Leaves of Hemerocallis, Iris, Crocosmia, bluebell and reed from the pond can be put to second use. At this time of year I have a quick tidy up of my collection of Iris and Hemerocallis plants in the garden. Once the leaves have faded, I dry them out and store them until I have some time to do some weaving, then I soften them in a damp towel for up to 6 hours then weave away…
One year on in the build, two years on in the design and we are almost ready for planting. The garden has been levelled, using low retaining stone walls, into 4 separate gardens based on the original slope of site. A rill garden, a canal and an upper pool garden will all be enclosed with yew hedging this autumn. The majestic kitchen garden lime mortar walls are almost finished. There are many beautiful details in the stonework in this garden and a huge boulder serves as a stepping stone through the canal via the central axis path.
This is a wildlife garden designed for low maintenance and low impact on the environment. The canal already attracts swallows, they create stunning acrobatic displays as they swoop down and drink from the canal. All the pools have egress points for the creatures it may attract. The kitchen garden walls have nesting holes built into them, all the other walls have recessed pointing to encourage plants to grow in them and to offer shelter to small creatures. Lime mortar is used throughout. Lawns will be planted with daisy and Prunella and cut less frequently than most lawns. There will be trees and hedges which are beneficial to wildlife on so many different levels and borders will be planted with plants providing a long season pollen and nectar.
Months of hard work have gone into this garden already by an excellent team of builders. The design of the garden is the result of a partnership between myself and my client – a very exciting project.
Most of us enjoy the birds, hedgehogs, dragonflies, frogs, newts and butterflies that visit our gardens but I also have rabbits, deer, moles and voles to tolerate not to mention the large grass snakes that have taken up residence this summer. Surely this means I am a successful wildlife gardener?
There is usually a flip side to success and when it comes to snakes most of us do not want to share our gardens with these cool, long, slick creatures, me included. However these discreet sun worshipers have been squeezed out of their own habitat as hedgerows and woodland are ploughed or built over. I don’t therefore feel it would be correct for me to turf them out of my garden as much as I would like to. There is only one thing for it and that is to get used to the new occupants but it might take me a while.
Surprisingly I have come across a distinct lack of sympathy to my plight “Oh grass snakes are not venomous, I don’t know what you’re worried about”. I can only put this down to the fact that most people are not as intimate with their gardens as I am – or am I just being wimpish? You must agree that it is rather a shock when, after a long days work, you find yourself squatting next to a neatly coiled up grass snake in the polytunnel whilst weeding the tomatoes. However this is the best news ever for the common Natrix natrix if people really are as tolerant of snakes in their gardens as they are trying to lead me to believe. Hoorah!
For a great read on wildlife gardening “No Nettles Required” by Ken Thompson
My productive vegetable garden reclaimed from scrub land 5 years ago – the hedgerows are harvested for logs by coppicing and hedge laying, there are hens, compost bins, fruit trees, log storage, polytunnels willow beds and Phormium (for weaving). Birds nest in the trees and hedges (goldfinch, bullfinch, chaffinch, greenfinch, blackbirds, wrens, pigeons, thrushes, etc…), a huge grass snake has decided to make its home here too.
High labour inputs this time of year but there will be food for the house right through until next spring.
I have been wowed by the perfection of the naturalistic planting schemes presented to us by leading designers at Chelsea this year. This is a style of planting that I particularly like; complex, textural, dynamic herbaceous perennials bolstered by strong structural forms such as carved stone or wood and clipped living buttons, balls, cubes, rectangles, cones, spirals and clouds.
At this time of year it is the herbaceous perennials that are the stars of the show, be that in our gardens at home or at Chelsea. However these are just the final detail in the overall design, put in to soften the functional elements such as pools, paths, hedges and garden buildings. Get the layout right and then you can have fun with the planting.
During Chelsea week I scrutinised my own garden borders which are naturalistic in style but planted in drifts for easier maintenance, not surprisingly they left me with a sense of disappointment. My budget for the garden has not stretched to finished topiary shapes and unless I partake in daily tinkering there will be few days in the year when the beds will look like perfection. Scrutiny is good however, it helps me to see what needs to be done and if I am to be master of my borders that means regular input and time.
