Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Garden design

I would be the first to admit that I’m not a huge fan of straight forward garden design; I’m one of these people who much prefers to have a rough plan in my head and then let the garden evolve around me. That’s not to say I never use plans and indeed think there are times that design is crucial, however for me the best way to do this is with a cup of tea and a good hard stare, the graph paper, plant lists and stencils come later.

It can sound a bit of a cliché but in my view the best gardens have grown around their owners over time, they don’t have to be overly stylised or hit you with the wow factor it’s more about a gardening working and being pleasing to the mind and eye. Paradoxically the best garden design is unnoticeable, if a client comes out to view my days work I prefer it when they can see that the garden looks better but they’re not sure why.
We’ve a cherry tree in our garden at home, for the past two years Anna and I have um’d and ah’d about where it should go, first it was moved about in ever increasing pot sizes and then finally planted down by the shed where it flowered and fruited well. However it was clear that its placement was still not right, competing with a bamboo and two giant Scabious for space it blended into the background and was generally ignored. A few weeks ago we decided we’d had enough and up it came again, on an ideal transplanting day I was to be found staggering around the garden with tree and large rootball in my arms. Now a happily replanted cherry it’s still strangely unnoticeable and blends with the garden around it only this time it’s because it's in the right place (hopefully) and looks as though it’s always been there.
The old bed by the shed is now not so overcrowded with a mismatched grouping of plants and has allowed me somewhere to start to fill with foxgloves, these will not only make a striking impact at the end of the garden but also compete nicely with the other plants around it. Rather than appear swamped or lost they’ll form a visual balance of colour and leaf shape to an otherwise difficult corner of the garden.

I still remember being taught about settling in and ‘living with the garden’ for the first year by my tutor at college (the same tutor who had us hugging trees and joyfully smelling well rotted compost). The idea that a garden can just have a design placed upon it and work; on more occasions than not doesn’t work. Without actually being out in the elements and seasons, seeing how the sun travels across, frost pockets appear or boggy areas form it can be extremely hard to then design a plan that will fit the garden seamlessly. This isn’t to say it’s undoable and there are indeed designers out there who can do this but they are few and far between, especially when it comes to subsequent aftercare and maintenance.
Sadly I’m not one of these magic number, for me design entails spending time staring at the space to be landscaped, visiting it a couple of times before drawing up a plan that I know will ultimately need a good tweaking as it’s laid onto earth. In general my designs will be loosely drawn up and then moulded to fit the garden space rather than the other way round, then after regular visits over the following months in which I help it bed down and neaten any rough edges it’ll start to look as though it has grown there over time.

In truth though I’d always much rather develop and redesign as the seasons pass and in doing so build up a relationship between the garden and myself, it is so satisfying to see a garden age looking balanced and appropriately unnoticeable.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

November the fourth

It’s November the fourth and I’m stood in the garden at five thirty in the morning, Orla’s asleep on her bed in lounge, Anna’s asleep upstairs and Medlar’s wondering why I’m outside with a cuppa already, this I decide is pretty much a perfect morning for me. Simple pleasures ah?
From our garden in the Splott we can just about hear the main road and toll of the church bell if the wind blows right, at this time of day there is a little bit of activity out in the street, people off to work already and I can hear the sound of running water as nearby a shower is being enjoyed, but other than that it’s pretty quiet. My own little haven in the middle of Caerdydd and with the sunlight now appearing later an ideal place to watch the day start.

So what am I up to at this time of year? Well yesterday I was pottering away in a seaside garden for a lovely elderly couple who I visit almost every week of the year the lawn had its final cut and a thorough scarifying, a lovely bag of year old leaf mould spread and this years’ bag started. It’s a fine little garden that over the last five years I’ve got to know rather well so that now it’s like an old friend that I can relax into. Unlike todays’ garden where I’ve a 60ft long hedge of hawthorn, holly, beech and Pyracantha to prune so lot’s of thorns and much hand checking will be needed to be done after work tonight.
Autumn’s a wonderful time for garden work; it’s like Spring in reverse with a varied list of jobs to do some that mirror those done back in March and April. One of the key moments for the beginning of most peoples garden year is the first cut of the lawns, that tang of fresh cut grass is as welcoming as the returning birdsong. Well the same applies to the final cut and the ritual of cleaning the mower before packing away till next year; it’s a ritual that has certain finality about. In one garden there are two tortoises that appear early in Spring, I get to watch their progress from cardboard box in the conservatory to finally being out in their pen on the lawn; then in Autumn I get to see then slowing down before retreating back to the conservatory and finally back in a box in the loft.
The vibrancy of Spring green is well balanced with the fiery ochres of Autumn, the initial burst of bud and leaf is evident now with the piles accumulating along paths and borders an excessively large mound in some places (just crying out for a good kicking).

Ah, I do so love this time of year though I have been more than aware of the current warmth that seems to be washing over November, no need for extra layers as most days it’s been warm enough to work in t-shirt or jumper. The problem with this is that the garden isn’t getting chance to bed down ready for the winter, slugs are still oozing rampant munching anything remotely fresh looking and the weeds are having a field day.
This hasn’t of course meant a reduction in rain, we’ve certainly had a fair drenching of precipitation recently though thankfully often at night. The water butts are full and the ground nicely squelchy by the next morning. Sadly this is not the case today , a fine almost invisible cloud of drizzle drifts over the garden gently but thoroughly soaking into everywhere regardless of apparent waterproofness, it certainly makes for a lush garden though at completely the wrong time of season. I for one am hoping for a cold front to begin it’s intrusion for what remains of the year, not too sudden but a good frost here and there would be helpful, in some gardens I’ve got Pelagoniums and Begonias still in flower!

So what left for our days outside? Depends a lot on the hardiness of the gardener but we’ve always got jobs to do, weeding, shed and fence maintenance, winter planting, etc. Though the days are shorter, what daylight there is has a certain magical quality, a golden hue that mellows the garden like no other, after the high activity and heat of the summer (yes there was some, it’s just easy to miss if you’re not out in it all the time) Autumn is the perfect antidote.

A final job for the fading light at this time of year is to admire the garden, maybe with a glass of wine and cosy fire to aid the mellowing. Go on it’ll be Winter soon.