One of the things I love about having a new garden to play with is that even though it is winter, there is still plenty I can be doing, inside and out, to make it better, more mine. My last garden had been carefully planned to be very low maintenance, and there were rarely any jobs to do at this time of year, and no space to plant new things. Here, plenty of scope, and on the occasional dry day I love to get outside.
Earlier this week I decided to tackle another piece of my horticultural Rubik’s Cube (thank you b-a-g!). Every day I sit at a table that looks out over the front garden towards the sea to eat my lunch. (I know, lucky me.) Every day I linger after my meal, gardening in my head. I decided fairly early on that I wanted the border that runs along the fence to be full of Autumn, Winter and Spring interest, allowing the rest of the garden to take over for the summer. I began to plan where to plant the Cotinus coggygria ‘Royal Purple’ (smoke bush) and the Prunus incisa ‘kojo-no-mai’ (dwarf cherry) that have been languishing in pots for over three years. I found a red stemmed bamboo that I really want to plant as a screen to the compost bins. I started drooling over dogwoods. But there was the small matter of the Red Fence. Which is hideous. Nothing could be planted until I had changed the colour to something more appealing, less likely to put me off my food.
I toyed with painting it pale cream, because gardening-sil used this to great effect in her garden, but it’s just not right for here. I used to long for a bluey-green fence, but again, it just doesn’t fit. I was determined not to have yet another dark brown fence, inoffensive though that would be. In the end, it was easy. I already had three twisted willows and a mystery shrub which I have yet to identify but which I have rather fallen for despite the variegated leaves, pretty plants that should look good at this time of year, were it not for the Red Fence behind them.
Normally I would be aiming to completely obscure the fence with (predominantly evergreen) planting, but I remembered seeing Diarmuid Gavin use black for a fence years ago, on some TV programme, and being struck by what a fantastic backdrop it made for the plants. There is a good reason so many stands at horticultural shows use black backdrops. So I’ve made a start.
Already, after just one coat, the twisted stems of the willow sing out.
The delicate colouring of my mystery shrub is beautiful.
Even the dying hydrangea flowers look suddenly dramatic. I fear it may take three coats, but I am really happy with my choice – though I know it won’t be to everyone’s taste. And I am quite sure that the current state of play is raising some questions:
I skipped a panel. Partly because I was eager to see what the mystery shrub looked like against the black, and partly to avoid yet more careful negotiation around the ivy. Mostly, though, it was to give me more time to ponder what to do with the three willows.
There is a huge holly – well, the stump is huge, the regrowth is actually quite petite at present – growing in between the first and second willow. Much closer to the second than the first. I seem to be managing to persuade the holly to revert back to plain green (it is “supposed” to be a rather garish yellow with green margins), but it is soon going to overcome the second willow, if not the first. And where the still-red fence panel is, the third willow is closely accompanied by a rose I want to rescue and use elsewhere and an evergreen that I just want shot of. Since the rose and willow combination was going to make painting that fence panel really awkward anyway, I decided I might as well hold off until I get a dry enough day to move things around.
I think I will keep all three willows, but move the second and third further up towards the house, where they will relate rather nicely to the mature native willows growing in the park behind us. The Met Office is currently promising me some dry days around the weekend, so hopefully I will be able to relocate the willows and rose, and get another coat on the fence. In the mean time, it is back to gardening in my head…