spaces, there are some special plantings that make the transatlantic flight and long tube ride (plus traipsing through the Stratford Westfield) worth the effort. Nigel Dunnett, James Hitchmough, and Sarah Price have put together an amazing series of gardens within the frame of spaces devised by Hargreaves Associates.
There's a very detailed website for the gardens, with great informative chats with the designers, which is definitely worth taking the time to study in great detail. (It even has full plant lists for each panel, yay!) However, as a basic introduction, there are 4 panels along the river embankment which are designated the “2012 Gardens”. Each panel is a tapestry comprised of plants that represent different geographical regions: Europe, Southern Hemisphere, North America and Asia. In addition to these embankment gardens, there are a newer series of Pleasure Gardens directly around the stadium which were installed later under advisement by Piet Oudolf.
The Europe Panel is the farthest to the southeast and it completely bowled me over. There's no other way to put it. Clouds of giant yellow Scabious (Cephalaria gigantea) were anchored with pillows of Jerusalem Sage (Phlomis russeliana). And screaming through it all were masses of scarlet Maltese Cross (Lychnis chalcedonica). The sheer scale of these plantings, as well as the color echoing, were unlike any other perennial display that I've encountered. We’re all accustomed to gauzy diverse Oudolf-style naturalism. It's shocking to see a planting where plants are distributed, clumped and mingled, in a similar way - but with a more limited palette. The bold massing evoked that heart-tingle I get in my most thrilling moments observing plants in the wild.
Another quality that makes this panel so incredible is the immersive quality that comes from the plantings being placed on the angled beds of the riverside embankment. Hargreaves Associates often use highly sculptural earthworks in their projects. However, in their other projects, they've typically clad their tilted angular planes in mown turf. Witness the heavily publicized (in landscape architecture circles) Clinton Presidential Center here in Little Rock, Arkansas. At Olympic Park, the angular earthworks offer visitors the opportunity to see plants from below. It's a new angle that helps those walking through feel completely immersed in the plantings. Add to that the dangling butter yellow Scabious flowers dancing on wirey stems, abuzz with butterflies and bees.
The next panel is the North American panel. It hadn't erupted into full glory yet, with ripples of purple Salvia, burgundy Knautia and white Gillenia. Since the plantings were still low, the underlying structure of low arced boxwood hedges and tall multistem serviceberries (Amelanchier canadensis). This bed felt the most expected, strongly traditional contemporary naturalistic plantings. Following on, the next bed is the Southern Hemisphere Garden. These beds are topped with a gravel mulch, rather than a woody mulch like in the other beds. It also has the most unusual plant palette - mostly penstemon and dierama, with a few kniphofia glowing tangerine orange. I didn't get great pictures of this area, but Sarah has beautiful photos on her website.
The last of the four beds is the Asia panel. This bed has the most incredible foliage combinations: filigreed Thalictrum and Sanguisorba against a backdrop of grasses, Calamagrostis and Hakonechloa. This bed is composed of bright white and soft pinks against a backdrop of multifaceted greens. I'd love to see this bed in autumn when it’s swathed in Anemone and Persicaria.
So, what are the takeaways? First off, there's a great advantage to working with perennial beds as a series. That way, not all areas need to be in perfect condition at the same time. When one area’s plant palette is having a low moment, another area can be in full go. Secondly, it's worth investigating perennial groupings as really large masses. Any of us plant collectors want to jam as many different types of plants into a garden as we can. We often see really diverse perennial plantings in the large-scale naturalistic plantings that are now in vogue. But it can be more effective to work with a limited palette, especially if you’re just starting out. Thirdly, it's really effective to think about grouping plants by geographical origin. Plants that grow together in the wild often provide a great starting point for designed plant communities.
Lesson 4? If you're in London or even thinking about going to London, GO GO GO to the Olympic Park. It’s phenomenal.
