Posted by: lialeendertz | March 11, 2010

Bread and roses

There has been an awful lot of pontificating on this blog and not much actual gardening, but recently I’ve actually been outside planting. Seeing as how I’m working 20 hours a day hurtling towards an impossible-to-meet book deadline this may seem unlikely. However – unlike cleaning – bare root plants in March will not be put off indefinitely, and so I have planted one plant a day, usually in the time it takes for the kettle to boil for my afternoon cuppa.

However, the pontificating habit dies hard, and if you will allow be a short pontificate I will tell you what I’ve planted. I have had a song in my head all week, partly inspired by International Women’s Day, and partly by the things I’ve been planting. ‘Bread and Roses’ was written about a textile workers strike in Lawrence, Massachusetts in 1912. Legend has it that the women strikers carried banners reading ‘We Want Bread, But We Want Roses Too!’ which this site takes as meaning ‘equal work together with special consideration as women.’ The line that most appeals is ‘Our lives shall not be sweated from birth until life closes; Hearts starve as well as bodies; give us bread, but give us roses!’, which I think means: we want food and subsistence, but we also want a quality of life that only art and beauty can bring. These are obviously not entirely female needs, but I think there is something about the way women and men traditionally garden that echoes this: men grew the big leeks (the least said about which the better), women grew the mixed cottage gardens.

I have been banging on here about forest gardens, and about how I am planting one and how they are going to save the world, all of which I do believe, but I do have a problem with them, and that is the way they look. Actually no, they are perfectly pleasant to look at – like somewhere you would go for a nice stroll, or a picnic – but they are not my idea of a garden. I have visited Martin Crawford’s forest garden in Devon and I have looked at this video (thanks to Anne-Marie Powell for the link) of Robert Hart’s forest garden in Shropshire, and while part of me thinks ‘Wow! Forward thinking and revolutionary!’ another part of me thinks ‘Garden? Really? Where are the dahlias?’

There are two problems, as I see it, with your average forest garden from a garden design perspective (get me): a lack of structure and not enough flowers. Everything is very green and leafy and similar looking and foresty. Now I could just get over my concerns, but I think there is a middle way: I want bread, but I want roses too. So over this last couple of weeks I have planted one apricot, one gage, one thornless blackberry, one kiwi, one hazelnut, one jostaberry, one fan-trained cherry, but I’ve also planted a Chusan palm which will provide a strong, bold leaf shape and will sit on the edge of my circular lawn (circular to avoid any hint of the accidental) which is bordered by my (nascent) box cloud hedge . There are other big and bold plants that will break up the green leafiness: a hardy banana, two paulownias, one Cercis Canadensis ‘Forest Pansy’, a Cotinus ‘Royal Purple’ plus a load of box topiary. Then there’s roses and agapanthus and the like. The idea is generally not to let the green and leafy stuff take over, to form a backbone that the edibles can hang around. The edibles will be the bread; the topiary, agapanthus and roses will be, erm… the roses. And perhaps even – if this isn’t straying too close to some kind of horrendous stereotype that will lose me all my new feminist friends – the edibles the male, the roses the female. It is only now, writing this down, that I realise how odd it sounds: subtropical foliage plants, roses, topiary, nut bushes and fruit trees. I hope it will work. In my mind it does. If I can find any time to actually do it, rather than just endlessly thinking about it, I will find out if this really is the way to have it all.



  1. I like the sound of your plan for the garden – edibles and ornamentals growing together in harmony – it’s a similar situation in my London plot. Good luck with the kiwi. I planted one about three years ago and have decided to get rid of it. The miserable plant has nice leaves, stems etc etc, but refuses to romp away like its supposed to.

  2. The garden sounds lovely. Nevertheless, I think of fruit and vegetables as female. Maybe growing them has been a mainly male occupation but I’d suggest the reason for that is that they need more space than flowers . . . which, in turn, means they are grown away from the kitchen door; whereas herbs / flowers have been grown nearer the house and women have been able to pop out to tend them in odd moments (while the kettle boils!). But when you think of other stereotypes about fertility, fecundity, usefulness, cooking etc. – fruit and vegetables have very strong feminine connections.

