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No 'English' roses please or why I prefer the jungle!


By Raquel


The blogs and comments I’ve read about people buying ‘English’ roses and other plants and wanting an English Cottage Garden really make me think about the obsession we often have with replicating things that we admire from elsewhere. Having grown up on the East Coast, I’ve observed there is a bit of an obsession with all things English, not that that is bad, but to me, personally, it gets a bit tiring. I can admire the image of an English garden, but I don’t want one. It seems to me to be too rigid.

Now that I live in Texas, I find that there is still that fascination with the English, but also a desire to copy the Mediterranean or Mexican – maybe it’s better to say, Spanish style colonial houses and gardens.

Having been born in El Salvador, and going back often, I can tell you we are a bit obsessed with American style plants and gardens (notice my mother’s stubborness in planting azaleas in a sub tropical climate!). It’s not as bad as trying to grow tulips in Houston, but still!

Of course in El Salvador gardens often seem rather “messy” by comparison. Take my grandfather’s farm. It has fruit trees, and coffee plants, and banana plants and now my father has planted noni, and God knows what else, and the plants have their own place yet at the same time, when you see them from afar, the whole thing appears chaotic, and in some ways it is. The coffee plants, after all, have to have shade, so they’re planted among taller trees, the fruit trees are mixed hapzardly, a mango tree next to an orange tree next to two ‘naranja lima’ trees, all planted about 38 years ago when we were born – because my grandfather wanted us, his grandchildren, to have fresh fruit. When I first saw an American farm in Virginia I was amazed at the orderliness of it. The same when I see pictures of garden estates in European countries, not only the UK but also France, Spain etc. It amazes me how the plants are put in orderly rows, in little squares and walkways etc. I admire it, yet something in me rebels against it.

Yet it is easy to feel that – especially when you come from the supposed “third world” – you must also be that neat and orderly in the garden. I was puzzled at the ‘messiness’ of my grandpa’s farm (even though I delighted in it, we used to walk around the farm and think it was always an adventure, you weren’t quite sure what you’d come across) until I read about the Native American tradition of “replicating” the jungle in their cultivated areas. The messiness was done on purpose!! aha!! There was a point to it, and it was to keep it as close to the natural jungle as possible but with the ability to harvest and to manipulate the plants to suit their needs. It all made sense. What’s trying for me is understanding why we do things because so much (especially in El Salvador) of the Native American culture has been lost – or rather not lost but modified and the reason for it has been left shrouded in mystery. We do things and we don’t know why.

When I first spoke of my container garden there was someone who wrote and said something to the effect of going from ‘concrete to jungle’ and that has stuck with me. I like the idea of an urban jungle. =)

Since I try to buy my plants as cheaply as possible, I’ve never bought an ‘English’ anything! My roses, cute ans they are, and as much of a headache as they give me, are ‘mutts’ – hybrids of who knows what parentage, and miniatures at that!

It’s too bad that nurseries and garden centers and catalogs are trying to cash in on the obsession a lot of people have with all things English.

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More power to you Raquel > As an English gardener I wrote the blog concerned that a) gardeners in US/Can were getting ripped off by the English tag on plants b) these plants were being exposed to very different climatic conditions and this would make them harder to establish c) your own plant heritage may be lost.Dont get me wrong we Brits are flattered by the esteem many of you seem to have for us but as gardeners we should be looking out for one another and dont like to see anyone get ripped off and disappointed.

8 May, 2008


When you see my posts in this site Racquel please be sure that you don't think of me as being one who is on an " obsession " list for Americans who are obsesed with English Cottage Gardens as that is far from the truth. I simply like the look and I adapt it to suite myself. I find it interesting that the look of an English Cottage Garden is very much like the look of an " urban jungle " as you say, very much like the back door gardens that the Pilgrims had here in the early days of the USA and also like container gardens on patios or balconies. Plants crowded together in small spaces.

9 May, 2008


My planting philosophy is not to go for a certain style but rather to grow things that are suited to my soil and weather conditions. Certain parts of the garden could therefore be called 'English' style because I am growing things that have been grown in England for many years. But other parts have a more cosmopolitan look as milder winters tempt me to try more exotic plants from warmer climes - South African and Australian for example. Having recently returned from a trip to Kazakhstan, no doubt I shall be adding plants from the mountains there as well in the not too distant future.
Style? No. Enjoyment? Yes.

9 May, 2008


I must admit, I'm not really aware of what an English style garden is, even tho I live there! In my mind, a 'cottage garden' is one that consists mainly of plants that are native to the British countryside ( or Europe) - poppys, foxgloves, Verbascum, cornflowers, corn marrigolds, etc, etc, plus vegetables and herbs. Surely, tho, the layout of your garden is a mixture of your personal taste and your own climatic conditions? When you say an English garden is too 'rigid' this intrigues me even further - you obviously have formed a perception, but what is it?! I think maybe you are thinking of the gardens of stately homes - formal layout, topiary, lawns, statuary, etc. In fact, these styles originated in Europe hundreds of years ago and were copied by the British gentry, then Capability Brown swept most of them away and the ones that were left were eventually swooped upon my conservationists and put into a kind of 'timewarp' whereby they cannot progress or develop into anything else. Anyway, I think I'm rambling.........

10 May, 2008

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