One of my earliest memories is of being bundled up and taken to Gracemont, a local retirement home. It was a high-gabled, dark-painted house on a hill. We trundled up its long overgrown drive in our brown second-hand Savannah van. Scary for a 6-year old. My parents shoved single-stem carnations into my closed hand. “Give them out,” they whispered. There were only four of us then, four little boys in our striped shorts overalls with a big red embroidered train on the front.
I wandered through the crowd of old people in wheelchairs and cardigans. Some with eyes closed. Were they dead or just sleeping? Others trembled with Parkinson’s, while some muttered guttural nonsense. I remember my mum’s dress, tiny green-and-cream checks. I remember my father’s bashful smile. We handed those flowers out, stem by stem. Red, salmon, white carnations.
As a kid, I didn’t know what was going on. Now, I understand that my my parents wanted us to know how to give presence to people with different physical abilities - older people, people with physical and mental disabilities. We had to learn how to be around others with different experiences and abilities. We needed to value the lives of others with experiences different to our own. When the day came, and my own grandfather (contorted by Alzheimers and only a twisted shadow of himself) had to go to a care home, it wasn’t something new or scary. We sat by his chair, inhaling the funk of old people, and watching John Wayne reruns (volume turned up ridiculously high) on the small and grainy television.
I was jolted back to Gracemont a few days ago. “If what I’m inspiring you to do is go to the gym and say, you’re not like me, so you don’t have to face these barriers, that’s not the kind of inspiration [I want to provide].” Headphones in, coffee mug full, smug in my warm office, I listened to Becca Bunce's experience as a disability activist on the Guilty Feminist. “What does it inspire you to do? If it inspires you to go out and campaign to stop personal independence payment cuts to people, if it inspires you to make your events easier for disabled people to get involved, if you’re taking down the barriers, great! That’s great inspiration.”
As someone who designs both public and private spaces, I set up conditions for other people’s experiences of place. One aspect of setting up those experiences is physical ability. There are requirements enshrined in law - ADA guidelines, anyone? But, as a designer, it’s my responsibility to go beyond legal requirements to set up experiences that are joyous and surprising and beautiful for people across a spectrum of physical ability.
I love hiking and exploring. I wade through weeds and get my legs all torn up. My calves are still poison ivied from last weekend, when I jumbled through a brambly ditch to peer at some butterfly weed and wild delphinium. I take these experiences for granted (and blush super red trying to explain them to the tobacco-spitting pickup driver who pulls over to ask me if I need help). But I only have access to these experiences because of my relatively wide range of physical ability.
As a designer, I’m responsible to make places that bring joy and discovery to others who might be less able to get out into the wild. Design as activism gets backlash from privileged designers who can’t empathize with others of different physical abilities, political columnists who won’t acknowledge their own vulnerability, and clients who don’t see why universal accessibility will benefit them. As a designer, it’s my job to picture a more inclusive future. I can set up conditions for a garden to support enjoyment by people with a wide range of physical abilities. I can specify benches, keep slopes moderate, make a place easy to access and enjoy. Such efforts benefit everyone, not just people in wheelchairs.
By advocating for more accessible landscapes, designers can make a place at the table for people of all physical abilities. Just have a listen to Rebecca Bunce: “If you’re truly inspired by disabled people, you like being around them, you think they’ve got something good to say, you think that they can create change, then be inspired to go out and create those changes to get them in the room.”
My mom and dad didn’t have anywhere near this level of articulation in their desire to expose me and my siblings to people with physical and mental disabilities. But they got us in the room with them. If you, like me, feel that you could do more to support people with physical disabilities but don’t know how to start, here are some resources:
Few gardeners and designers have a full understanding of how plants are selected and produced for their landscapes. Plant selection is a core component of both food production and environmentally-friendly gardening, conversations around it are often politically and emotionally charged. Bring on the trigger words. Native. Hybrid. Heirloom. Enough to make the prudent run screaming in the opposite direction.
We’ve all seen the colorful catalogues and message board discussions claiming that hybridization and plant selection are the devil, a detriment to the environment and deeply disrespectful to god. After all, somebody’s to blame for the squat purple-leaf shrubs we see in every box store parking lot and the horrid mounds of annuals you see out front of golf courses. Plus the yearly round of pimped-out double echinaceas and weirdly colored heucheras.
