Saturday, August 28, 2021

WEEKENDER: A new garden, by Wiggia


The bottom of the garden.

My house move has created a problem, not in the first rank of things in this mad world, but for my own satisfaction and pleasure.

For many being involved in something that is their work means they have no time for it at home - ‘coals to Newcastle’ is the phrase that comes to mind; yet despite spending most of my working life in horticulture I have always derived a lot of pleasure from my own patch. My very first garden was attached to a typical prewar end of terrace house with a runway of a garden, in the region of 170 ft long but very narrow; this was before I embarked into horticulture but I immediately wanted to make something of it.

Looking back the idea was right: dividing into separate ‘rooms’ as is the trend today; but my execution was poor. Nonetheless it was good training, not just in layout and design but in what plants grow and where. The failures taught me a lot and there were a lot of them.

The one thing that nearly always disappointed was moving so often. It meant that in many cases gardens started never reached fruition; only two actually reached what could be called any form of maturity. It is this factor that is the problem for me now: time is running out.

We have been fortunate. During our life together we have had gardens ranging in size from bugger-all upwards - this was a house we intended to stay in a couple of years but because of the ‘89 crash we were held captive for six years. That one I made into something one could use and enjoy but on a budget because of the intent to move on.

Others have ranged from a quarter of an acre up to two and a half acres. In fact I have had three over an acre in size, and my last house had an acre of garden, I have enjoyed most of them but as I said most were never completed or never matured.

Gardens are by their nature transient things. That living breathing patch into which you have poured so much time and effort in an attempt to create something in your mind, becomes nothing the day you leave it behind. I have only seen two after the moving on when visiting old neighbours. The first time this happened when living in Suffolk was returning to a garden I created from scratch containing many rare collected over time shrubs trees and perennials, and though I would have made changes if we had stayed I was quite pleased with what I left behind.

When I visited, my old neighbour said, ‘Don’t look over the fence’ and I had had no intention of doing so as once before what I saw made one cry with anguish at what had been done to all that I had poured so much time and effort into; but curiosity got the better of me and I did look, to be greeted with such a sorry sight as to make one weep.

Of course the day you sell a house you give up any rights to how the house and garden are looked after or not, it has nothing to do with you any more. Your taste, your use of interior and exterior, your vision that you create for yourself is not going to be that of someone else, whatever gushing phrases they may use when viewing. Hence the 'moment in time' aspect for gardens in particular, is they are created and tended by man, and when that stops revert back to nature. Gardens are our vision of how we want to see nature presented and much of what we put in them is also a version of our creative mind not a true reflection of nature; even the great ‘natural’ landscaped gardens of Capability Brown and others were a man-made version of nature.

We are simply playing with the land around us and the plants that are available, most of which are not native in the first place.

This move though is hopefully the end of the line; at our age and with our moving horrors (see previous post) I don’t think we could entertain another move at our age unless it was painless and it never has been.

So here we are with around a third of an acre, fields to the back (for how long, one wonders), and a wood to one side; so private, and it gives the impression of being bigger because of the empty field at the rear.

In the past it was well tended and the original owners had planted quite a lot of desirable shrubs and trees. Unfortunately all had grown into one another and the first task was to remove some of the overgrown planting and decide what was to remain. Over twenty dumper loads have been removed so far and there is more to come; some of the choicer plantings had been so encroached on by their neighbours they had been ruined and had to come out; others, a few, were salvageable.

None of this was easy for me, not because of my advancing years but because of my impending hip replacement - which I have now had - so almost everything came to a halt in the run up to the op and now during recovery, but at least I am presented with that blank, or almost blank, canvas to work on.

And now the real problems arise: what sort of garden do I want, what sort can I manage now and primarily, will I ever see the fruits of my efforts?

And there lies the rub: mortality. We have no idea when the plug will be pulled on our life on earth. The only way to handle that side of things is to carry on as normal, otherwise we might as well sit there and await the Grim Reaper's entrance.

So the old drawing tools have been dug out and a start made. I don't need to make a detailed graph paper layout for this, it is really about ideas being put on paper and then sifting through to find the best result.