    As for forests and gardens – do gardens live on the edges of forests, rather than in them? . . . except sub-tropical gardens can be very foresty. Difference between ‘woodland’ and ‘forest’?

    Esther Montgomery

  3. I think that you have come up with, through design, what most of us gardeners have created by accident.

    Only have room for one or two trees so why not make them fruit trees. Only room for one climber -try a kiwi etc etc. Throw in a few herbs and without realising it your on the way to a semi forest / semi edible garden.

    Then we try to convince anyone that will listen that it was all part of a grand design.

  4. Another good post on a fascinating subject. This is a topic I am only just learning about and my first reactions after the ‘Wow, this is brilliant’ were that I won’t give up my flowers and that the list of perennial veg is lacking in a few ‘must haves’ – beetroit, parsnips, most of the brassicas. Plus I love the geometry of my potager and have worked hard to achieve it. I feel a steep learning curve ahead.

    I disagree with your analysis of male and female tendancies in the garden, but you have had enough hassle recently from feminists of ‘a certain age’, so I’ll let you off – this time! I look forward to further discussions of this topic both here and on my own soon to start blog ‘The view from the potting shed’

  5. Lia, sounds like your garden is going to be a delight and not just for the eyes alone. I’ve started a garden like that a few years ago. I’d been pining for one after I watched Geoff Hamilton create his ornamental kitchen garden on telly in early 1990s. Nowadays one calls it a potager but what a great invention it is. Happy gardening!

  6. Take a look at my All-in-One Garden book

  7. Good Lord lady, it’s like rooting for the Israelis and the Palestinians at the same time.

    I see no issue with the loveliness of your garden, just perhaps not a forest garden as such…where the plants are generally seen as being useful/edible in some way. That’s by no means meant as a criticism at all – i think you’re creating a pioneeering garden we will be seeing far more of in a decade or so – no lines between edible and ornamental, none of that ridiculous mini-farming of dull edibles most grow-your-owners go in for and a good healthy sprinkling of imagination. I disagree with SS – i think very few people create a truly integrated garden – most have different spaces dedicated mostly to one or the other, both usually filled with the usual suspects.

    Can’t wait to visit – something unique is afoot.

    Although you’re not getting away with the forest garden having ‘lack of structure’ and being mostly green – visit Martins again in summer and mine in a couple of years. And plant another kiwi – even the few self fertile ones like pollinating to give you more fruit. There, that’s told you.

    PS read a very good article the other day (obv forgot where) relating to Women’s Day and with some sadness recounting that there have been precious few (if any) feminist icons since the 70s. And they were all lezzies apparently. Oh no, it didnt say that last bit.

  8. Hmmm. OK. This is interesting.

    I have no problem at all with this not being a proper forest garden, in the sense Mark says about everything being useful/edible. I would probably say, if I was being poncey, that I’m trying to use forest garden techniques but in a more traditional garden setting. I do think it’s kind of different, but SS clearly doesnt. Ah well, you’re a step ahead of me, SS.

    However, I have a BIG problem with several of you implying it’s a potager. How on earth is it a bleedin’ potager?! The similarity is in the fact that a potager is trying to create a balance of pretty and edible, sure, but in a very, very different way, I think. Extra homework to all of you: go back and re-read all my previous posts. Oi, come back!

    Martyn – I think your garden is probably half-way there already, more than mine is in fact. We are not so far apart (apart from the, ahem, peat and the slug pellets, of course)

    Esther and Gilly – you are probably right re: male and femaleness in the garden. it is quite possible I’ve entirely thought this through. (very much looking forward to new blog, G. Hooray!)

    Mark – yes, I will obviously have to go back and visit Martin’s forest garden this summer, and yours the moment it’s ready for viewing, esp now I’ve semi slagged them off, but i stand by what i said about it not being very ‘gardeny’. It has its own beauty, sure, but it’s different. Not nearly enough topiary for my liking, for a start.
    And you’re lucky it’s now International Men’s Rest of the Year. You wouldnt have gotten away with that ‘lezzies’ remark on monday.

