Friday, October 29, 2010

The Grand Tour #1: The Hilly Bit

Some time ago I promised you a tour around my new garden in a little more detail. Well, now that we're here, there are no further excuses: so let me take you for a little wander around the garden I now call home.

Imagine if you will a very long and quite thin bit of land along the edge of a lane, south-facing but aligned more or less east-west, and about the shape of an aeroplane wing. It is tapered at each end and has a broader bit (to about 50ft wide) in the middle. Now plonk a house in the middle of the broader bit and divide the whole thing into three by means of a footpath running through a third from one end, and a garage interrupting another third from the other end, and you have the basic layout.

We have three main 'gardens' (though one is actually a field with pretensions - in my head anyway - to become an orchard): the first bit is my fledgling veg garden and I've already shown visitors to m'other blog around so you'll have to go have a look there if you're interested.

The next bit is the main garden: the bit that wraps around the house and is about a third of an acre, give or take a bit.

In my head it is already a beautifully-crafted, well planned and exquisitely planted garden of various different parts, so come with me in my imagination and contemplate:

Part 1: The Woodland Garden
(aka The Hilly Bit)

By this I mean the back half of the back garden, which slopes gently upwards towards the footpath between it and what we call the top field. In this photo you'll have to avert your eyes from the large blue monstrosity in the middle: essential for keeping small children distracted, but a total eyesore. We have ambitious plans which involve terracing a bit just in front of the hill so we can move it back and to the side, and well out of the way.

Incidentally the 'lawn' (I use the term advisedly) is probably staying for a while at least, as there are rumours in the village of a spectacular display of sheets of snowdrops bringing admirers from miles around. Not so sure about the admirers, but rather fancy the snowdrops.

Anyway, to take this photo you'd be standing with your back to the trampoline, looking west up the hill: a space of about 50ft wide by 60ft long. What you are seeing is not in fact a somewhat daunting and rather shady slope full of weeds and overhung with neglected trees: it is in fact a choice woodland garden, dotted here and there by pretty birches and hazels and underplanted with lovely woodlanders like trilliums, ferns and bluebells. A path zigzags its way artlessly up the slope to the back, with occasional flights of wooden steps for those wishing to take a more direct route. At the top, to the left, is a rustic-style playhouse and den, made by my rather talented garden carpenter hubby and nestling into the corner and providing a perfect retreat for small children and later sulky teenagers, as well as being a nice little focal point when you get to the top of the slope and emerge into its clearing.

See? You've got to have imagination to look at this lot. Plenty of fairly colourful imagination.

Elsewhere in this section: this is a quarry, which has the great advantage of being superbly sheltered, and the rather daunting prospect of very high chalk banks at either side. Where the arrow is - that's just about where the bank stops and the hedge starts. The top of the hedge is another 8ft or so above that. We are thinking scaffolding.

The opposite side of the garden, on the lane side (which is also the shady side). Another bank, this time more gently sloped, and therefore offering some intriguing possibilities for terraces up towards the foot of hedge this side. I'm thinking zigzag paths again, and a rather spectacular collection of ferns, podyphyllums, astilboides.... I have Keith Wiley's gorgeous and inspirational book on gardening in shade on my bookshelf and I shall plunder it shamelessly.

There are actually some quite nice plants here already. Someone way back in the dim and distant past (not, I'm sorry to say, our immediate predecessors here) was a pretty good and knowledgeable gardener: although he/she didn't quite cotton on to the fact that roses don't like chalk and therefore there are a lot of rather sick rose bushes cluttering the place up. Not this one, though, which is some sort of Rosa alba I think and therefore tough enough to scoff in the face of non-ideal soil types.

Clematis are everywhere: this is much to my delight as I have always rather struggled to grow clematis before. This one is in the main garden but I now also have a monster hedge (as if we didn't have enough hedges) of a pink C. montana - either 'Elizabeth' or var. rubens, not sure yet - on the front wall which promises spectacular sights in spring.

And my pride and joy, and if I'm honest, one of the reasons I bought the house; this is of course Ginkgo biloba, a plant I have always wanted to grow as I just adore those leaves. Now instead of struggling to persuade a stringly little sapling to grow into a proper plant, I have all to myself a really big, mature tree, maybe 30ft high, and as hale and hearty as they come. What's more - this picture was taken a few weeks ago and now all those leaves have turned the most vivid shade of butter yellow you can imagine. What a tree.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

VISTA: Leo den Dulk and the Dutch Wave

A little break from rural idyll yesterday to pop up to London's Garden Museum for the first in this year's ever-inspiring lecture series that is VISTA.

This time it was the Dutch garden historian Leo den Dulk, talking about all things Hollandic and especially the New Perennials/Dutch Wave/Prairie Planting/Insert Label As Required Movement (that's the trouble with Movements: everyone thinks they thought of it first). This is the subject of an absorbing exhibition at the Museum, which has plumped for Dutch Wave and has gathered together a wonderful and insightful collection of snippets about Piet Oudolf, Henk Gerritsen, and those they have influenced in Holland and here.