At heart I have always been a plants man. Plants have always been the most important element in any garden of my own. For my own gardens I have always looked at the plot, analysed the soils and site and then made a list of suitable plants I want to see there. Only after that have I drawn design plans to incorporate those plants; arse upwards to anything I have done commercially but it was for me and the planting comes first. 

The fruits of one's endeavours.

I have already drawn up a list of plants I need and immediately hit a problem: although I retired only ten years ago the sources I used for plants have changed dramatically. So many specialist nurseries have either sold up and gone or been bought out and incorporated into bigger enterprises or even turned into garden centres; in fifty years it has gone full circle.

When I started out there were very few nurseries supplying the rarer plants and shrubs. Hilliers in Winchester were the most famous and even they had a waiting list for the more desirable items; Waterers were the go-to for rhododendrons, as were Sunningdale nurseries; and there were a few scattered nurseries specialising in certain genus such as Kelways with peonies, a rare old company still going strong.

There were also numerous well-known rose growers. In the Eighties a change happened: the boom years saw a demand for the exotic and, new for this country, the mature plant. On the Continent mature shrub and tree planting for municipal and private use was well established, but here there was virtually nothing; now you saw nurseries starting up supplying mainly imported items in almost any size your bank balance could stand.

Alongside this the likes of Beth Chatto and her ‘unusual’ plant nursery made a huge impact at the Chelsea flower show and many other similar outfits started to appear. With a certain amount of diligence you could purchase almost anything in any size.

Unfortunately/fortunately depending on your viewpoint, the garden centre was also in its infancy and beginning to make inroads on traditional plant-only nurseries. They became and still are extremely popular and for those traditional nurseries that changed to the garden centre format it was a way to increase profits and spread sales over the year rather than condensing sales into a few months as previously; the addition of the cafe made further profits year round more likely and they started to take over as the go-to place, not just for plants but for so much else; now they even do functions, the change has been enormous.

The garden centres became bigger and started to buy up established nurseries and those famous names became just fronts for more garden centres, so the net result was as today: we are back, certainly with trees and shrubs, to those few specialists still surviving; with perennials the story is not so bleak but making a living out of perennials is not as easy as trees and shrubs or indeed a garden centre selling outdoor furniture and everything else connected to the garden.

So yes, my search for certain shrubs in particular was a bit blunted, but with a bit of patience, not something I am noted for, we are getting there.

In some ways the enforced delay to proceedings is a good thing: certain aspects of the plan didn’t really gel and changes have been made before a spade has gone in the ground. It’s also given me time to source planting material, so easy to get in the past but now disappearing as the anti-peat lobby gets its way and the companies such as nurseries that supply this material get gobbled up by conglomerates, leaving little choice.

 A place to relax.

A shady corner.

I would love to incorporate a greenhouse in the garden layout. I have grown a lot from seed in recent years besides the usual fruit and veg, but growing from seed takes time and I have to ask myself again have I got that time and of course I have no idea, so we will put the greenhouse, much missed, on the back burner for now.

All of this is interwoven with getting the new house the way we want it, and obviously that takes priority, but we have made good progress in that area and only a couple of items of consequence remain. As with the garden, getting workmen at this time is notoriously difficult with some trades because of the housing boom, carpenters and brickies are exceptionally difficult to find. The latter is needed for the water feature I have in mind; as it is central to my overall plan I am going to have to keep phoning, asking and trying and pull in a favour or two; I can never remember it being this bad, a couple of years back most of it I could have done myself but not any more.

One thing's for sure, I have never not had a garden to which I have not been the major contributor. As with so many who are fortunate to have a plot to play with in whatever size, I get great pleasure from it; it is a wonderful escape from the lunatic world we live in today, and whether I actually see this one through to conclusion is in reality immaterial, just doing it is part of the satisfaction.


A K Haart said...

Interesting and you are right, once we reach a certain age, mortality is at least a consideration, but we have to put it to the back of our minds and just carry on. We find a garden does encourage us to do just that - we wouldn't be without one.

CherryPie said...

My garden plans before the initial revamp have still not come to complete fruition. I need someone to help me with the last few tweaks.

That being said I have the perfect place to relax. I need to work on my secondary place to relax. It became problematic after the oak tree behind my garden got a severe (unwarranted) haircut.