|Within the context of this case study of FACP dealing largely with the 'who and how' of publication, a detailed review of In Your Garden provides a tell-tale insight into the 'what and why' side of the Press' operations.|
Large-format, glossy gardening books with paradisiacal vistas, private and public, are in no short supply. Within such hard-bound tomes unfold series of high-quality photographs of relentlessly green lawns unfurling beneath whimsical topiary; regiments of Le Nôtre's grand sylvan avenues stand guard beside sweeping views of Capability Brown's tamed English wilderness. Elsewhere, inevitable white gardens bear witness to Vita Sackville-West's Sissinghurst, or floral colour-codings betray the touch of Gertrude Jekyll. Such volumes frequently appeal to the arm-chair gardener whose personal vision of the garden of earthly delights is more cerebral than pragmatic. At the other end of the spectrum, cheaply produced manuals for the hands-on gardener with planting guides and calendars appear on supermarket shelves at discount prices to be snapped up by the green-thumbed enthusiast at the same time as the odd litre of fish emulsion fertiliser.
Produced by The Fremantle Arts Centre Press in conjunction with Perth's Channel 7 charity appeal, Telethon, Dorrington's In Your Garden is a hybrid cultivar in every sense. In publishing this potential money-spinner FACP depart from their traditional literary focus, yet in no way do they betray their commitment to the local community. Firstly support is given to the children's charity, and secondly invaluable information is provided to the general public.
On another level the production of a volume devoted to gardening is a reflection of the growing worldwide sensitivity to environmental concerns. Oft maligned by Marxist historians as a metaphor for all that is wrong with Western society (weeds have a voice too...), the activity of gardening is now, just as much as ever, a highly political endeavour. To those concerned by environmental issues, Louis XIV's grand avenues of trees at Versailles symbolise the monarch's will to dominate both the land and his subjects. Although still impressive, the Sun King's artistic 'rape of the landscape' seems insignificant in comparison to the current destruction of the Amazonian forests. With the recent international talks on the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, and most Australian local councils now committed to some form of waste recycling program, it is increasingly apparent that world issues are local issues and that the actions of the individual can have global repercussions. Just as charity begins at home, caring for our planet begins in the backyard. Indirectly then In Your Garden engages with that debate, providing tangible suggestions as to how to reduce the demands on the world's resources through water-wise and intelligent gardening practices.
With its soft cover, smallish format, but high-quality finish, its entries devoted to different species with practical tips for successful cultivation, its colour photographs, its in-between price, In Your Garden is neither the bargain manual, nor the decorative coffee-table book. The content is a hybrid of the indigenous and the exotic. Designed specifically for the local gardener, a short, but informative, section entitled "Gardening in Perth" provides sensible general advice on how best to grow plants in Perth's "Mediterranean" climate. Wisely, Dorrington divides the metropolitan area into three broad gardening zones; coastal, Bassendean sands, and hills-Darling Scarp. This is particularly useful, as the prevailing weather conditions and soil types are sufficiently different in each of these zones as to determine success or failure with certain plant species. In the subsequent sections, trees, shrubs, creepers and climbers, are described in detail in terms of their features, flowers and cultivation requirements. Dorrington's decision to include only non-native species is motivated by a deliberate desire to redress the apparent abundance of information concerning Australian species. Nonetheless, this limitation in scope is somewhat disappointing for the gardening enthusiast wishing to gain the best of both worlds. And it is perhaps all the more surprising given FACP's strong emphasis on the promotion of things local. The cerebral gardener may be tempted to ascribe this eschewing of indigenous species to that well-known Australian blight: the cultural cringe.
With the non-professional gardener in mind, mostly hardy and readily available plants have been selected for description and, where appropriate, cultivars of particular merit are listed. The selection is fairly comprehensive and provides a broad range of possibilities for the average gardener. The information is clear, concise and not lacking in a certain quirky humour in its presentation. The cultivation tips sensible and realistic. Honest comment is made, for example, about the impossibility of growing rhododendrons by the seaside. There are one or two omissions; most notably "bloody pencil pines" (p.32) (cupressus sempervirens) for which Dorrington seems to have a particular aversion. Despite his personal dislike, this species does grow well in the Perth area and the long and slender form of the Italian cypress does complement the Tuscan style of architecture now in vogue in the western suburbs. To be fair Dorrington does suggest alternative species which will give a similar effect. His focus, however, remains very much that of the plantsman, not the landscape designer; little advice is given on how to succeed in harmonising the garden with the home. One noteworthy inclusion is the occasional mention of the locations at which particularly beautiful specimen trees may be seen in the Perth area; the flame trees of Midland for instance, or the lagerstroemias outside the Old Mint.
As for Jeff Dorrington himself, in 1990 he started The Rare Tree Company, a plant nursery specialising in hard to obtain plants. He falls into the category of celebrity gardener, of which Perth has a handful including John Colwill and Neville Passmore. He has a regular gardening spot on Channel 7's "Today Tonight" current affairs programme. He is known for his practical and commonsense gardening tips, and his money-saving horticultural shortcuts.
All in all, In Your Garden is an invaluable guide for Perth gardeners, low on theory, but high in practical tips and useful advice - just the thing for those with green thumbs who aren't afraid to get their hands dirty. Its clear photographs and small format make it ideal for slipping into a jacket pocket before heading off to the local nursery. A useful contribution to the re-greening of Australia project.