It was, as always, a wide-ranging and thought-provoking discussion which would take a blog post the length of a small book to do justice to: so I'll limit myself to the following little gems of inspiration and snippets of things I never knew before but do now.

Henk Gerritsen is a seriously good artist. There are a couple of his sketches in the exhibition and they are just beautiful.

The Dutch 'New' Wave started in the 1920s and isn't new at all if you're Dutch. It arose from a reaction against formal planting - herbaceous borders and the like - when young designers turned instead to informal, indigenous plants, many of which had never been worked with before, and did interesting things with them, later involving lots of crisply clipped yew by way of contrast. Leo was referring to them as 'mainstream' by the 1930s - a good 60 years before the movement arrived here.

Piet Oudolf is actually pronounced Peet Owdolf, not Peet Oodolf. Am very embarrassed that I have been saying it wrong for years.

Mien Ruys however is still impossible to pronounce if you're English. But I really, really, really want to visit.

William of Orange was a gardener. I hadn't cottoned on to this fact before. He made it his policy to 'garden the nation' (could do with a bit of that here), and first came to Britain not to invade (hah! as if!) but to look at the wonderful gardens he'd heard about here.

The Dutch invented guerrilla gardening not the Americans. And, said Leo proudly, they were doing it in broad daylight: which is probably why they didn't think there was anything that revolutionary about it.

They invented annual seed 'meadow' mixes too in case you thought Nigel Dunnett did it first. This time it was Dutch iconoclast and seedsman Rob Leopold who was responsible. This is a man I want to know more about: he is quite simply inspirational. There is a memorial page for him, set up following his recent untimely death, with contributions from Leo den Dulk, Noel Kingsbury and others.

Hippies don't come from Haarlem. Apparently.

Mien Ruys planted Japanese knotweed in her garden. It's still there, and maintained regularly, sandwiched between a path and a stream. Apparently they keep it under control by cutting it back every year.

Grasses weren't a Dutch thing. Despite the apparently unbreakable link between Piet Oudolf and grasses, they were actually introduced by the German Karl Foerster in the 1950s. Leo said there were many 'false starts' involving too many cultivars which weren't good enough, Miscanthus sinensis 'Silberfeder' being a notable exception.

Ecologists and gardeners don't like each other. Even in Holland. Purist ecologists tend to be rather sneering about planting such as the wonderful-sounding grass-and-perennials landscaping in the Amstelween suburb just outside Schiphol Airport - another one on my list for the Grand Garden Tour of Holland I can just feel bubbling up inside - saying things like 'this isn't nature, this is gardening'. Fortunately Leo has come up with an apt phrase capturing the essence of this kind of gardening: 'intensified nature'.

The Dutch refer to plants as 'native' if they've been there since 1900. Whereas the English tend to be talking about anything post-Ice Age. Which is right, I wonder?

There was more: much more. You can listen to the whole thing via the podcast, which I hope will soon turn up on the Gardens Illustrated page: enjoy.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

By the way.... did flower for me after all :D

The unseasonably sunny weather over the last few weeks played in my favour so I had this to look at and swoon over out of my garden room window.

Actually it doesn't stop there: there are two more flower spikes, both at the stage this one was at a couple of weeks ago and looking a little dicey as to whether they'll actually make it to full glory.

However it must be said we have now had our first ground frost (to one degree above, so it doesn't really count, but it was a warning shot across the bows). So my triffids are safely stashed in my insulated and soon-to-be-heated greenhouse, which I hope will soon be filled with the scent of gingerlily flowers.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Popping up again

Now then, now then! That's quite enough of all that unpacking of boxes! Get back in to the garden!

Actually that's a bare-faced lie. My own mother came round to our 'new' (getting less 'new' by the day) house to see us and laughed like a drain at the fact that my veg garden, just one month ago known optimistically as the orchard and a rather overgrown strip of grass bounded by two encroaching hedgerows, is now about 5ft wider (a lot of secateur/lopper/pruning saw action there and I'm still ferrying the waste up to the bonfire spot) and has two sparkly new raised beds, one of which is planted with vegetables. Whereas the house is still half-unpacked, getting back to our usual level of just-bearable scruffiness and we haven't got any furniture yet. You can see where my priorities lie.

I've also got a shiny new blog to write for occasionally and generally fossick around behind the scenes with: what with m'other blog too I've been feeling a little blogged out, to be honest, although I'm having a great deal of fun and can hardly believe my luck at times. Don't tell anyone it's me or they'll realise and I'll have to go back to writing about people killing each other (I used to be a news journalist, in case that last remark seemed more than usually bizarre).

However: there's nothing like the indulgence of your own salary-free blog in which to blather on about stuff nobody in their right mind would pay you to write about. So after my long pause, for which I apologise to anyone who actually cared or indeed noticed, I have returned to bore you all anew. Good luck.
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