In his seventeen years at Huntingbrook Garden, Jimi Blake has cut a dash through the traditional herbaceous border, the shrub border, the woodland garden and is leading the way in Irish horticulture with his innovative approach to gardening, with his new plant trials and introductions but, most of all, in the manner in which he has made gardening such fun and such a joy.
After his training at the National Botanic Gardens in Glasnevin, he went immediately to Airfield Garden in Dublin and transformed it from an old garden in decline into one of Ireland’s leading gardens. From there he moved to home ground, a twenty-acre section of the family farm in Co. Wicklow and started a new garden from scratch – named “Huntingbrook” as the stream running through the property was so named in an old map.
The garden was only part of the Huntingbrook adventure for Jimi quickly expanded his activities into gardening classes, lecture tours at home and abroad, guided garden holidays, travels in search of new plants – in the wild and in nurseries, supper evenings, yoga, meditation and on and on in a seemingly unlimited supply of energy and enthusiasm.
“Obsession” is the word chosen for the book title but I feel only because “love, enthusiasm and hard work” would have been too long for Jimi’s work in the garden – as so very well outlined in this book – is one of constant work, of constant assessment, of constant change, of constant trial and experimentation in a search for what he considers the beautiful garden. Noel Kingsbury, the co-author, comments, “many gardeners replant, replan and rejig until they reach some sort of satisfaction, the leave it. Jimi does not do this…for him satisfaction is somehow boring”. And Helen Dillon comments, “Jimi’s his own man. He is a true original – I’ve never seen him copy anybody. But his focus is the plants; he’s not interested in structure. He manages to do the magic, entirely without structure, quite extraordinarily so.”
Jimi’s garden has always been challenging to me. I am of an older generation and like structure and order in my garden, a sense of development and progress, of permanence and ease. Jimi’s garden is one of excitement, of ever-change, of innovation, of novelty so that this year’s garden may well be quite different to last years. It is entertaining, sparkling – funky, even and this sparklingly colourful book perfectly reflects Jimi’s work at Huntingbrook. Those who love the garden, will love the book for it too is bright and cheerful, colourful and visual, somewhat along the line that Noel Kingsbury uses to describe the garden – like a Californian relative at a country wedding!
After an introductory section, with background on Jimi’s journey in gardening, there are sections on the various areas within the garden, features on selected plants and a Plant Directory, all lavishly and extensively illustrated with excellent photography from Richard Murphy and Bernard van Giessen. The balance of the book leans heavily toward image, illustration and outstanding photography while the text is concise, insightful and perfectly informative and captures the essence of this garden – that it is dynamic, exciting and with a certain, who know what next year will bring? Whatever it brings, I am certain it will be interesting and beautiful.
On a personal note and as an aside from my review of the book, I am delighted that an Irish gardener and an Irish garden have been featured and highlighted so perfectly well in this excellently produced and attractive book.
[A Beautiful Obsession, Jimi Blake with Noel Kingsbury, Photography from Richard Murphy and Bernard van Gieesen, Filbert Press, 2019, Hardback, 224 pages, £25, ISBN: 978-1-9997345-2-7]