  9. So, is a forest garden a form of permaculture? I confess it is something I have only picked up on very recently so am a bit of a novice. Not that it is something I am ever likely to do – particularly in a pocket handkerchief in SW London. Or is that actually one of the best places? You see you have got me thinking & when I think I am very easily confused.

    Whatever, it aint a potager!

    Oh, & in our household sadly we seem to have fallen into the ‘traditional’ sort of gardening roles except that he doesn’t hold with big ones!

  10. like the notion of forest garden ideas into a garden..and this is why i think yr doing something new. it sounds more like permaculture broadened to include ornamentals, not just planting tulips next to chives. the ingredients dont matter as much as the imagination. Or maybe it’ll be shite…looking forward to finding out

  11. Oh, sorry. Of course you will have thought these things through. After all, you raised it. Just it had never struck me to think of plants as either male-associated or female before. Plants is plants. But your post prodded me to think “what would I think if I thought?” – so I thought on my feet – and thought some very surface things.


    • Oh dear, I meant to say ‘quite possible I’ve NOT entirely thought this through’. That sounded incredibly grumpy, and i didnt mean to be. Sorry! Good on you for coming back though.
      I think actually it is quite complex when you get into it, the structure – walls, topiary, hedges etc… – of the garden would seem to be a male thing, the billowing fluffy planting the female, in a Lutyens and Jekyll style. Reckon there are loads of different ways to look at it. And it’s late…x

  12. I am glad to read your reservation about forest gardens because it is just what I felt when I spent a while looking at them. I love them. I admire them but it isn’t quite what I am looking for. I want things to be useful and edible and beautiful and mainly but not exclusively native stuff because anything remotely exotic looks daft up here. A friend gave me a beautiful New Zealand fern and I am ashamed to say I was almost relieved when it didn’t make it through the winter because it looked quite wrong, despite my own connections with NZ which I kept trying to persuade myself made sense of its presence.
    Sorry, got sidetracked there.
    Potagers are great in the right place. Yours isn’t one. Neither is mine (mine is more of a mess).
    I want things that I will eat and love.

  13. They don’t have to be both edible and beautiful although that is perfection, some things can be just one.

  14. I think your garden sounds amazing. It’s the future (although it shouldn’t be – it should be the way we’ve always gardened) and for that I thank you for writing about it in your blog.

    I’m trying to make my garden self sufficient. I’m starting from scratch though so it will take a few years. It was paved over when I moved in. I compost everything – even the Christmas tree – and get cross with my mum for using her green bin when she doesn’t need to. I agree that a garden should provide for itself – and provide for us as much as possible, but it’s always nice to grow pretty things too isn’t it?

    But I don’t get that pretty should equal female and practical should equal male. Or that male and female are yin and yang. I believe gender is fluid, and on that theme that edible and ornamental should grow and flow together in a garden – as themselves not as binary opposites. I guess that makes me one of those feminist ‘lezzies’…

    • Thanks Kate,
      Yeah, the green bin thing annoys me too. I might get stuck into that next. I am fairly sure my male and female musings were not especially well thought out and I like your take. You may have hit the nail on the head there with the old ‘growing and flowing together’ malarkey. That’s what I meant to write.

      Oh, and I most probably should stress that my garden isnt at all amazing yet. You’ll notice: no pictures!

  15. Ms B – a forest garden is one of the techniques permaculturists are pretty keen on yes. My last post here goes into it in a bit more detail, if you’re interested. Personally I think it can be applied to a tiny garden, and that’s kind of why I’m doing it. This garden is not tiny, but a pretty average sized urban garden.

    Mark – at least we now have a good snappy name for it: a Permaculture Garden Broadened to include Ornamentals using Forest Garden Techniques (but in a Traditional Garden Setting). How can it not catch on?

    elizabethm – I know exactly what you mean about the exotic-looking stuff. I have thought a lot about this and have come to the conclusion that they work here, partly because we are in a city with attendant microclimate but also because we are just about in the south west, so I reckon I am allowed to borrow from Cornish gardens etc…where palms and such ‘big-boned plants’ have become part of the vernacular. I think you are spot on that in a wilder setting, or further north, they look out of place.

