Jimi Blake’s book 'A Beautiful Obsession' is a very special read this Christmas
The great thing about a gardening book is that it can fit the bill for both the hands-on, hard-working gardener, who actually does things out in the garden, as well as the more laid-back, armchair type, the virtual gardener, the one who dreams about gardening and beautiful plants rather than practicing it and learning how to mind plants.
There are always books that will show you how to practice the craft better, describing the techniques for pruning trees, clearing weeds, planting vegetables and dividing asters. As a rule, the RHS or Royal Horticultural Society books are a good body to look to for practical books like this. They produce and constantly update their Encyclopaedias of both plants and gardening techniques. These two books are, in essence the bibles of practical gardening, comprehensive and reliable in the advice they pack.
But the more passive admirer of gardens and plants needs to be served too. There are people who adore visiting gardens, public and private. Doing this with a bit of extra knowledge, picked up from the the leaves of a pretty coffee table book makes visiting more satisfying and enjoyable.
A book that will keep both sorts of garden lover happy is ‘A Beautiful Obsession – Jimi Blake’s World of Plants At Hunting Brook Gardens’ by Noel Kingsbury and Jimi Blake (Pub Filbert Press).
Kilkenny gardeners will know Jimi Blake well. He is one of the most highly renowned gardeners in both this country and beyond. He has spoken here several times, bringing his garden to Kilkenny audiences in slide shows and talks. His plants person’s courses are also familiar to many of us, bringing enthusiasts back to attend his courses, year after year, to learn from this master of gardening.
Jimi has been working on the book of his garden with well known garden writer Noel Kingsbury, for several years. Photographs were taken of the exotic flower beds and woodland garden through the seasons, capturing the singular beauty of Hunting Brook from spring to deep winter. Using these beautiful photos, we see the story of the garden and Jimi’s development of it rolled out in an engaging and entertaining way.
Jimi came back to start a garden on the family land in Blessington about twenty years ago. He had cut his teeth on the well known Airfield Garden in Dublin, but the garden he created Hunting Brook owes nothing to any other garden I can think of in this country. It is a garden that influences rather in influenced. Jimi has a free-flowing mind and a style that means that his twenty-acre garden constantly changes and morphs.
The book ranges from a history of the garden and its talented maker, to advice on how to work with different types of plants in unusual ways. It is full of the sort of information that other gardeners will be able to pick from as well as being a simply handsome wander through an exquisite place through the year.
This is an attractive book that will provide happy reading for many hours for the armchair gardener, snugged up in front of the fire, as well as for the hard working labouring gardener, in for a bit of sós – and maybe some inspiration - from the cold or rain.
The photos bring you through Jimi’s extraordinary creation. So I would highly recommend reading it before making a visit to the garden itself.
In the end however, I predict that this book will become a record of a place that was rather than is. The word obsession was well chosen for the title. Jimi is a restless plant and design obsessive. The garden at Hunting Brook that was ten years ago is not the garden that was five years ago. Nor was the garden of five years ago the same as the garden this year, when the book came out.
I predict that the garden of five years from now, will probably be quite different again. One day, probably quite soon, this fine book will be the record of a lost garden, one that was. It will have been replaced by yet another wonderful Jimi creation. In the meantime, the book is available in the Book Centre in Kilkenny.
If you have a real Christmas tree, remember to keep it watered over the next two weeks or so – assuming you have it in a holder that can be filled with water. You will need to top it up once every few days. The water will help the tree to keep its leaves for longer. The pins will fall eventually and when they do, do not waste them. They can be swept up and used to mulch any acid loving plant you have, from rhododendron to magnolia and heather.