Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Social mobility

Guardian letters - 04 August 2009

For centuries this country has drawn on the ranks of the privileged when recruiting to top positions – only casting the net more widely when the demands of either empire or industry could not be met from the favoured source. Thus the increase in social mobility following the second world war was a direct consequence of post-war industrialisation, the technical demands of the cold war, the emergence of IT and so on.

Though social mobility appears to have been on the wane for 25 years or so, we seem only recently to have woken up to the fact. Could it be that there is some sort of link with the widespread loss of confidence in financial services, together with a growing awareness that, in responding to climate change, we face a scientific and engineering challenge of enormous magnitude?

I think we might see social mobility increase again, but I don't think it will owe much to Alan Milburn's report, however well-intentioned.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Natural gardening

(The latest Wormwood column from Horsley's Over the Wall magazine)

As far as the garden is concerned, Mrs Wormwood and I are keen proponents of what is known as the Natural Look.

Let me stress right away however that the creation of a truly natural garden entails hours of research, planning and execution. Not everyone will have the time or interest to explore this highly-specialised activity.

Take the lawn for example. While most people content themselves with a flat, tightly-cropped surface comprising a single species such as a fine-bladed fescue, we opted instead for a more sophisticated, distressed finish in which a rich diversity of grasses and small flowering plants are interspersed with patches of bare earth. Starting with a conventional lawn, that in essence served as our blank canvas, transformation to the present mature state called for patient attention over a period of several years.

A similar degree of care has been lavished on the boundary wall of our property which is just nearing completion and in which we have explored a different set of ideas. Here the underlying theme is a crumbling stone wall over which a delicate filigree of ivy, brambles and goosegrass has been skillfully woven into a single rich mat. The effect we were striving for and which, without undue modesty, I believe we can claim some success in achieving, is reminiscent of the paintings of the Pre-Raphaelites and in particular that great masterpiece of William Holman Hunt: Our English Coasts.

As far as the beds are concerned, we really let ourselves go here - playing with the idea of paired plants, in which individuals of one variety are set-off against a denser companion serving as a backdrop. Thus: foxgloves in a sea of nettles, comfrey bedded in ground elder and rose bay willow herb swaying gracefully over a cushion of chickweed.

As is the case with so many other areas of life, goals that are worth attaining don't come for free. To become a natural gardening expert calls for clarity of purpose and a willingness to let go of cherished patterns of behaviour.

'I think the idea sounds great' I hear you say, 'but I don't know how to take the first step.'

Well I've got great news for you and thousands of others like you: the Wormwood Wildgarden Workshop (www.www.com) - an intensive, hands-on tutorial that will teach you all you need to know about converting your own garden to the Natural Look.

Cost £50, Chairs provided. Bring a bottle.