  16. It’s a potager, ornamentals + edibles = potager.
    If it’s not then you didn’t make yourself very clear, at least not to me. 😀 What often helps to get your point across is to put a pic or two on your blog, you know, the whole 1 picture says more than …..

  17. Living as I do in the colonies, the concept of permaculture or forest gardening hasn’t quite made it over here (although I do suspect there are many thousands of acres of forest gardening that haven’t had any human intervention not too far from where I live.) Alas, I garden for my own pleasure. I love growing interesting-looking (to me) veggies in among roses. I don’t call it anything other than my garden. Why not call plants androgynous & avoid cringe-worthy stereotypes?

  18. YolandaE – then so is a jungle and the middle of the tescos roundabout near me a potager!

    A few tulips thrown into this ( does not a potager make….

    And Kate, your continent is way ahead of us on permaculture…!

  19. Yolanda – if you crazy Dutch types want to put Chusan palms, plum trees and kiwi vines in your potagers, who am I to argue. I think there may indeed be a bit of wilful misunderstanding going on here, for some reason I cant quite fathom.
    As for pictures, they might help in some instances, but I am at the beginning of this; there is not much to see. And I quite like the challenge of having to do without, actually. Do the words stand up on their own or not? Clearly for you they dont this time. Happily for others they appear to. If you genuinely are interested in the forest garden principles that I find so exciting, click on the link in Mark’s answer above. It’s a great little vid, and only about 4 minutes long.

    Kate – You imply that I am being a bit grand, trying to look for meaning in all this. I have started this blog because I have had this stuff swimming around my head for years. I want somewhere to put it all down, piece by piece. I do have a tendency to think things through a lot, possibly over think and over-complicate things sometimes. That’s me. But this is my blog and if I can do it anywhere, it’s here. Somehow I havent got it quite right this time, it seems.

    Mark – thank you

  20. Lia. I didn’t see your previous blog so it’s the first time I’ve come across your writing.

    It has worked.

    It is perfectly clear.

    There’s a lot to think about – especially for people who, like me, are not only coming to these ideas for the first time but coming to know these things are there to think about.

    It’s a bit scary arriving at a blog where there is clearly a pre-history but . . . I went to bed thinking about this post . . . I woke up thinking about this post . . . I’ve been thinking about writing a post about this post.

    I suspect there is a pre-history about potagers that I don’t get and I don’t know what kind of run in you’ve had with feminists (which is one of the scary things because I am one) however . . .

    I’m sure you did get it right.

    I’m sure you don’t need pictures. Sounds a bit condescending to say you write well – but you do. I saw lots of things in my mind while reading your post. They may not have been the right things, of course . . . but hopefully, they were near enough to be going on with.

    Looking forward to reading more.


  21. Lia, A great read all around ~post and comments~ I like thought provoking conversations. You probably know of Rosalind Creasy’s edible landscapes…She’s been designing and encouraging gardeners to grow edible landscapes for several decades here in the states. They are luscious to look at and provide food to the gardener. Sustenance for the soul and body.


  22. This male does not want to be associated with the edibles!

    You found time to do all this and post and 20 hours writing?

    Best Wishes


  23. Esther – thank you so much. I was entirely losing the will to blog there, and you have totally restored it. And just so you’re not alarmed, the spat with the feminists was with my mum and a close friend, and all in good fun (I think).

    Hi Gail – I havent come across her, but I will definitely track her down. Sounds right up my street. And thanks.

    Robert – You can be a big manly hedge then. Mind you, you will go about signing yourself in as ‘Lesley’…
    20 hours is an exagerration, of course. I have to stop every now and then cos these pesky kids will insist on being fed and put to bed.

  24. I do like the sound of your garden, it sounds very leafy and I think will be lovely to have the shade of those big leaves in the summer

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