Besides, we’ve all met the crazed hobbyist hybridizer. The bearded iris fiend, or rose fanatic, or daylily fancier. The numbers are staggering. The American Iris Society listed 30,000 registered iris cultivars in 2010. (that's Caroline Dormon's Louisiana Iris collection at Briarwood in the photo above, not quite 30,000 cultivars) 33,000 rose cultivars registered with the American Rose Society. 83,543 registered cultivars of daylilies on the American Hemerocallis Society Database. Nobody needs more than 83 daylilies. Much less 83,000. At least we’ll have a variety of daylily buds to eat in an apocalypse. (Plus the half-bag of dried daylily buds languishing at the back of my cupboard - romantically labelled “golden needles”)
So how do we actually go about defining these thousands upon thousands of plant selections. Most of us know genus and species. That’s the taxonomists’ area - and then once we’ve got used to a name, they change it up again. But plants are differentiated with varying degrees of specificity. It’s within the broad characteristics of genus and species that the real fun begins.
At the broadest level of selection, seeds can be collected from representative populations of a species - maybe wild-collected, maybe cultivated (photo above is of a white Rhododendron canescens that Caroline Dormon selected from a wild white population). Ecological restoration projects, and large-scale naturalistic landscape designs, often use open-pollinated seeds from regional populations in order to establish plantings that are both genetically diverse and physically adapted to regional conditions. You get a diversity of physical characteristics this way, depending on the species - variable heights, bloom times, colors.
Designers and gardeners can use the variability found within open-pollinated plants to their advantage. In From Art to Landscape, W. Gary Smith talks about using a color-variable seed strain of flame azaleas (Rhododendron austrinum) at Peirce’s Wood in Longwood Gardens. Since the plants were grown out as large specimens, Gary was able to selecting seedlings of varying shades and arrange them to create a gradient of color through the yellow to deep orange - offering a sensational effect of enhanced depth. By contrast, at the R.W. Norton gallery in Shreveport, Louisiana, an even wider array of flame azaleas are completely mixed up in giant random swaths with different colors, plant habits, and bloom times (photo above). This results in a constantly-shifting, almost kaleidoscopic effect, as plants of different colors come into and out of bloom.
At a more focused level of detail, you can collect seeds over several generations to establish seed strains that exhibit specific traits - usually height or flower color - and get a more stable population. As an example, consider the seed strains of butterfly milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa) “Hello Yellow” or tropical butterflyweed (Asclepias curassavica) “Silky Deep Red” and “Silky Gold”. With these populations, you can plant a mass - all yellow, all red - but the plants aren’t genetically identical. These changes in flower color don’t make any difference to the the monarch caterpillars that feed on the leaves. But if a gardener or garden designer wants to have a planting in a specific color range, they can get uniformity.
However, if you want to eliminate any variation in your plant selection - go asexual. Plants have this amazing ability to generate entirely new individuals from one bit of an original plant. You can cut a sprig of mint off the original plant and shove it in a pot. A few weeks later, you’ll have a brand new plant. For trickier (and more numerous) multiplication, we can do tissue culture and micropropagation. Every plant is genetically the same as the original plant (for example, if you wanted to propagate more of this very fine specimen of Rhododendron canescens var alba).
This is the method of plant selection that is most often maligned by garden naysayers. Asexual propagation is associated with so many trigger words: Cloning. Micropropagation. True Dolly the Sheep stuff. People say it’s “unnatural”. But plants disregard our human ethical concerns. Most employ their own aesexual propagation methods. Monardas send out runners beneath the soil. Honeysuckles root along their stems. Kalanchoe grow little plantlets along their leaf edges. Lilies make bulbils at each leaf junction along their stems. Plants aren’t binary - they propagate themselves any way they can, both sexually and asexually.
