I’ve spent a good few hours of every day this week outside in the garden, just pottering about, pondering and planning. I’ve been feeling really low lately after recently having been made redundant when the department store I worked for finally closed down for good due to ongoing financial difficulties exacerbated by continuing Covid restrictions.
So in order to try to keep any lurking depression at bay I’m spending some quality time clearing away the last of the winter debris and detritus in my garden, letting nature soothe me and start to heal my hurt, just thinking things through and letting my troubled mind wander, deciding as I go along where my garden plans might take me this year…
When we first moved in to this house in the autumn of 2019 we inherited a mature South-West facing front garden and North-East facing back garden that had previously belonged to an elderly man who had clearly loved gardening and had spent a great deal of time looking after his plants. But it seemed that as time passed he had also clearly grown too old to notice the slow decay of his pride and joy, or to care for it all properly by himself.
Family had kept it ticking over and tidy for him, stopping it from looking completely neglected and preventing it from becoming too obviously overgrown, but they had not loved it in the same intensive way he had in the past. On the surface and with only a cursory glance all looked fine. But behind the scenes the garden too was starting to feel its age, infrastructure crumbling around the edges, losing its integrity a little like a fading bloom. Recognisable still as the garden he loved, but no longer so robust.
The garden had been laid out to suit his personal planting preferences – formal rose-beds set around a rectangular lawn in the front garden, and in the back garden there were two sagging greenhouses for propagating bedding plants, a rickety old wooden potting shed, and a modern metal shed for storing garden implements. The pale ghosts of myriad circular marks on the patio and pathways showed a predilection for plants kept in large pots as well as in the flower beds edging the central grassy area.
Ornate painted but rusting hanging basked brackets adorned every possible surface. Four fruit trees of varying ages and sizes took up quite a lot of space, but there was no sign of any vegetable plot. There was a rhododendron bush and a large overgrown flowering cherry tree, a camellia, a fuchsia and a couple of unidentified bushes – at that point I still wasn’t sure what they might be. And oddly out of place, one large ten-foot-tall stark tree stump standing sentry to the no-longer-functional-but-full compost heap hiding in the back corner.
Moving in as we did at the end of the growing season, I decided just to tidy things up but basically keep everything as it was for the first full year, to see what the earth had hidden within, waiting for the garden to give up her seasonal secrets month after month. Throughout the winter everything inevitably lay dormant and dull, but sure enough by spring there were snowdrops and crocus and daffodils and tulips.
In the summer deep red peonies appeared along with yellow poppies and wild strawberries, lilies and honesty and golden rod. The roses bloomed and barren bushes became azalea and forsythia. Where clear empty dirt flower beds awaited their usual offering of annual bedding plants I instead added herb bushes – lavender and rosemary – and also a few heather plants to fill the blank space.
By late autumn we were back where we started, so again I cleared up for winter, with far more of an idea emerging as to how to begin to transform the garden to become fully our space, discarding what is not ‘us’ while still keeping as much of the original as we could. Winter passed cold and wet, and here we are in spring again. I’d carefully watched the position of the sun over the garden for that first whole year, to see where areas of dominant light and shade suggested one thing over another, and we’ve made some big decisions.
At least one of the greenhouses has to go altogether – perhaps both, as they are old and frighteningly fragile and we have young grandchildren who love to play in our garden. The old wooden potting shed is rotting away beyond remedy, the roof has clearly been leaking for years, and realistically the whole structure needs to be replaced with something dry and useful. We’re going to re-site the potential new replacement elsewhere, as the footprint of the current shed sits slap bang on the sunniest spot in the garden.
Plant-wise, we’ve sadly reached the conclusion that all four fruit trees will have to go. The two really old gnarled and twisted specimens, one plum and one greengage, are both too stressed and diseased with too much deadwood to be safe. Both trees have lost major branches since we moved in, crashing down into the garden with no warning – one see-sawing precariously across the garden wall, one breaking a pane of glass in the greenhouse below, having just missed hitting me on the way down.
Both large trees also badly overshadow the back garden space in too much of an overbearing fashion to be allowed to remain – making the most of the available natural light is so important to me. And the two small my-height apple trees, giving minimal inedible fruit, are just in the way, stuck into the middle of the grass like a poorly-played game of Pin the Tail on the Donkey. Not surprisingly the old tree stump needs to go. I’ve dug up the Goldenrod, as it was far too invasive and was choking the azalea bushes, and have tried to re-site some of the peonies, so we’ll see if that works.
I’ve always been a country girl at heart so really love having a garden again, and have always felt comfortably at home spending time outside, but I’m not a labour-intensive kind of traditional gardener. Ideally I like to work with and encourage nature rather than try to completely control and contain it in too orderly a fashion. I far prefer taming the random wildness of it all rather than planting stuff out in regimented rows like a formally set dinner table.
I like to do my bit to help out, but basically let nature have her way with a bit of guidance from me, creating an easy space for birds and bees and insects and people and plants to live together in harmony. Basically I garden to let me have a lovely outdoor space to relax in, not for the pure pleasure of the activity itself – I definitely prefer the enjoyment of the end product to the actual process of gardening, although to be honest I do enjoy the familiarity of routine tasks too.
So right now I’m off outside again with a cup of tea to sit on my garden bench in the spring sunshine, picturing in my mind’s eye how it will all look once we make all the changes we’re planning. As we haven’t got very far doing up the house yet, either, inside or outside, this vision may take some time to become reality, but I’m sure we’ll get there in the end – we usually do! 🙂