drains became water flumes that my sister and I could ride down the valley. Violent weather now holds a deeper threat and its awe is more savage.
Coming to England was in its way as disconcerting as the move from jungle to desert. We arrived in the Big Freeze of 1962, one of the coldest winters on record in the United Kingdom. My parents rented a house without central heating and then, after a year, left me in a boarding school that was equally casual about the cold. But I became captivated by bonfires, farm life and the gentleness of sounds in mist and twilight.
My picture of the world formed within that triangle of climates and cultures, always surrounded by animals. In Malaysia I wallowed in mud with parrots; in Iraq I carved miniature cities out of cliffs of compacted sand with a mongoose; and in England I learned to grow plants and tend cows. But perhaps most significant of all was the long-term reaction to a nomadic early life. When we finally settled on a small farm in Hampshire, I put down a tap root that tethers deep.
I didn’t discover landscape architecture until I was twenty-one and in my last year of a degree in modern history at Oxford. It came as a revelation. I could hardly believe that everything I loved could be wrapped up in one profession: land, stories, biology and drawing. I have been led on from there.
My understanding of landscape architecture is close to the vision of Slartibartfast, who designed small planets in Douglas Adams’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. It touches on everything from farming, forestry and mining to how we plan our streets and cemeteries. Deep down it depends on collaboration – and some negotiation – with the natural and cultural forces that shape the environment. In this book I hope to give a sense of the enormous scope and excitement that the work involves. This second edition is updated with fresh projects, themes from my articles in the Financial Times and the optimism of growing older.
For something so rooted in a fixed place, our perception of landscape is surprisingly fluid. It is a kind of riddle, changing with every cloud and mood, and yet appearing timeless and stationary. There is a continuous conversation between the great geologic crust of the Earth and the tiny details on its surface – the bustling lives lived and shaped upon it. To understand landscape, you need to grasp the immensity of time and follow the natural flows of land, water and people. These flows leave a sediment of memories accumulating in each place. Working with landscape is as much about ideas and attitudes as physical form. And it is probably more about how the land is used and organized, than what it looks like. At base, landscape is profoundly political: how we share natural resources between all living things.
In Britain, the attitude to landscape has been greatly influenced by the eighteenth-century English Enlightenment and the writing of Alexander Pope. England went off in a different direction from the Continent and North America, where Jean-Jacques Rousseau and the Romantic idea of untrammelled Wilderness were more powerful. Pope was part of a philosophical and scientific shift that placed humans back at a participating centre of nature, rather than allowing them an elegant separation from the natural world behind baroque patterns and divine benediction. It was the
10 LED BY THE LAND