Garden design to me, is about working with nature and letting her take the lead. Yes we like to make our mark, but this land would be beautiful whether we gardened it or not. You only have to look at the hedgerows of honeysuckle and foxgloves to see that we are living in a precious place, so far unspoilt by man’s need to have neat green verges, denude of wildflowers.
The elements of our garden:
Sense of Form
Created not by hard, artificial boundaries, but by hedges of wild roses providing beauty, scent and rosehips; by bending whips of ash into the ground, a lattice in the winter, an impenetrable barrier of green in summer with vertical stems that will shoot up towards the light, these will be cut in autumn or spring to provide fuel for the fire; a corridor of trees which will give the feel of a cathedral when grown, for now providing shelter for the garden and a perch for birds; and natural stone to line paths and beds, connecting us to our ancestors who originally shaped this environment.
Provided by drifts of blue flowers and pink apple blossom in the spring. Followed in summer by herbs such as purple sage and the pink flowers of thyme, with stems of yellow fennel towering above them. The peppery flowers of nasturtiums scrambling over beds, harvested for salads and the seeds collected in the autumn to be pickled. Fuchsia hedges broken by elderflowers with their heavy scent, gathered in June to produce a sparkling champagne, a taste of summer to be enjoyed in the dark winter months. At the height of summer the garden is edged by the fiery orange of wild montbrecia. Late summer and autumn sees the sweet peas climbing through the rose hedges, producing cut flowers for the table and giving wisps of perfume as you brush past them. Then in winter the yellow stems of willow and red dog wood are cut to make wreathes for the doors, decorated with holly and bay.
Our garden feeds us. Fruit once planted is a joy, it is so undemanding and produces a wonderful harvest. Vegetables need nurturing, but the rewards are great. There is nothing like a tomato picked fresh from the vine or seeing a child rummage for peas in the veg bed, eating them like sweets.
Practicality and Self-Sustaining
Our garden needs to be practical with a place for tools, compost bins, manure heaps and water butts. The soil needs to be nourished and replenished each year and there is nothing better than compost produced from the garden itself and manure, courtesy of our neighbour’s horses.
A wildflower meadow, not created by removing the turf and sowing seeds, but by leaving it to nature and seeing what appears. Changing through the seasons, at first pink clover and plantains, then ox-eye daisies and grasses, purple in the spring turning golden in the autumn when the thistles appear. Here they are left to bloom, their purple heads providing nectar for butterflies and bees in the summer, the seed heads attracting flocks of goldfinches in the autumn. By mowing a maze of paths it allows us to experience nature and be surrounded by the hum of insects and spot wild flowers. The maze draws animals and children alike, with the cats hiding in the grass and children compelled to race its paths. Our meadow is soft and wispy in the summer, whilst in winter the frost and snow expose its strong geometric lines. Its unicursal design of a path with twists and turns is reminiscent of mazes seen in the earliest wall paintings and adds a spiritual element to the garden, signifying ones journey through life.
A small natural pond formed in an area of the garden that water naturally drains to, so that pond liners or concrete are unnecessary. Kept clean by Norfolk reeds, at times drying out in the height of summer, its waters are renewed in the next downpour. It is a place that attracts dragonflies, insects and water birds.
The greenhouses are the engine rooms of the garden. The one nearest the house is used for propagating seeds and bringing on young plants. This greenhouse demands the most attention and is the one area of stress, as too often there is a backlog of plants waiting to be potted on or moved into the veg beds. The other is more relaxed, here the tomatoes and grapes slowly ripen in the sunshine, demanding daily watering, but little else. At the end of the season the greenhouses are a refuge, a pleasant place to work and ponder on the year ahead, warmed by the winter sun.
With these elements we work with nature to create a garden that with each year will grow more beautiful, provide a greater harvest and most importantly feed our soul.