It was quite easy to get up William Robinson’s goat and one sure way was to misunderstand what he meant about the Wild Garden. It’s lucky he wasn’t able to hear Carol Klein on Great Lives saying that she loved the idea of a wild garden, just as William Robinson recommended. She was honest enough to admit that she didn’t actually know what his views were, but said that the idea of letting her garden grow wild really appealed to her. Carol Klein’s idea of a wild garden is nothing like William Robinson’s, as he repeatedly had to explain, all through his career, to his intense irritation. This is what he wrote in 1872, soon after the publication of his book ‘The Wild Garden’:
“A Lady correspondent has asked what is meant by the term “Wild Garden”, which is new to her. The Wild Garden is one where we plant, but do not mow, or rake, or trim, or stake; and wild gardening simply means the substitution of beautiful hardy plants for the weeds and brambles which cover such a comparatively large surface of ground near every country seat. It does not mean any interference with the cultivated or trimly-kept parts of the garden. It does not in any sense mean the giving of a wilder or a rougher aspect to portions of gardens designed to be “kept” in the ordinary way“.
You can sense the same feeling of irritation when he had to make the same point 36 years later, in his book on Gravetye Manor:
“The Wild Garden means the adornment of the ground away from the garden. Writers who approach the subject from the architectural side suppose that it means a new phase of gardening around the house, whereas it has nothing to do with that. It may be carried out in all sorts of positions, such as rough banks, old lawns, orchards, hollow ways and barren ground, or any suitable place in woods or along woodland rides, in any turfy or woodland situation outside the garden and away from it altogether“.
I’m sure that no-one will complain, except perhaps her nearest and dearest and anyone who might chance to visit, if Carol Klein wants to let her garden grow “wild”, but she really shouldn’t say that it was all William Robinson’s idea. The photo shows the garden at Gravetye Manor as it was in William Robinson’s day. This is the very formal garden which he saw from his breakfast room every morning. His “wild garden” was tucked away well out of sight.