The story of a garden.

I was working in one of my regular gardens about a week ago or so and my customer took me to one side and asked me to stop buying plants for the garden for the time being. Just to be clear, I would probably be putting a new plant in every three months or so , not hundreds of plants every week. But my point is that I was sad that she did not want to keep the garden developing. Because that is what I think a garden should do, it changes and develops all the time, it’s like a painting or a narrative. I think when you stop adding or taking away in the garden it does not just stop, it goes backwards, it gets stagnant.

Its all part of the delight to play around with different textures and colours, to make things work or not work as the case may be some times. It’s good to cultivate a look, play with an idea. Gardens are like never ending stories, telling us a story about the gardener, his or her likes or dislikes. Their obsessions and fads, their weaknesses and strengths, their triumphs and disasters! When the garden stops developing the story still goes on but perhaps it takes a turn for the worse, like a bad fairy tale ; ).

Take my own garden for example. I bought a job lot of border phlox and stuffed them in the borders, of course I did not know their eventual height or colour, well, I can tell you that the ones that didn’t get chopped down mid summer will be dug out and moved – they all (except the white one) looked the wrong colour in the beds and some even had the audacity to be much taller than their neighbours (they looked silly). Bright pink and bright yellow together yuk!!

On the other hand my tall border (with the staked teasels – bloody wind!) has worked really well, but I’m now missing something around the outside as I’ve enlarged that border because it worked so well (see! Evolving garden) and no, the phlox wont be moving here!

I can’t remember where (I think the RHS magazine) but I read an article that referred to this chopping and changing as editing and I think that’s a great term – editing the garden. “I’m just off out to edit the garden darling, won’t be long”.

Anyway back to the original garden I was discussing – Maybe I’ll be a sneaky gardener and smuggle new plants into the garden to keep editing it. And when she asks “I like that , is it new?” I’ll say “Oh this old thing? We’ve had it in the garden for ages!”

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Top of the flops

As I sit here on this wet July morning I dismay at the sad flopped plants in my garden, not the usual floppers which are staked earlier in the season or the ones who are chopped in half to keep them stout in May, but the ones which have flopped in the July rain. Mr Lupin, who should be singing high in the border is now contained in many vases around the house, the plant cut down to ground level – this is the second year the lupin has done this to me. I have a three strikes and you are out policy, if it does it next year – it’s out. Of course, it does not know it’s sailing close to the wind anyway because it’s pink and it should be white.Even some of my teasels have succumb to the heavy rain!!!(Now that is sad!!!)

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Poor teasel – this does make me sad!!

So, what to do when you are left with a gaping hole in your border when a plant flopps beyond all saving? I usually cut it hard back . I have several space fillers which I keep next to the green house, cosmos are great for this. I also dig out self seeders which look wrong where they have self seeded, pot them on, and use these, borage, verbina bonariensis, knautia macedonica and several hardy geranium and grasses. It may not look like you planned, but it wont look quite so insulting! The best bit is that you can hoik the ‘space filler’ out when it’s done it’s job or you can leave it there if it looks better than the original plant and tell your friends (like I do) that it was completely planned!!!!!

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The art of gardening

Okay, so I’m going to stick my neck out here and be a little bit controversial, so hold on to your hats and enjoy the read!

I come from a fine art back ground – during my studies we often discussed  the availability of art to everyone, not just the educated or the rich as it was traditionally thought. With thanks to artists like Andy Warhol, Joseph Beuys and others during the 60’s art became available to all through screen prints and other mediums like performance art. ‘Ordinary ‘ people could enjoy the arts which were once only appreciated by the elite few. It became easy for people to enjoy and encouraged more people to get involved and appreciate it. Now, you are probably thinking ‘what the dickens has this got to do with gardening? ‘

Well, sometimes I think gardening can look complicated to people, all this pruning to an outward facing bud, stratifying, scarifying, pruning group 1, only prune in the winter, only prune when it’s warm, don’t put that in the compost, only cut that on a mild day with no rain, no sun, no frost, no wind!…………………………the list goes on. I think sometimes gardening can look complicated and people get a bit put off by it. Garden experts extol the virtues of micorizal fungi or taking cutting when the moon is full, pruning to three buds on the leader and a bud on the lateral. It’s a bit like abstract art – only the clever ones can join in and understand it, the rest of us are far to uneducated or intimidated to have a go- see the connection?

I started gardening proper about 10 years ago, and I experimented, I put things in the wrong place, tried to make flower beds with out weeding all the grass – total school boy errors. I did some terrible things to Fuchsias and hydrangeas (they forgave me). Killed off seedlings, watched cuttings keel over and die, planted seeds and nothing happened…………….that list goes on too! But I had a go, and my successes gave me more joy than my failures gave me misery. I guess what I’m trying to say is that all of these ‘gardening rules’ can put a lot of people off. Just like art,when for example the abstract expressionists were doing their very academic thing and people felt they didn’t understand – gardening can be a bit like that. People think it’s too complicated to have a go or understand.

