Am I alone in discovering that different activities can teach you to view the world differently? I grew up with a very artistically gifted younger sister, and somehow I turned this into a belief that I wasn’t artistic, wasn’t creative. Not being able to paint or draw could have come in to it… It wasn’t until I started taking more photographs that I began to realise that I wasn’t totally lacking in that department, that I had a reasonably good eye for what made a good photograph, even if my technical skills might fall short of allowing myself to realise what I imagined.
When I first came to gardening, in my late twenties, I discovered a whole new world of texture and colour, and became fascinated by the challenge of envisioning what plants would look like when they were bigger, or when the season had changed. A multi dimensional puzzle of changing season and growth patterns rapidly turned me into a
fanatical committed gardener, avid to learn more, reading and watching voraciously in search of inspiration. More recently still, I have begun to take more notice of how plants grow in the wild, so that instead of being an almost academic exercise in combinations of colour and form, gardening has become informed by the surrounding context, a sense of place.
And now here I am, in a new place, a new climate, a new garden.
To the casual observer, I have been on a mission of destruction in our back garden. Where once we had dense cover all the way across the back border, there are now huge gaps. You can see the fence, our neighbour’s shed. Our neighbour’s house!
I found myself sitting, mug of tea in hand, staring at the above, a huge grin on my face. Am I mad? Where others may see destruction, loss of privacy, might even mourn for the loss of the spotted laurels, I see potential. My mind’s eye is full of leaf shapes and colours, playing with different combinations. It has been hard work, digging out the stumps of mature suckering shrubs, but so satisfying too.
I suspect that part of the reason for my excitement at this huge unplanted space is that I haven’t been able to plant new shrubs or trees for over five years. My previous garden was chocker, in fact I had already found myself needing to move, thin, remove, shrubs that had outgrown their place. It’s funny though, I can envisage shrub combinations, but I am lousy at accurately gauging how much space there really is until it is physically clear. My spatial awareness just isn’t up to it. So where as I suspect lots of people could have gone all the way through the planning and dreaming phase without having to remove a single unwanted shrub, I have to clear the space first. Not that I haven’t been plotting and planning, I have, but the last bits, particularly to the right where we still have two large conifers, just refuse to come together until I can actually see the space without them. So I clearly have lots more to learn about different ways to see!
After all the destruction, the piles and piles of shredding (thank you TNG!), the battling with rootballs, the loss of, so far, one spade and one fork to the effort to clear space, I have finally managed to plant something. Nothing terribly exciting, just a Fatsia japonica, but ever since I saw the Drimys lanceolata I have wanted to see the large shiny leaves of a fatsia alongside it.
I cannot adequately describe how good it felt to finally put something in to the garden rather than the vigorous “editing” that I have been engaged in. It is a wonderfully healthy looking plant, though ironically cannot currently be seen from the house, as it is hidden behind a fern! But in my mind’s eye, it is already 2m tall and the same across, providing privacy and a perfect foil for the altogether more refined form of the Drimys.
Weather permitting, our next door neighbour has promised to bring his chainsaw out to play this weekend and remove the two conifers. Again, many (including him!) would think me mad, taking them out. They provide evergreen privacy from people who wander round the back of the snooker hall in the park next door. They provide shelter from the worst of the south westerlies. But when I look at them, I see bare trunks to 2′ high that will never again be covered in branches, roots snaking throughout the border drying out the ground, and a completely static block of uninteresting mid green where, given the sun levels, I could have colour, flowers, berries, as well as evergreen privacy. I can even have thorns, in case anyone gets inspired to brave the nest of brambles in the attempt to take a closer look at our garden! So more destruction, to be followed by more grinning, and more planting. Onward!