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Let’s let Sarah Don conclude with an alternative view that might stir your own thinking:
“Because we started with a bare field every choice has been our own, but our style and range of plants has hardly changed in the last twenty years. Looking back over old garden notebooks there are pages of plant lists that we still consistently use. Although we have visited hundreds of gardens together, read millions of words and scoured countless pictures, we seem to end up with the same limited palette. The truth is that I don't want endless choice. I want to limit the options otherwise it becomes too overwhelming and I can't make a decision. I try to keep stripping the components of the garden back rather than always adding to them. It seems to me that the ideal is to have exactly and only the plants you want.”
One of the big things about gardening is that your garden is constantly changing and the bigger the garden the more obvious this is. I have a friend with a small ‘postage stamp’ back lawn and that’s it! The amount of change that goes on during the changing seasons is minimal. In the Winter the grass may not grow, but the rest of the year the only discernible change is growing grass. Admittedly not very interesting!
On the other hand I have a three hundred foot plot and change is the name of the game. You may think in the winter nothing much happens but it is surprising just how much is going on even then.
So much of gardening is handling the changes that are going on – cutting back dead growth, splitting plants, feeding plants, dead heading and so on and that’s without sowing seeds or buying plugs or whatever.
Now I’m also fairly unusual by today’s standards in that we have stayed in the same home for about thirty five years now and when I look back over the years, I wish I had done a photo-frame film of the changes in the same way they do when you see films of the speeded up clouds.
Projects in my current definition are anything substantial that seriously changes the shape, structure or content of the garden. Over the years we have planted trees to replace hurricane destroyed trees, formed new hedges across the garden to divide it up, erected trellis across the garden and put climbing roses on it to divide the garden up, built a water feature, created a pergola, pulled down an old garage and erected an undercover seating area, pulled down old sheds and put up new ones, pulled down a dilapidated greenhouse and replaced it with a potting shed, and lots more.
Spring is a time for planning projects. Monty Don of present Gardeners World fame, wrote with his with Sarah a book called ‘The Jewel Garden’ about their days before and leading up to the incredibly mature garden you see on TV today. At one point he writes about late Spring:
“The spring garden shifts from flowers that are harbingers of spring but really belong to winter, like snowdrops, crocus, hellebores and primroses. By mid-April there are pulmonarias, forget-me-nots, daffodils, snowflakes, Euphorbia polychrome, Clematis alpine, the first tulip 'West Point', the little yellow flowers of Ribes odoratum and voluptuous crab apple blossom. The hellebores, although still fully in flower, are suddenly shunted from centre stage. They linger for a few more weeks but have lost their power.”
That describes well what is taking place in the garden in Spring – natural change that I referred to earlier. But Spring also tends to be the time of the year when I find myself standing and gazing at the garden in wonder, and then pondering what should I be doing to bring change. Did those trees really grow to that height in this past year, or have they just been creeping up without coming to my attention. Tall trees can be beautiful but they can also be a blight on the enjoyment of the neighbour who is now losing light and vision because of these monsters pushing up towards the sky on my patch.
But then there are the bushes that have just grown and grown. Are they the same plants that I started off in pots round the front of the house? How have they grown so that they take over whole flower beds? What action should I be taking to scale them down?
And then I find I am observing straight and boring lines. I am a contour schizophrenic. One year I love straight lines and then a year or so later I despair of straight lines and long for curves. How can I reshape that path and that flower bed?
And then I look at a particular corner and think, “How can I make that more interesting? What can I do to make it a fresh area of interest? A sculpture? No I am not a fan of garden sculptures? Some paving or decking to creating an all-weather area? Possibly, but what goes with it? Bushes, shrubs, seating, a ‘way in’? How can I make a feature? How can I change an area? Currently I am experimenting with a small ‘meadow’ of wild-flowers in a rather rough area of lawn? Will it die and be a flop or will it take over the whole garden? I don’t know but that is the fun of gardening.