Interview with Pleasure Garden’s John Tebbs

11 February, 2019

Of all the contemporary magazines, Pleasure Garden is our favorite. Its ethos is so peculiar and so perfect: the magazine explores all garden-inspired fantasy which spans art, music, fashion, society and sex. We talked with John Tebbs, the magazine's founder and editor-in-chief, about the dream life that one can experience through a genuine love of gardens, real or fictitious, as well as the raw practicalities of growing one.

Looking down on the staggered lower balconies of Alt-Erlaa where they create a hanging garden effect. Photo: Ben Stockley

Could you tell us a little bit about your background?

I grew up in the English Midlands surrounded by a family somewhat obsessed with gardening. After studying Art and Architectural History at university I moved to London and decided I wanted to pursue my main interest. I worked as a gardener for around 10 years before deciding to start the online platform The Garden Edit - this became an amazing springboard to lots of other wonderful things. Curating, writing, consulting and ultimately Pleasure Garden - which has similarly led to avenues I had never expected or contemplated before.

What's you favorite gardening activity? Least favorite?

I have to say I have lots of favourites - depends on the season. At this time of year there is a great pleasure in the winter cut-back and mulching. It's satisfying having everything all set up for the new growing season to begin. I also very much enjoy the creative and physical process of planting out a new garden - seeing that vision become a reality, the placement and planting I find is a very intuitive action. Also, actions as simple as raking leaves in autumn can be so fulfilling. I think that is the thing I love about gardening the most, the simplicity of focussing on a physical process can really help transport the mind in a positive way. I think there is a sense of calm, focus and joy in the garden. My least favourite has been times when I have worked as a gardener for people who view the garden as another room, in the worst sense, one which is as sterile as an operating theatre - not a leaf out of place or hint that there is wild in the garden.

Drew Vickers "Brittany Asch" Issue 1.
Tom Johnson, "Landscape Escapism," Issue 2

How did you come up with the idea of Pleasure Garden magazine?

The idea for Pleasure Garden developed over a year, initially thinking about the idea of wanting to do a garden magazine that had a different point of view, one which didn't focus on the practicalities of gardening but one which celebrated the garden in its wider cultural context and also echoed the beauty, fantasy and sexual side of the garden. The name came when we were walking in the pleasure grounds of a 'capabiity' Brown landscape in Sussex.. it led me to look into another concept, the pleasure garden. This was the perfect vehicle to translate into a magazine! The 18thC pleasure gardens of London were a heady mix of culture and intrigue wrapped up in a garden setting.

How do you come up with a story for the magazine? What greatest satisfaction(s) the magazine has brought you?

The world is full of wonderful inspiration - things I see or read will set my mind turning and once you scratch the surface of any subject there are a myriad of possibilities and angles to explore. I would say this has been one of the greatest satisfactions - getting to engage with people who are passionate about their subject and to tap in to their knowledge. Producing something that connects the garden and its history and delivers it in a fresh, beautiful way is really a dream come true for me.

Sholen Krishtalka's reimagined pleasure garden merges 18-century romanticism with 21st-century cruising. “Vauxhall Gardens” by Sholem Krishtalka, 2017. Gouache on paper.
“Vauxhall Gardens” by Thomas Rowlandson, c 1784. Watercolour on paper. (c) Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

What interests you in the idea of a magical and fantasy garden? Which fictional garden is your favorite? What would your magical garden look like?

I think what interest me is the idea of a historical garden - perhaps one that no longer exists. Imagining it from drawings, photographs and descriptions - they come to life in the mind and we are able to transport ourselves there. The pleasure garden at Vauxhall is one such place - there is nothing there now but a grassy park at the heart of one of London's busiest transport routes. But reading about this place transports you to a magical place full of fantasy and intrigue. One of the things about a garden is it is in constant flux and in many ways that is part of their magic - they are almost always fiction when they are not experienced in that moment.

Where are the most beautiful gardens? Which real garden is your favorite and why?

There are beautiful gardens all over the world - it is an art form that has been approached in many different ways by different cultures and through the ages. I think it would be impossible to pick one! Also as I mentioned above the garden is unlike many other art forms - many of the elements are transient and constantly evolving. To look closely at a garden is to watch something that is changing slowly all the time - day to day and season to season. I think like most gardeners I would have to say there is a deep connection to my own garden, it's the one you watch closest and perhaps feel the deepest connection to.

Anthony Blasko, Portland Rose Festival, Issue 3.

What is the future of gardening?

Good question - I'm not sure what the future holds...but I would imagine we will see a kind of gardening that comes ever more closer to nature. There is a great deal that needs to change in the way we garden...assumptions are that this is a 'green' industry but there are many things about the industry that are far from 'green' which often leaves me frustrated. As the world becomes ever more urbanised gardens are becoming smaller - I don't think that means people are any less interested in gardens tho. I think public space is going to be something that increasingly people will be focussed on and demanding of.

If you were to create a garden, what would it look like? What would happen there?

We moved to Hastings on the south coast of England two years ago, our house is ten minutes from the sea. I have been thinking lots about making a start on it, currently I just have a collection of plants still in pots from when we arrived. The garden faces south and is covered in shingle, I have a fantasy of doing something inspired by Derek Jarman's garden which is only 30 miles down the coast. I want it to feel wild and happy - nothing too contrived or formal. I'm deeply excited about it. I don't think anything too unusual will be happening there - a bit of sun bathing, reading and visits from the neighbours and the odd sea gull dropping by!

Any exciting/collaborative projects coming up?

We are currently working on issue 5 which will be out in May with lots of interesting topics. Indeed an interesting collaboration with Flamingo estate is in the pipeline...watch this space!

Words by The Editors and John Tebbs. All photos: Courtesy of Pleasure Garden magazine.

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