Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Monty Don’

As someone who came to the study of landscape history from a love of flowers and gardening, I write surprisingly little about horticulture. So, to make amends, this whole post is about some of the plants we saw on our recent trip to the southern Indian state of Kerala.

Up in the Cardamom Hills, we toured a delightful spice plantation (apparently the one featured in Monty Don’s TV programme Around the World in 80 Gardens). Our guide not only showed us the plants, but let us taste and smell and feel the spices, all of which were grown organically. We often struggled to guess what they were, given how unfamiliar we are with the plants that produce even well-known flavourings.

The cocoa tree (Theobroma cacao) is not native to India but thrives in the Kerala climate. Its flowers and beans grow directly from the trunk.

The cocoa tree (Theobroma cacao) is not native to India but thrives in the Kerala climate. Its flowers and the chocolatey beans grow directly from the trunk.

Young flower buds on a clove tree (Syzygium aromaticum).

These are the young flower buds on a clove tree (Syzygium aromaticum).

Ripening coffee beans. Coffee has been grown in India for centuries.

Ripening coffee beans. Although not native, coffee has apparently been grown in India for centuries.

Cardamom flowers and seeds are produced at ground level on a large herbaceous perennial (Elettaria cardamomum).

Cardamom flowers and seeds are produced at ground level on a large herbaceous perennial (Elettaria cardamomum).

Workers harvesting black peppercorns from the vine Piper nigrum.

Workers harvesting black peppercorns, which grow on the vine Piper nigrum.

One of the ornamental plants grown at the spice plantation, this is Thunbergia mysorensis, commonly known as the ladies shoe plant or clock vine. It is pollinated by sun birds.

One of the ornamental plants grown at the spice plantation, this is Thunbergia mysorensis, commonly known as the ladies shoe plant or clock vine. It is pollinated by sun birds.

The holy cross orchid,  Epidendrum radicans, which is commonly grown in Kerala.

The holy cross orchid, Epidendrum radicans, which is commonly grown in Kerala.

While much is changing at a frantic pace in India, many traditions around spices remain, and they are still usually sold loose, scooped from open baskets into paper packets. The smell of the uncovered spices in large markets, such as the one in Old Delhi, can be almost overpowering.

Indian spice market, c1875. Image from 19cphoto.com.

Indian spice market, c1875. Image from 19cphoto.com.

The spice market today in Old Delhi

The spice market today in Old Delhi.

Many of the hillsides in Kerala are covered in a single plant – camellia senensis, the tea bush. It is native to parts of India, but apparently was not cultivated commercially until we Brits arrived and, in typical colonial fashion, brought in other Europeans to establish and run large tea plantations. The climate in Kerala is perfect for tea production and the young buds and leaves can be harvested more or less throughout the year, which means constantly clipped shrubs cover the hillsides like vast mad parterres.

Tea plantation near Thekkady, Kerala.

Tea plantation near Thekkady, Kerala.

It is easy to take evocative photos of the female tea pickers with their baskets and colourful clothes among the bright green plants, but the work is slow and hard and the conditions sometimes murderously grim. As with the spices, practices do not seem to have changed much in two centuries, although sometimes now the pickers, instead of pinching out the tips of each branch, use scissors to collect the young leaves. Certainly when we were taking these photos, all we could hear was a gentle snipping sound.

Tea pickers in Kerala today.

Tea pickers in Kerala today.

Tea pickers in the 1880s. Image from oldindianphotos.in

Tea pickers in the 1880s. Image from oldindianphotos.in

India today is the world’s biggest consumer of tea, most of it drunk as the splendid sweet, milky version known as chai, which is boiled up in vats in every Indian market, often flavoured with cardamom, and sold in little cups for a few rupees. One of the less appealing signs of progress is that the cups used to be made of clay, and would be discarded after a single use, gradually to decompose back into the soil. The practice of throwing them on the ground remains today – but the little cups are now plastic, and are strewn as litter in every Indian town.

An Old Delhi chai-wallah at work.

An Old Delhi chai-wallah at work.

Read Full Post »

I wrote here about the fascinating experience of working on a television history of French gardens, presented by Monty Don.

The programme, called Gardens of Power and Passion, will air this evening on BBC2 for UK viewers. I’d love to hear what people think.

image001

Read Full Post »

One of my more exciting projects over the past few months has been providing consultancy advice to a forthcoming BBC TV programme on the history of French gardens, presented by Monty Don.

Monty Don filming at the Jardin Plume for his French Gardens series. Photograph by Historic Gardens Review editor, Gillian Mawrey, who worked with me as consultant on the programme.

As a writer and lecturer on historic gardens, it has been fascinating to work on familiar topics in an utterly different medium. I’ve come (grudgingly) to accept that the BBC understands what looks good on screen. They had pressed for more flowers, more colour, more prettiness, and I had resisted, thinking that the sumptuousness and scale of Vaux or Versailles did not not need tulips to enliven it. But then seeing the first cut of the film, I suddenly understood how the camera loves detail – how single roses and fountain spouts and statues and potted orange trees just play so much better than mile-long vistas and vast canals that, however much they dazzle in real life, seem flat and unimpressive on screen.

I’ve come to appreciate the luxury of writing a book or an article where, if at any point you find a gap in your narrative or a fact that starts to seem questionable, you can undertake more research and expand or amend your material. But for television, once the visits are complete, the filming done, that’s it. If, as you edit the film, you realise that an important trend is not sufficiently captured, or a mistake occurs in a key piece to camera, or indeed if spectacular monsoon-style rain has all but scuppered your efforts at outdoor shots of Versailles, there is little prospect of supplementing or correcting the material. You have what you have, and the programme has to emerge from that.

One other thought. It is easy to criticise such programmes as simplistic, as not offering enough detail or background. But I saw how television requires you to sum up complicated ideas and concepts in a sentence or two. It is a skill I struggled to acquire. How to explain the gradual, late eighteenth century shift from Le Nôtre’s structural and geometric gardens to the quirky French interpretations of informal English style? In a book, you could linger over the impact of pre-revolutionary fervour, discuss Republicanism and Romanticism, muse on Rousseau and Ermenonville, describe and display the influence of chinoiserie, and in this and other ways slowly tease out the gradual evolution of those characteristic jardins à l’anglaise. But, in an television programme that needs to cover 500 years of gardening history in an hour, you have only a few seconds of voice-over to make the link. I admired the production team’s willingness to work and rework such moments until we all felt comfortable with what was being said.

It’s not the programme I would have made – and doubtless no worse for that. It’s prettier, and simpler, and occasionally missing information that might have been useful. But it’s also an admirable attempt to capture the history of some of the finest gardens ever made, and I look forward to seeing the final version broadcast next Spring.

Read Full Post »

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 199 other followers