Do what I did and have a go, experiment. Read up and research if you have to, but don’t be put off by the do’s and don’ts, the over complicated techniques etc.  Plants can be very forgiving, and what works for one might not work for another. If you do something wrong and it doesn’t work out you probably won’t do it again will you? You will learn from mistakes and you’ll find new ways of doing things. I don’t always stick to the rules in my own garden (When I’m gardening or designing), all you have to do is ask your self what’s the worst that can happen?

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Dreaming of things to come

You know, the best thing about being a gardener is that most winters fly by. Don’t believe me? Read on and I might change your mind!

The thing is is that in September-October time (when most people are dreading the winter coming) we are thinking about what bulbs we are going to be planting out for the spring, then we order them! October we are planting them, or, if you are like me November and even December I am digging my holes two to three times the depth of the bulb and placing them carefully in the planting holes, whispering my Allan Tichmarsh mantra ‘grow yer bugger’!

Then there’s forcing Hyacinths or Daffodils for indoors! I start mine in October, and if I’m lucky they are totally smelling out the kitchen with their gorgeous fragrance by Christmas, it doesn’t always work on time! (I’m currently staring at my unopened hyacinths as I write this on the 2nd of January!)

In the Autumn, I’m dividing and replanting borders, lifting and moving perennials. Chucking thuggie plants to the naughty corner and potting up divisions to give to friends. I’m planning what everything will hopefully look like next year. Looking at what has worked and what sure has not over the season.  I do find my camera on my phone helps with this, as more often than not I have forgotten what the borders looked like in the spring.

Come Christmas time I’m cleaning tools, oiling and sharpening. I’m taking my machinery to the man who services it all for me whilst I sit back and admire my hyacinths (If they flower on time!)

Just after Christmas I take a walk out side and look for the tips of bulbs! That promise of Spring – of things to come. It’s the best feeling, to know that a corner has been turned, that Spring is indeed on it’s way – the longest day has passed!

As I walk in my own garden in the winter I’m admiring my Cornus and looking forward to smelling the sweet smell of sarcococca wafting in the air, I love the skeletons of tall fennel and Solidago frozen still on a frosty morning, I’m glad I take the time to trim my box balls in the summer which add structure to my borders now and I marvel at the teasles standing tall with their russet colouring –  but nothing will beat that first glimpse of the snow drops in January – that moment that marks the beginning of things to come – that moment when you know it starts again. Then come the daffodils with their bright yellow trumpets and crocus in purples, yellows and whites, swathes of them all herald things to come.  That’s why folks winter fly’s by for the gardener, because, in the autumn we are planning for the spring and putting all of those plans into place and we admire what the garden has to offer when little else is moving . Perhaps that is why as a rule gardeners are a happy bunch – because we appreciate the small things in life more! So get out in your garden and search for those bulb tips poking through that cold earth and remember – it wont be long! Happy New Year!!

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Winter Work

We’re a hardy bunch most of us professional gardeners you know. See us out in our water proofs battling the elements, come rain or shine, liken us to the toughest native pony or for those of you who know about my Nordic obsession – the Icelandic horse. It’s true, we like nothing more than staring adversity in the face with the help of our tea flask and saying ‘what the hell – I’m going to work in it anyway’. I spend my winter months, well, mostly wet and muddy but I’ve still got work in most of my gardens. This week I’ve re potted dormant roses, cleared bramble and unwanted saplings from a woodland garden, pruned current bushes,continued clearing autumn leaves and potted up lovely bright primulas. Next week I’ve got to prune some apple trees, continue clearing leaves, prune a Wisteria and trim a native deciduous hedge. There is always something to do!

Perhaps I can’t speak for all gardeners but I really don’t mind working in the winter, in fact I find it exhilarating  to be out in the elements.

I do have the occassional customer who asks me ‘ What do you do in the winter? ‘ I of course tell them that like the toad I find a nice little nest in the stones in October, November time and go to sleep until the sun is shining again – great! No really on a serious note I work, when ever I can I work. It all boils down to one thing, I’d love to hibernate in my warm kitchen with a good book and a cuppa but sadly like most other people I have to earn a living. no money coming in, no cash flow, no cash flow, no business, no business, no happy smiley gardener!

There are exceptions, some days are just too horrible to do anything, then I do settle down with a good book, and sadly it is usually related to gardening! Of course there is also the admin to do too, which gets slightly neglected in the summer when I don’t seem to stop!

So next time you see a gardener working in the rain, wind in their mane waterproofed up to their eyeballs! Don’t feel sorry for them, they are possibly (like me) enjoying being out side, working in nature –  just offer them a cuppa, they love tea!

