Thursday, January 19, 2012

Ancestral Voices

Within me is an inclination to be following, through books, mid-20th century British culture.
For whatever circumstantial reasons, it was a culture delighting in its newfound voice, a massive heritage and emerging media.
I come across a network of often eccentric personalities expressing themselves through interconnected art-forms.
James Lees-Milne ( 1908-1997 ) appears to have been born to write about Britain's glorious architecture, being acquainted with the lives that inherited or were informed by the finest of it.
And what has this to do with gardening?
To me, it's all about the recognition of surroundings, and of making commitments strong enough to rescue them from threat.
Gardeners, I presume, are fighters, building or defending their sense of sanctuary. The world we live in is often ruthless and self-serving: art, buildings, nature and gardens are vulnerable. To garden, to cultivate anything of worth, is to rebel against meaninglessness, to preserve a space from chaos, or, at least, to negotiate some sort of sustainable deal with chaotic forces.
"Ancestral Voices is the first  of three volumes of a diary James Lees-Milne kept from 1942 to 1947 when he was employed to inspect historic buildings offered by their...owners to the National Trust. Lively, frank, witty, sometimes scandalous, it is immensely entertaining reading." - from the back jacket; with grateful thanks to the estate of James Lees-Milne and Faber and Faber.


  1. i like the way you put it , Faisal. that about what gardening means...
    you make me wanna be a better gardener : )

  2. Thanks, dear Demie. You already have the hands of a gardener, I'm sure.

  3. As to your expressed concept of garden, see if your library has Rambunctious Garden. Hope this link works:

  4. I've had a brief look at this James. It might be easier in other continents, to suggest that nature is ever-changing, and that all we are doing is participating in the process, just accelerating the inevitable. But here, this continent is very old, and its first peoples made very little impact on it in 60,000 years. I am suggesting that Man ( alright 'people' ) has interfered to a degree that is now at red alert. Humanity is now no longer aware of how to slow down, being so obsessed with its own importance? futurity? god-likeness? Yes, Nature changes, and yes, we have evolved to a considerable degree, so much so that our designs must be made real. But what matters to me is the heart of what we're doing. Are we treating the world around us with love? No.
    The crux of any design issue is not how we can impose our will, but how we respond to the life given to us. It is imperative that life is loved, not that it is controlled.

  5. Faisal, I haven't finished reading the book so can't respond as to it's message. But I think it may be that all landscapes are cultural landscapes. There is no such thing as a pristine, untouched landscape. I remember Billy Martin, in his Vista lecture, talking about, I think, the "fire stick culture" of the native people of Australia, and how that changed the landscape. But I agree with you. This gets to something William Faulkner wrote about (or around): that the concept of personal ownership of land is a corrupt one. I realize that there's is a big jump from that to nuclear holocaust, but it's certainly a possibility in our world, or perhaps other things as bad or worse. Perhaps my apocalyptic fantasies are getting out of hand.