RHS Wisley prairie meadow
I am in awe of writers who come up with the perfect title for a book. I find titles either appear in my brain from nowhere or have to be thrashed out, with idea after idea struck off a list (and when that's done, sometimes a title then appears from nowhere, as though it was just waiting all along to be found). Two of my very favourite book titles are Metaphysics as a Guide to Morals and The Unbearable Lightness of Being. The first I bought because I truly wanted to be able to say I'd read it - but couldn't. The second I have read, just not in a linear start-to-finish way.
RHS prairie meadow
Although I often wonder what 'the unbearable lightness of being' really means, I am equally drawn to the idea of a 'bearable lightness of being'. For me this had become a way of describing a moment of true lightness of being when something - a place, a feeling, a mood - has a wonderfully ethereal, delicate, timeless quality.
I experienced it again at the weekend, when Simon and I went to Wisley to look at the Tom Stuart-Smith landscape. We'd seen it plenty of times but as we'd been to his own garden the week before, I'd been to the exhibition of his work at the Garden Museum the day before, and during the week I'd read his book, this time we were going a little better informed. So I was well prepared for the amazing sweep of curving beds, the beautiful and often towering perennial planting that moves so gracefully in the wind. But I hadn't seen the relatively new prairie meadow next to it (shame on the RHS for not trumpeting this on its pages).
T S-S's garden
This meadow has been planted by Prof James Hitchmough (who also works with Tom Stuart-Smith who is also in the process of planting a prairie meadow in his own garden). And it is one of the most sympathetically and intelligently planted, beautiful, special pieces of landscaping I have ever seen. If I could open my back door every day onto such a meadow full of happily co-existing, ground-covering, colourful plants like this, I think I would have to be tethered to the ground like a hot-air balloon, in danger of feeling so light that I would lift off.
What makes it so special is that it feels so right. There are no contorted plants, no playing games with nature. It just is as it is, and as it should be. I could have stayed all day, in a little bubble of lightness of being.
Tom S-S's garden
The only downside of a prairie meadow is that it is very difficult to do justice to it in photographs. From a distance it looks like a jumble, and close up it is looks sparse (ironically). It requires a meandering walk along the paths to really appreciate it, to get the idea of place and planting. It's gardening with and not against nature, and it makes enormous sense. I have no doubt that we should all be considering a gardening style that has at its core a 'bearable lightness of being'.