Unlike in the house, nothing stays the same for long in the garden, plants don’t stay where you put them, weeds sprout up, things flop, lawns get shaggy, flower spikes fade, rabbits and slugs nibble, etc… None of this occurs in a show garden, gardening at home is a process over time, enmeshing the gardener with the seasons where rewards are directly related to effort.
The magic is that most of us see beyond our efforts, our minds bending what is reality into a beautiful finished picture possibly like one of the gardens at Chelsea?
2014 Laurent-Perrier garden designed by Luciano Giubbilei
“Water is the eye of the landscape” this is what my lecturer Peter Thoday used to tell us. Reservoirs, lakes, rivers, the sea and even our small garden ponds; they never fail to demand our attention, their magical surfaces reflecting the moods of the weather and the shifting shadows of the surrounding landscape. Up close we are drawn to peer into the depths or maybe indulge in a bit of wild swimming.
This medium, the source of life on our blue planet, can be manipulated endlessly to create sound, habitat, irrigation, etc… and the garden at Shute House ( Donhead St Mary, near Shaftesbury) illustrates this rather well.
It was at Shute House that I found myself on a winding path through a lush grove of Camelia and Prunus laurocerassus which opened onto a deep circular pool, squeezing me and the path up against the overhanging greenery. The crystal water was deep with hints of turquoise as it disappeared from view.
In the 1960′s, garden designer, Geoffrey Jellicoe used the water from this spring fed pool, weaving it around the modest sized garden in the form of pools, canals, musical waterfalls and rills before releasing it out of the garden through two more pools in the water meadow below and eventually into the river Nadder at the bottom of the valley. An ingenious use of a natural water source in a hillside garden and described by many as Jellicoe’s ‘masterpiece’.
Be inspired! Water in the garden does not have to rely on a natural spring or stream, nor on a pumped system from the mains tap. It falls freely from the sky, can be captured and used in our gardens creatively. Nigel Dunnett, of Sheffield University, designs with rainwater to create “rain gardens”, magical! http://www.nigeldunnett.info/Raingardens/
“Never do anything without having three good reasons” this is a permaculture principal I prefer to follow. As a result I have been holding off tidying my garden beds all winter aware that all the dead stems and leaves from last year’s growth have been helping to protect the soil from the pounding rain, that they have provided shelter for insects and amphibians as well as protecting the crowns of my plants from the worst of the weather. I know that a tidy garden is not the best wildlife garden but people do judge me by my garden so I try to aim for a happy balance. I have been missing my garden for months now so I am itching to get out there and do a bit of gardening and I want to enjoy the effect of the spring bulbs when I look out from the window.
Every action has a knock on effect so scooping up all the dead stems from around my collapsed herbaceous perennials exposes hiding weed seedlings and makes the beds look tidy but my action breaks the carbon cycle removing the nutrient source for all the associated micro-organisms in the decomposition process. My soil will be more prone to ‘capping’ (surface compaction), weed seed germination, loss of soil micro-organisms and the associated humus and fertility but not all is lost, my dry twiggy debris is added to my compost bins and last season’s compost (which is ready) is returned to the beds so ‘mending’ the carbon cycle.
Having spent a few hours today, out there in the crazy wind, I can now enjoy the dainty snowdrops, Eranthus, Crocus and primroses in tidier beds, I have exposed weeds and made a start on dealing with these; the ephemeral, peppery and edible Hairy Bittercress and the irritating Poa annua undaunted, merrily pushing up flower heads, the tiny dandelion rosettes doing their best to get a hold without my noticing. Now I am motivated to get an early start on my weeding and whilst tiptoeing through the beds I see the tell tell signs of rabbits, grrhh, I get excited about plants that I will take cuttings from any day now, plants that I will divide. I prune the roses and the apple tree whilst I am there, the spotted purple apple prunings will be woven into something in my workshop. Oh it is very cold and blustery but whilst the rain holds off it is such a treat to get out there and to be up close to ‘spring’.
My 3 good reasons, well 3 or more reasons: gardening makes me happy and feel alive, material for the compost bin, getting a head start on the weeds, ‘taking off a load’ from some of the perennials in this strong wind, getting ready for propagation, collecting weaving materials, planning pest and disease control measures…