TELEVISION / Top seed

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The Independent Culture
WHEN IT comes to gardening programmes I'd rather watch grass grow, frankly. But An Englishwoman's Garden (BBC 2) is something a little different more social history than seed distances and mulching advice. In its film about Nancy Lancaster and her garden at Great Hasely, it delivered a portrait of life as a walled garden - patiently cultivated, graciously maintained and almost magically detached from the outside world - an enchanted space protected from the weather by a masonry of money and social connection.

It was, in its way, as beautiful a construction as the garden she now presides over, a classic demesne of topiary and sward, trees and borders which attracts swarms of genteel English ladies to coo and copy. Nancy Lancaster herself is a hybrid, a typical English rose who turns out to have been lifted from Virginia and transplanted. Part of her success lay, it seems, in getting the English to unbend a bit without getting round-shouldered - she apparently pioneered the introduction of carpets into bathrooms which, while not exactly in the Nobel Peace Prize league as an achievement, has probably done more for human happiness than several Booker winners.

Applied to the landscape, the same principle results in formality with fuzzy edges, a recognition that order can be best appreciated if it doesn't have a deathly severity (the current owner of Hasely recalled being surprised while trimming a border to a spartan edge; 'a border should be like a petticoat' she was advised in tones of benign command). Applied to interiors, it results that tidy clutter that stylists work for eight hours to achieve.

Lancaster herself was very likeable - modest about her achievements, honest about her luck and cheerfully pragmatic about her prospects - she is 95 now and refuses to spend money on a more comfortable bed on the grounds that 'I can't possibly live more than two years, I can't possibly]' I wasn't so sure about her admirers, though, who seem to have succumbed to that peculiar form of sycophancy brought on by privilege gracefully assumed. 'You have a talent for living,' gushed one off- screen courtier. 'That's what you taught us,' added another, 'how to get pleasure, and have joy and comfort in one's life.' A goal which is not to be sneered at, of course, but is perhaps a little easier to attain for those who can afford to employ a butler who gets up to record the dawn chorus so that you can listen to it over your breakfast coffee.

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