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Lets talk detritus

Its that time of year again, leaf collecting and cutting back of the dead perennial growth…………….or is it? 

This is something I ponder every year.  In some gardens I cut back and clear to with in an inch of their lives, leaving no leaf of stork untouched and thrown in the compost bin. Other gardens (including my own) are left to wither and rot all winter, providing interesting architectural form for me to take photos of when it’s frosty and cover for creepy crawlies.

I know its a personal choice, some people may argue a must in the garden. ‘Clear everything today Sian and turn over the soil if you get the chance’. But what if we left it? Underneath those nasty leaves worms would be working away pulling bits down into the soil, improving the soil structure, a nice layer of mulch is instantly provided, protecting the soil in the winter . Did mother nature get it so wrong?

Okay, so I see the other side of the argument too. Those horrible little slug eggs that lurk in the slimy undergrowth of the rotting perennial growth. Maybe I’m mad but I wonder if they provide grub for the passing blackbird in the depths of the winter? Disease……………..leaving dead leaves and such like with cause disease, yes maybe it will or maybe it wont. I’m not convinced.

There are some exceptions to the rule though! I cant stand leaves on patios, pathways etc. Because the leaves do what they should be doing in the borders, ROTTING!! providing nice little areas for weed seeds to germinate in the spring.

When spring time appears I do get in my garden and remove what didn’t manage to rot down over the winter months, usually flower stalks. Anne Wareham at Veddw Garden in Monmothshire strimms all of her perennial growth down in the Autumn and leaves it in the borders to rot all winter, great…….feeding the soil and providing a mulch in the winter. My kind of thinking.

Admittedly it can look a little scruffy and I suspect this is why I religiously clear some gardens. My garden is more or less plonked in the middle of a field in the depth of the countryside, so rotting leaves etc are all around me, and my style of garden is very garden meets wilderness (no that is not my excuse for my garden looking scruffy! ). Other gardens I work in are very manicured with wonderfully edged borders and lawns you could play snooker on! Then yes, clear the leaves and tidy…………………’.that dying hosta looks dreadful, take it away and throw it on the compost heap!’ Again it comes down to personal style, I just think that sometimes we make more work for our selves in the garden than we need to. In saying this I am talking my self out of a job………….maybe not, remember what I said about patios and paths? 

What I am not saying is leave it permanently, in the spring I tidy anything that didn’t rot or break down, normally flower stalks and sycamore leaves.And I do remove the odd thing form my borders in the Autumn too. Most of the Cosmos came out, most of it had fallen in the wind and that really did look scruffy, some Crocosmia that had fallen on a path, gone!

Leaves on the lawn, Mulch them into the lawn when you are doing your final cuts in the Autumn, your grass box should be off! Unless you have half of your garden under two massive oak trees which shed all of their leaves on your lawn, then I understand the need to spend hours raking and clearing as is the case in one of my gardens, I don’t think my customer would have much lawn left for the spring if we did leave them.

We all have our own opinions and it’s like everything else, if I ask ten people the same question I would get ten different responses, all with more or less the same out come. So the question I pose to you is do you dare leave the leaves?

 

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fork off!

So……………..hm my first proper blog post, I’m sat up at two in the morning (not unusual for me) having woken up and drank my second cuppa and I think right what can I do that is productive and won’t wake my other half. Yes……………..write my first blog. Here goes, enjoy. ( :

The other day I was working in a great garden in my village and my lovely little border fork, or ladies fork as I call it snapped in two, the fork bit literally came away from the handle.welded together this thing was unfixable. Useless fork bit and useless handle. This little fork has been with me for three years and I bought it for a fiver on ebay so not bad going on the forks behalf. In fact its done rather well, costing me £1.66 a year, I’m sure it has repaid me in full.

But now I am  considering moving up to the higher echelons of the Stainless steel fork with the ash handle,  wow I hear you cry a lovely shiny stainless steel fork, where will the excitement end. Yes I know sad isnt it? But you are reading the ramblings of a girl who gets excited over wheel barrows and wellies! Who needs diamonds hey?!

But will my new fork last the duration?………………..will it glide effortlessly into the soil? Will the lovely ash handle feel like silk in my hands?Really the proof will be in the pudding or the digging as the case may be.

Perhaps I will eventually replace all of my tools with shiny stainless steel and ash once they succumb to over use and abuse and feel like Monty Don or the Great Alan Titchmarsh, hang on………………..make that Carol Kline or Alys Fowler! Although I don’t often see this lot up to their arm pits in mud wrestling with a ten foot bramble root.

Anyway, back to the case in hand – the ash handled, stainless steel garden implement. Are they worth the cash?…..well I suppose they are, take Bulldog, makers of the said ash handled garden tools, they promise a life time guarantee. That’s a pretty long time in my book.

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