Garden History

I was sorting out backups of my too many digital photos yesterday and became side-tracked into looking through old photos of the garden. I was struck by how many pictures of plants I had and how few of the garden they were growing in. It was only when I started blogging, joining in with a meme called end of month view, that I started to take pictures from the same angle at regular intervals. I kept it up for a while but it then became very erratic.

Yet they are the most interesting of the pictures. My reaction to the pictures of plants is mostly a) surprise that I grew anything so naff, b) surprise that I’ve completely forgotten growing it, c) total lack of surprise that I have it no more.

When the house was built, around 45 years ago, it was on farmland and the garden was more or less untouched field. I moved in around 32 years ago and there were still docks and thistles germinating in large numbers every year from the seedbank in the soil. Some landscaping had been done by an earlier occupant and they had created a circular lawn with a flower bed around it, planted some trees and planted a leylandii hedge.

The image compare function is just perfect to show how much things have changed. The before picture is probably from 1987, the after I took today, 13/1/2021. The curved brick wall remains but all the grass, the hedge and all the trees are gone. The paving has been replaced or removed and the lean to glasshouse is different.

It would be a mistake to think that there was a gradual transition from one into the other. Five years after the first picture was taken it would have looked dramatically different, but no more remains of that version than of the starting point.

Wouldn’t it be something to set up a camera and take the same shot every day for 30 years. You could turn it into a short movie, at 25 frames per second it would run over seven minutes. I don’t think I’d better start now, I’m not confident of making it to 98, far less of still being able to operate a computer. I can think of a lot of reasons for not planning 30 years ahead.

Here are a couple of scanned early photos which I can’t date but in the nineties somewhere.

A polytunnel has gone in and the area of grass is shrinking. The leylandii hedge was still there and a horror to cut twice a year. I’ve looked carefully at the picture and can find nothing that is still here, though there are a couple of plants that may have been there but are hidden from view.
By the time of this picture, probably around 2000, the grass has gone completely. A beautiful Cupressus lusitanica ‘Glauca Pendula’ is shooting up at over 2ft a year in the conifer bed. Near the front corner of the conifer bed is the narrow yellow column of Taxus baccata ‘Standishii’, which is still here. At the left of the picture is Acer palmatum ‘Atropurpureum’, still here but in decline, and to the right of it, Euphorbia mellifera, which is still in good shape. I can detect no other survivors, including fortunately, the sycamore at top left, in a neighbour’s garden.

By 2005 I was onto my first Canon digital camera, having had a Fuji before that. The before picture here is from 2/1/2005, the after was taken today. At first glance I took the earlier picture to be a summer image, but it’s not, we just had a lot more evergreen plants in 2005. I imagine we planted them because the garden had been quite bare in winter then slowly got rid of them because they were dark and gloomy and unchanging. Almost all the conifers have gone, they’re not easy to restrict in size. Behind the Acer on the left is a Magnolia, now gone, as is the Eucalyptus niphophila at the top, the Pinus sylvestris ‘Chantrey Blue’ beneath and Pittosporum ‘Silver Queen’ to its right. The tree above Herman (the head) is Acer hersii, with Chamaecyparis lawsoniana ‘Little Spire’ behind it and Pittosporum ‘Tom Thumb’ in front. All gone. The clipped obelisk of Cupressus macrocarpa ‘Goldcrest’, the Phormium to its right and three pines in bottome right, good plants every single one of them (well, maybe not the Phormium) all gone.

Step forward another six years to 8/12/2010 and on a bitterly cold winter’s day it is a dull but largely green scene. The big evergreens are starting to really dominate. There’s a large hazel to the left of the big conifer which is on the middle of the bank along the back and I’m reluctant to cut it right down as it’s right on the boundary. I’ve cloud pruned the Chamaecyparis obtusa to the left of the Taxus ‘Standishii’, to try and make it more interesting and stop it getting bigger.

And so it goes on, as gardens will, with absolutely no end in sight. Back when I started I knew just about all there is to know about plants and gardens, now I know that I knew practically nothing and even though I know more now I still know practically nothing.

You plant things and they never stay the same. Some die, that’s OK, there may be a planting opportunity. Some keep on growing, that’s OK too, they’re generally getting better as they get bigger but the chances are that they are competing for space, above and below ground, with other plants. Sooner or later something has to give. Sometimes plants can be moved to where there is room, sometimes they’re exactly what someone else wants for their garden, sometimes they’re toast. In the last year I’ve tossed Camellia ‘Nuccio’s Pearl’ and Chamaerops humilis into the council greenwaste skip to mention just a couple. It can be hard at the time but they’re soon forgotten.

My plant knowledge, after 30 years on a nursery, is much greater than it was, my tastes have changed hugely, the range of plants available has changed, the climate is noticeably different. I look at some of these old photos and momentarily think how colourful it was and perhaps get a little nostalgic, but that’s what young gardens are like. To have kept it like that would have meant not growing hundreds if not thousands of different plants in the years since.
I’m glad I have the pictures too and with the benefit of hindsight I wish I’d taken more of the wider view. I wish it hadn’t all gone past in such a flash too but that’s life.

Ah, but I was so much older then
I’m younger than that now

7 thoughts on “Garden History

  1. So interesting to see your garden developing. You’ve kept a much better record of the changes in your garden than I have of mine. I kept a record of plants for several years but it could be depressing at times, seeing what was no longer there. I do love a good planting opportunity though.


    1. Lists of ex plants is a familiar theme. The thing that really struck me was that I get excited every time something flowers and photograph it, but the overall garden is always there so I don’t take many pictures of it; yet, in retrospect, they are much the more interesting pictures.


  2. Fascinating, a most enjoyable article/story. I wish I had taken before and after photos of our garden, it was nothing but giant shrubs and a few rose bushes. Too late now. See you again on Saturday!


  3. Fascinating Jim.
    Like you my pictures are patchy taken mostly of our children with the garden in the background. When there were plants in the photo they were a good row of runner beans, a rose or the tallest sunflower. You have done a much better job with your garden than I. The next owners of our properties may start all over again. My magnolias will be for the next owner to enjoy – if they last that long……….


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