Talk - 21st Century Gardens, by Penelope Hobhouse

Calling Penelope Hobhouse a gardener is a bit like calling William Shakespeare an actor. As well as working the soil she writes about gardens, lectures on them, designs them and studies their history. She has designed gardens in Britain, France, Italy, Spain, Germany and the USA. She has even designed a garden, with weird teardrop-shaped ponds, in Estonia. She has designed a garden for the Queen Mother, and the Royal Horticultural Society. She has written a history of Persian gardens, and one about Indian gardens, too. What Penelope Hobhouse doesn’t know about gardens, you could write on a piece of cherry blossom. Just make sure you write it stylishly.

I catch Penelope on the phone just before we go to press on Wednesday. Born in 1929 (in Northern Ireland) she’s got one of those old-fashioned upper class accents they don’t make any more. “I’m going to do my talk about gardens in the 21st century,” she says. “But in doing so I’m going to talk about what has influenced them. So I’m going to draw on the whole history of gardens, using Persian gardens and Indian gardens and Egyptian gardens as examples.”

“I’m going to start by reminding us what a garden is all about. And it is important to understand that this has changed over the years. A garden is a dialogue with nature. The original gardens were almost at odds with nature: they were a way of controlling nature. They were refuges, where you brought water to the desert and grew things where they wouldn’t normally grow. They were safe places where you could shelter from nature.” continued overleaf...

Hobhouse flowers: Penelope brings her green-fingered wisdom
to the Town Hall