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Return to the previous Article in this mini-series

Gardening: Appreciating Change: (2) Wonder, Weather & Watching the Seasons  


In the first part of this mini-series of articles about change, I sought to open our minds to the thought that gardening involves constant change and that change is good, and said we would be considering the things that change and the things that cause change when it comes to gardening. I challenged us as to how we think about what we have, citing how in the early days of our marriage in our first home, we really found the postage-stamp size garden a real effort to manage, and yet years on, now having a three hundred foot plot, it is just pure joy and any effort is part of that joy. How our thinking can change!

Testimonies to Change

The Internet is always a great source of quotes and in my preparation for the talk I had been asked to give, I browsed some of the resources. It is surprising to find comments from well known people. For instance even the Bard used a gardening illustration: “At Christmas I no more desire a rose, than wish a snow in May’s new-fangled mirth; But like of each thing that in season grows.” (Shakespeare, in Love’s Labours Lost) i.e. understand what you can expect, and when, in your garden – no snow in May, no roses at Christmas! Abraham Lincoln, apparently in whimsical mood declared, “We can complain because rose bushes have thorns, or rejoice because thorn bushes have roses.” It does sound a bit corny but in this subject of change, it is a reminder to remain positive. A modern parallel might be, “When it rains don’t complain that it is limiting your activity, but rejoice that your plants are being fed!”  

Because we can get so caught up with life, just pausing up, and going and taking a fresh look at the wonder that is your garden can help bring perspective. It was Claude Monet who apparently said, “My garden is my most beautiful masterpiece.”  Now if that is true, that is amazing. I love his misty water paintings, his gardens and his lilies (not so keen on his haystacks which leave me a bit unmoved) but I realise that painters are often some of the best observers of the world around them and so for him to declare this about his garden is a real challenge to go back outside and just look!


1. The Changes of the Weather

Well enough of the generalities, let’s get into this subject of change. I’ll come to the seasons next but as I have thought back over the years I realise that unusual weather has contributed quite a lot to the changes that have taken place in our garden. We moved into this present house in 1977 and pottered on rather uneventfully, I suspect, in the garden at least, for the next ten years until, in October 1987, what has since been referred to as ‘The Great Storm’ hit and overnight we lost seven trees. Because I wasn’t so observant of these things back then, I am left with a memory that that was probably a large percentage of the trees we had. If I tell you that since then I have planted over forty trees in this garden, that is not an exaggeration and I will pick this up and explain it later on. (No, we don’t have a densely populated wood, I will explain later, please be patient.)


That one-off event brought profound change and, as you’ll see in a later article, it did pave the way for an interest in trees in the garden by opening up the garden and creating fresh space. But the second weather thing that caused changes to our garden was a prolonged drought. Again, failure to keep records, a diary or a journal, means I can’t be exact about when this happened but there were three years (I would guess over twenty years ago) when we virtually had no rain. In fact in one of those years I know for a fact, because I did note the water barrel depths, that not a drop of rain fell in February through to the end of November. It’s true. If it happened today I imagine the environmentalists would have said it was the start of the great global warming crisis, but the truth is that we have had plenty of rain and plenty of sun since then. But the fact was that for that period there was virtually no rain and so with a three hundred foot plot, that is a long way to carry watering cans to water the vegetables. Hose pipes? Oh, come on! As soon as it stops raining for any length of time, a hose-pipe ban is imposed. Up until that time we had been keen vegetable growers but that period of drought so imposed itself on us that I grassed over the whole of the bottom half of the garden and gave up growing vegetables.  That situation only reversed itself in more recent years by another change imposed on us that was not really to do with the weather, so I’ll cover that one later as well.

But these two events – the hurricane of ’87 and later prolonged drought – caused substantial changes to the structure of our garden. Meanwhile if we believe what we are told, the climate of the south-east has moved towards more of a Mediterranean climate which means the appearance of more tropical or exotic plants, a change that has quietly crept up on us over the past ten years or so. So we now have several (and you may have lots more) exotic plants that came originally in six inch pots, but which grew and grew and eventually had to be planted out and now feature in their own right as outstanding elements of the garden. Weather and climate changes!

