It’s over thirty years that we have lived and gardened here. The estate was built on farmland a decade earlier still, with our plot occupying an acute angled corner of a field, the hedge for which still remains. Unable to squeeze in another house, they left this property with a much larger garden than most, with almost all of it behind the house. The total area, including the very small front garden, is around 500 square metres.
A circular lawn occupied half the space, with a brick retaining wall about three feet high along the side facing the house. The circle remains though the lawn doesn’t, indeed all the lawn was dug up many years ago.
In the early days we grew some vegetables and fruit but except for a trio of apple trees it is now all ornamentals, the vegetables having migrated to an allotment site that finally happened in the village after many years of debate.
There is not a single plant left from before our arrival here, though in truth there were not many to start with and they were not very inspiring. Thirty years is a fair length of time in a garden and the list of plants that we have had is probably rather longer than the list of what we have now. A good few have failed for one reason or another, others have failed to please and been ousted, many have outgrown their position and been removed.
A handful of early arrivals have grown quite large, as has an oak tree on the boundary, creating a couple of sections that are predominantly shady, either side of a much sunnier central corridor. I have tried to plant appropriately for the varying conditions, aiming both to have plants thriving in a suitable environment and to play host to the widest possible range. Those two criteria, maximum diversity consistent with the available conditions, inform most of what I do in the garden. Design and use of colour are of lesser importance to me.
Plants grow. As irritating as some people seem to find it, you don’t create a garden, in one go or over a few years, then sit back to enjoy its unchanging beauty for the next twenty years. It is constantly changing, mostly as plants grow bigger and fight it out with their neighbours.
Maintenance is about managing change, not preventing it. Some plants have been moved, others pruned, some unceremoniously dumped. Occasionally the only option has been to clear an area and start again. As shady areas developed, they were planted with suitable species. A point was reached where the balance between shady and sunny seemed to us to be about right and I have tried to keep that balance about the same since then.
The garden contains a very wide range of plants; I’d be hard pushed to come up with a category of plants that I really dislike. There are a few groups that are well represented, notably Camellias and Ferns, but they don’t dominate. I like the vivid colours of Dahlias and bedding Begonias no less and no more than the subtleties of Disporums, Maianthemums and Ferns. The architectural qualities of Astelia, Yucca and Chionochloa sit cheek by jowel with Fuchsias and Heleniums.
I like to think I am in control, but that I am not obsessive about it, so self seeders abound and in the shape of Foxgloves and Aquilegias, provide much colour in early summer.
I don’t regard bare ground as an affront so much as a missed opportunity, and I have tried to plant so as to have a succession of growth and flower from snowdrops in late winter until Nerines in the autumn. It’s a work in progress and always will be.