Too much aesexual propagation can cause problems. The Irish potato famine is the classic example. All the potatoes cultivated in Europe were derived from a very narrow gene pool susceptible to a virus. If the entire cultivated population is comprised of just a few cultivars - or even a single cultivar - the lack of genetic diversity in the population makes it highly susceptible to disease and pest stress. However, if you curate a wide diversity of plant varieties - open-pollinated seeds, seed strains, and cultivars - from different ecotypes, you’re helping maintain a wider gene base in your own garden. Studies at Sheffield University in the series Urban Domestic Gardens have offered a thorough exploration of urban garden flora and its role in supporting pollinator and other wildlife populations.
In addition to growing a wider mixture of plant selection types, gardeners can also begin to demand that breeders select for different characteristics. Right now, consumer demand has led to breeders choosing plants with bigger flowers, brighter colors and squatter habits than their parent species. Selecting for these qualities can - but doesn’t necessarily - affect a plant’s viability as food and habitat for pollinators and other species. A seedless sunflower offers no food for goldfinches. But a variety with differently colored flowers - dark red or pale yellow - may not affect the plant’s seeds at all. Through agriculture, humans have developed edible crops that offer enhanced nutritional value, are more flavorful, and are easier to grow - think of the difference between a wild carrot (Daucus carota) and those high-nutrient flavorful varieties (‘Purple Dragon’) we can grow in gardens today.
We could do something similar for “ornamentals”. Start selecting for different characteristics. No more double flowers, virulent neon colors, or blobby plants. Instead start selecting cultivars with characteristics that are beneficial to other species - berries with more abundant nutrients for birds, nectar-heavy flowers for butterflies, flower color that’s most attractive for hummingbirds. Phlox trials at Mount Cuba Center in Delaware revealed that certain cultivars were more attractive and had higher nutrient levels for pollinators than straight Phlox paniculata.
Despite the excesses which we see on box store shelves and sold out of cardboard boxes at local plant sales, don’t blame the plant breeders for those characteristics. It’s not the act of cultivation and selection itself that’s problematic. It’s that consumers buy short plants with large double brightly colored flowers. Stop buying those double rose pink impatiens and the breeders will turn their attention in other directions.
“Rocky, you see, lived down on Long Island somewhere, miles away from New York; and not only that, but he had told me himself more than once that he never got up before twelve, and seldom earlier than one. Constitutionally the laziest young devil in America, he had hit on a walk in life which enabled him to go the limit in that direction. He was a poet. At least, he wrote poems when he did anything; but most of his time, as far as I could make out, he spent in a sort of trance. He told me once that he could sit on a fence, watching a worm and wondering what on earth it was up to, for hours at a stretch.” (P.G. Wodehouse, “The Aunt and the Sluggard”, My Man Jeeves, 1919)
I haven’t watched a worm for an hour. But I have spent an entire afternoon laying on my back on a wide flat stone, staring up into the wind-stirred canopy of a vast white oak (Quercus alba). I've spent equally joyous afternoons robotically potting up hundreds of fragrant lavender, standing at the potting table eclipsed in a cloud of their resinous aroma. recariously Jumping over roadside ditches in attempts to grab photos of roadside larkspur (how else do I get these photos?). Or immersed in the wonderland of a Wodehouse story.
For me as a teenager, nothing could thrill me like the complete overflowing promise of joy brimming from Wodehouse’s stories. They offered endless sunny afternoons full of hilarious adventure. I especially loved his “creative class” characters. Rocky Todd the Long Island Poet who could watch a worm for hours. James Rodman who resists romance and writes mystery thrillers in Honeysuckle Cottage. Joan Valentine, the Home Gossip magazine editor who competes with her neighbor to steal a rare scarab from a country house. Lucius Pim, the arrogant and misogynist painter who gets run over by his girlfriend in a red two-seater automobile.
Of course, some of the stories seem dated now - and ignore the issues of race, class, and modern sexuality that we expect from serious literature. But a part of me still wants to be one of Wodehouse’s characters. An eccentric artist or writer, wearing comfy clothes, living in a tiny cottage out in the woods, bumbling around with like-minded friends. Sitting on the porch, watching the cars go by, smelling the honeysuckle. Sign me up.