2. The Seasons

We now move into the most obvious of the factors of change that impacts any garden and there is little you can do – or should want to do – to change it. Just observe it and relish it. I carried out a straw poll at the talk I gave and two thirds opted for Spring as their favourite season, and one third opted for Autumn, or the Fall as our American cousins would say. Hands resolutely stayed down for Summer and Winter. I can understand that because the choice was for the favourite season, but I wonder if I can stir afresh here, an appreciation for the other two seasons as well. Let’s have a quick look at each season.  


Yes, I have to agree, I love Spring, but I wonder if it is with mixed motives. It is not just the signs of new life emerging; it has to also be the recognition that this is saying goodbye to Winter. I’ll leave the comments about Winter until later but as much as I may appreciate certain aspects of it, I really do appreciate its disappearance!

But Spring isn’t a consistent, uniform season, it comes in waves. The first wave is gentle, the appearance of the snowdrop, the occasional crocus, hellebores. (Whatever you do, don’t ever let your children use the Internet to do school projects in this area – I look at what is suggested for Spring flowers and think they must be in another world – oh yes, America probably with its staggeringly varying climate zones). Then there are primroses and an abundance of daffodils – gone are the days of thinking there was just one sort of daffs. The second wave is the arrival of forget-me-nots. Meanwhile the hellebores appear in waves of varying colour, shy-downward-facing flowers, often on long stalks with their leaves looking rather untidy, requiring self-control not to cut them back prematurely, not just the occasional one, but waves of them – beautiful. Grape hyacinths emerge on the scene counterbalancing the light blue of the forget-me-nots with their deep blues.  As the daffodils start to wane, the earliest miniature tulips break cover and push their heads above the surrounding foliage. Their bigger brothers and sisters are close behind with a suave, elegant, Sophia Loren beauty and smoothness that adds a soft boldness to the ongoing incoming tide of new colours that is late Spring. And there, quietly emerging all over the place are the early signs of the aquilegias that soon will be opening out in blues and purples and reds and even yellows, the most delicate of the newcomers at this time of the year; my favourites. Meanwhile, and it happens so surreptitiously, the Forsythia is bursting forth with bright yellow flowers and the wallflowers create such waves of colour like we’ve never seen before!   

Meanwhile the broad beans, sown last November, are reaching maturity. It will be a while yet before bean-picking time but the flowers are set and the bushes get bigger and bigger. Leeks from last year are pulled and frozen, and their ground cleared and fed with compost ready for the coming season’s fresh veg.  I’ll leave comment on blossoms until we pick up on trees in their own right later on.


I would have carelessly nominated Spring and Autumn as the two seasons of change, but the reality is that most change takes place in Summer!  Yes, this is the time of life in abundance, this is the time of planting out the plugs, pricking out the early seedlings, sowing beans, peas, beetroot, potatoes and so much more. Really there is so much happening that whatever we say about summer will be inadequate.  If the weather is kind to us, it is the period for sitting out and enjoying the wonder of colour and shape, light and shade. Writing in Spring I am longing for the year to move on because last year we invested in several grasses and although there are one or two tiny signs of life, most of that will come in summer and on into Autumn, and I can’t wait for it.  

I mention sitting out and for us, our garden is divided into many parts or areas, allowing for at least ten different seating areas. This is part of what it is what it is all about. Appreciating the garden (as against gardening) needs different views and that means a bench here, a chair here and there, an arbour there, oh, and another bench here as well. It also means creating ‘areas’ that are different from one another. Yes, I do appreciate the big sweeping lawn-type of garden, but for me it is an ongoing project of how can we create more nooks and crannies that allow you to just sit and look, sit and watch the life that is growing all around you in such abundance and such variety.  Hedges, high and low, fences and arches, lattice panels, cane panels, as much variety as possible. Some visible, some out of sight, some so shut away from the house at the far end, that it feels like being in another world. And all this is at its peak in the Summer. Continue to Part 2 of this atrticle.