The Pleasure Garden — Anne Scott-James

London Newspaper Group — CN/WPN 19-10-1979

The doers and the viewers

By Christopher Long

See Main Index

See Print Journalism Index

See London Newspaper Group Items

The rich tradition of English gardening is the result of a happy balance between those who love nothing more than to admire the beautiful creations of others and the others, thankfully, who don't mind doing the creating.

True, husbands and wives have been known to come to blows over demarcation lines, but over the centuries the balance has worked well enough, presumably, if England's gardens are anything to go by.

One married couple who have made it work for them at least live in Chelsea. They are Anne Scott-James, the journalist and broadcaster, and her husband Sir Osbert Lancaster, the cartoonist, who together have just produced a paperback version of their book The Pleasure Garden.

A happy and enchanting book, it traces the history and development of English gardens from the Roman peristyle to the 20th century patio.

Sir Osbert's contribution is in the large number of illustrations that have all the charm and whimsy that his fans have come to love him for, while Miss Scott-James has the happy knack of making the ignorant non-gardener feel less ignorant – while the expert will feel he's in worthy company. Which is quite true, for Anne Scott-James is indeed a gardening expert whose abiding love of gardens she has managed to combine with journalism and broadcasting over the years. She is the author of Sissinghurst: The Making of a Garden.

Sir Osbert's gardening knowledge is a little more limited. As he pottered about their drawing-room in Cheyne Court, his wife explained in a hushed voice there had been a problem or two over his illustrations.

"The fact is," she confided "that Osbert tends to be more concerned with the architectural form of plants as he thinks they ought to be. One feels his plants look right, look recognisable – but it's hard to put a name to them."

The idea for the book came from some drawings he did and grew from there.

Their 13 year-old marriage is a happy combination of talents. Although she finds it hard to describe him as house-proud she says his concentration is amazing. His cartoons in the Daily Express come as a result of reading all the papers at his office in Fleet Street where he goes every afternoon. The joke comes first and the drawing follows almost effortlessly afterwards.

While he's doing that, she has time to get on with her writing and interests which include fashion, current affairs, politics and a new book on cottage gardens.

Sir Osbert (still pottering round the drawing-room, looking for some papers he had lost) clearly occupies much of what time she has left. He needs a lot of organising, she says, as his perambulations take him out of earshot once again.

Speaking of Chelsea, Miss Scott-James says that coming here was like 'coming home to roost'. She and her husband had lived for some time in Eaton Square which she had found soul-less.

Chelsea was the only place she wanted to live in – loving the small streets, the richness of the architecture, the mixture of the population and the intimacy of it all.

But she is worried about Chelsea. Remembering the area from the days when she used to live in Bywater Street and Chelsea Manor Street, years ago, she is saddened that so many of the working-class and artisan houses are becoming so expensive that only the rich can afford to live in them.

"There was a time, not so long ago, when my daily used to live three streets from here, but not any more."

And, apart from the traffic in King's Road and juggernauts that she thinks should be banned, Chelsea has one other rich source of pleasure for Miss Scott-James. The little gardens and squares.

She is full of admiration for the efforts Chelsea people make with them. "The little front gardens in Christchurch Street, for example, are infinitely varied, but all pretty and well done.

"In a space of about five yards by four, there is a rose garden, or a paving and rock plant garden or a garden of bedding plants, and so on."

"Another thing I like is the way people with only an area in front contrive to have flowers on the house. Sometimes a wisteria is planted in a pot in the area which flowers when it comes to the light by the front door.

"One garden in Royal Avenue had, this summer, a pot on each side of the front steps, each planted with a Morning Glory. The two plants met in the middle over the front door and made a stunning arch of brilliant exotic flowers."

And even the police in Westminster come in for her praise. "I do like the flowers done by the policemen at Gerald Road Police Station", she says. "Hanging baskets, window-boxes, and all beautifully planted."

Of course, loveliest of all is the Chelsea Physick Garden, she says. "This used to be impossible to get into but now it is open several days a year to societies and interested people. For instance, there is an open day for members of the Royal Horticultural Society." (Of which she is the only woman Council member).

As our conversation drew to an end, and Miss Scott-James talked briefly of the two children that she and Sir Osbert each have from previous marriages, the creator of Maudie Littlehampton and other characters who have given readers of the Daily Express so much pleasure over the year, came and joined us from his pottering.

"You really should be interviewing Osbert," said Miss Scott-James. Sir Osbert's face lit up. Sitting down, he talked of Oxford where he had been a contemporary of Auden, Evelyn Waugh and his great friend Sir John Betjeman.

"Pure pleasure," he sighed. "I remember it all as pure pleasure – and I got a degree, an honest fourth, at the end of it."

Deciding not to practice as a barrister was, he claims, the only high-minded decision he has ever made and he appears to be proud of the fact that he can't even remember which Inn he was at.

Instead, he went to study art at the Slade and he has never looked back – except to regret that he can no longer obtain the Turkish cigarettes he loved in his youth. Since then he seems to have led a charmed existence that has given pleasure to himself and others. He is passionate about architecture, and advised the GLC on historic buildings.

He has an abiding love affair with Greece and has produced six books and two volumes of autobiography, not including the latest, The Pleasure Garden, written with his wife.

While she is out of the room, he tells me expansively that he's a good gardener and she returns just in time to hear him go on to say that it is he who does all the heavy work in the garden of their country house in Berkshire.

"I'm constantly out there doing the heavy stuff," he insists. "Don't believe him," replies his wife. "He enjoys standing and looking and he's not bad at pruning roses."

The Pleasure Garden, first published by John Murray in 1977, appears in Penguin Books this month, at £1.50.

See Main Index

See Print Journalism Index

See London Newspaper Group Items

© (1979) Christopher Long. Copyright, Syndication & All Rights Reserved Worldwide.
The text and graphical content of this and linked documents are the copyright of their author and or creator and site designer, Christopher Long, unless otherwise stated. No publication, reproduction or exploitation of this material may be made in any form prior to clear written agreement of terms with the author or his agents.

Christopher Long

Home Career Press Print Radio TV & Film 3rd Party Trivia Projects Personal Etcetera Sound Images Index