Another Green World: Linn Botanic Gardens – Encounters with a Scottish Arcadia, by Alison Turnbull with Philip Hoare

The history of a sanctuary where science meets art is an emotionally charged work, says Timothy Mowl

November 5, 2015
Jim Taggart, Linn Botanic Gardens
Constant gardener: Jim Taggart, ‘a spry figure with a huge Old Testament beard’, founded Linn 44 years ago

Red incised lettering on a pale grey linen cover, wrapped around with a photographic slip featuring lush, rain-soaked vegetation and a small summer house with red painted windows, suggest that what is called for is an investigation, rather than a straight review, of this study of a garden “shaped by the subtle interplay of science and art, beauty and design, mathematics and colour”. Its unusual suspects are an art publisher, a writer and an artist, a creative arts centre, and a father and son, who together planted a botanical garden strung along terraces below a decaying 1860s Italianate house overlooking Loch Long on the Rosneath peninsula in Argyll and Bute. And then there is the tantalising mystery of the book’s simple dedication – “For Jamie”.

This is not a scholarly book, but a beautifully crafted artwork. There are no plans of the garden, only a brief historical narrative – Jim Taggart began it in 1971 and the garden was taken over by his son Jamie in 1989 – and no systematic analysis of its many and varied plants, although a list can be found tucked into a pocket at the back marked “work in progress as at October 2013 compiled by Jamie Taggart”. The text by Philip Hoare, an authority on decadence, dandyism and whales, takes the form of an elegiac diary of visits made to Linn during a research residency with Alison Turnbull at Cove Park arts centre, which is just up the peninsula. Turnbull is a Colombian-born painter and sculptor. Some of her drawings are included here, one of which is a paint chart inspired by the colours of rhododendrons, their Latin names substituted for the normal Pantone numbers.

Jim Taggart is in his eighth decade, a spry figure with a huge Old Testament beard, seen in one photograph wearing denim jeans and a Che Guevara T-shirt. A frequent visitor to the peace camp outside the nuclear naval base at Faslane on the other side of the peninsula, he “struggles with the Labour party and the lack of interest in CND among the young”. He lives in the big house, where, unsurprisingly, a red flag flies, its shabbily chaotic interiors lavishly photographed by Turnbull to present here a visual mood poem. His son has the former chauffeur’s cottage in the “systematized nature outside”, although it is anyone’s guess, apart from Linnaean taxonomy, of what that system comprises. Unlike his father, Jamie is clean-shaven and wears a green sweatshirt emblazoned with the Linn bladder campion logo, which he designed. The garden photographs, some double-page spreads by Rosneath local Ruth Clark, are beautifully composed, but none have helpful captions; it’s not that kind of a book. And while Hoare’s prose is evocative and finely wrought, it is impressionistic rather than focused.

It is only when the reader turns the last page of Another Green World that the true nature of this emotionally charged book emerges and the full force is felt of that “work in progress” remark; work which stopped abruptly in October 2013. An inveterate seeker of new species in the tradition of the great plant hunters, Jamie Taggart was last seen getting off a motorcycle taxi in the Hoàng Liên National Park near Sapa on the Vietnamese border with China on 29 November 2013. He has never been seen since.

Timothy Mowl is emeritus professor of history of architecture and designed landscapes, University of Bristol.


Another Green World: Linn Botanic Gardens – Encounters with a Scottish Arcadia
By Alison Turnbull with Philip Hoare
Artbooks, 176pp, £18.99
ISBN 9781908970213
Published 19 October 2015

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POSTSCRIPT:

Print headline: Unearthing secrets and sorrow

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