Book Review: The Writer’s Garden

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There seems to be a plethora of books about gardens in various locations of the world or the UK at the moment so finding a new angle is a challenge.  Jackie Bennett has taken the approach of collecting together an assortment of gardens in the UK which either inspired or belonged to some of our best known writers and bringing them together in The Writer’s Garden

Whilst the book is essentially another glossy image laden coffee table book on gardens it has the distinction of including potted histories of each of the writers from Sir Walter Scott through Henry James to Roald Dahl and Agatha Christie and how they encountered or created the featured garden, what works they were inspired to write at this time and the current status of the garden.

The book is well written and researched and as you would expect from a garden book from the Frances Lincoln stables, includes excellent and plentiful photographs by Richard Hanson. However, I did find the premise of the book a little strained at times if you take the title ‘The Writer’s Garden’ literally.   Few of the writers were actually hands on gardeners with the exception possibly of Wordsworth and Beatrix Potter.  However, many created the gardens included, through the employment of gardeners,  due to wealth generated from their success as writers including Sir Walter Scott and Thomas Hardy and they seem to have had a strong desire to create a place to escape to presumably from the celebrity caused by their writing – Kipling’s Batemans is an example.

I was surprised that Lumb Bank was  included for Ted Hughes. It was a property he bought in the Pennines where he had lived until 8, but only lived in for little more than a year.  Whilst he did not live at Lumb Bank for long he was instrumental in it being converted into a retreat for writers.  Robert Burns’ property Ellisland was also, for me, another tenuous inclusion given that this was a farm that Burns bought and worked to provide for his family and only lived in for 3 years however it is whilst he was working the land during the day that he collected the traditional songs he would rework or came up with the stories he would tell.

The tag line for the book ‘How gardens inspired our best-loved authors’ is far more relevant to the content than the title.  If you have an interest in literature, as well as gardens, this book will provide some fascinating insights into many authors you have probably read, or at least know of.  Having studied literature at degree level including the background of some of the authors featured I still found plenty of information that was new to me and which helped to provide an interesting context for books I have enjoyed in the past.

 

My Garden This Weekend – 23rd November

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There is nothing better for the soul than a couple of hours in the garden, steadily working through a border, clearing and tidying especially on a grey damp Autumn day when any garden time feels like a gift.

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I have been cutting back, weeding and collecting leaves in the borders either side of the grass path, although its more of a mud path at the moment and I really do need to sort this out in the next season.  There are few flowers in evidence aside from some cyclamen and violas but the garden is still full of colour and texture thanks to the evergreens.  I continue to be more attracted to plants with good foliage either evergreen or deciduous.  Having had a very catholic taste in plants over probably the last 20 years I now find my interest becoming more focussed on certain groups of plants: good foliage, bulbs, ferns, woodland plants and I find myself looking at the borders to see how I can utilise the space better and incorporate more of my favourites.

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One of the borders that I have struggled with for some years in the border in front of the old pond.  I need to bring some cohesion to the space.  The more shady end isn’t too bad and I think there is some structure forming but it is the opposite end by the workshop that really challenges me.

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The bare soil is witness to my indecision and confusion.  It isn’t a big space I know but it needs to have some impact due to its location and I am crippled with indecision here.  It is currently home to late spring perennials including lathyrus and aquilegia as well as various digitalis but there is no wow or impact here.  I have toyed on numerous occasions over the last year with putting in a rockery or a crevice garden here; I thought it would blend in with the path and the slope of the border would help.  I am full of enthusiasm when I have been to one of the Alpine Garden Society meetings but although I love alpine bulbs and some alpines my reaction to rockeries, even the modern crevices, in the flesh is indifference.  I can’t get excited about the tiny plants and all that stone.  I need foliage, texture, glossy leaves, fine leaves, silver leaves, lushness with seasonal floral highlights to add sparkle.

As I posted a few weeks ago I was inspired by Keith Wiley’s approach and coupled with an article in the RHS The Garden magazine by Roy Lancaster on evergreens this month I can feel some ideas forming in the recesses of my mind which hopefully will have formulated properly by next spring.

2014_11230026The next task is to tidy up the Woodland Border and the Rose Border (top of the wall) and to clear the way for the bulbs which hopefully will be appearing in the near future.

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Foliage Follow Up – November 2014

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With my interest in plants becoming more and more foliage based there are few flowers in the garden at the moment.  However, the garden is still full of colour and texture from the various evergreens.  I adore the Melianthus major; it hasn’t stopped performing all year.  Grown from seed probably three years ago this plant is around 4ft high now.  I have two other plants all grown from seed at the same time but they are much smaller and in shadier situations so it shows how much the plant benefits from some direct sunshine.

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And you can’t go wrong with Fatsia japonica for evergreen interest.  This plant is probably around 7ft tall and is smothered in flowers at the moment.  I see so many Fatsias planted out in full sun looking ill and more yellow than green; despite their exotic looks they need shade to do well.

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A plant that is increasingly growing on me is Buddleja salviafolia.  A new acquisition this year which seems to like its location on the back bank.  The leaves are gloriously soft and velvety a little like Stachys byzantina.  It will be interesting to see how it fairs through the winter.

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It wouldn’t be a Foliage Follow Up post without the inclusion of some ferns. The two I have chosen are deciduous so will probably disappear in the next couple of weeks.  Above is Athryium niponicum, the most elegant of ferns. This variety is probably ‘Burgundy Lace’.  Below is an unknown fern although I suspect it is another Athryium as the foliage shape seems very similar to the Athryium niponicum. I like the warm buttery tones it takes on in the Autumn which until recently were picking on up on the autumn colouring of the Prunus kojo-no-mai which it is planted by.

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Another plant that delivers in more season than one is the Kirengshoma palmata whose leaves also take on a buttery tone as they fade.

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Getting to the other end of the size range to the Fatsia we have cyclamens which are really winning me over.  I find myself buying them for their foliage rather than the flowers which are to be honest either white or a shade of pink. But who could not fall for the marbling on the leaves above.  I am pretty sure this is Cyclamen hederifolium but this assumption is based purely on the fact that it is an autumn flowering cyclamen.  Below is another one and you can see how much the leaves can differ.

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I have recently discovered Cyclamen graecum which generally have darker green leaves and the one below was bought because of the darkness of the leaves.  It is still a young plant but hopefully in a year or two it will be stunning.

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For more foliage follow up posts visit Pam at Digging – a favourite haunt of mine on a grey damp Autumn day.

Embracing the slope

2014_05260038Sometimes you happen upon a speaker or hear a talk which causes you to have one of those light bulb moment.  Such an occurrence happened this weekend at the Alpine Garden Society annual conference in Stratford.  The majority of the speakers talked about a particular genus – who knew there were so many species of Meconopsis about particularly parts of the world.  For me the speaker of the conference was Keith Wiley who gardens with his wife at Wildside in Devon.

I have known of Keith for some years now and the whole time my youngest was a student at Plymouth University I tried to visit his garden but its openings never coincided with my visits to the area and sadly it will be closed next year.  I have seen his work at The Garden House and read his book Gardening on the Wild Side.  I knew that he had created vast ravines in his new garden but I had never really understood the reasoning why.

Keith’s talk was about a broader view of the woodland border.  Oh good thought I, lots of nice ferns, epimediums and erythroniums which will make a nice change to all the cushion and scree loving plants in the talks so far.  However, Keith’s talk was more than that, it was about creating an environment to grow ‘woodland’ plants and how you do this when you are presented with a flat field with no trees and you have a love of many woodland plants.  The solution is to create the hills and troughs, banks and ravines that many of us saw him building on The Landscape Man and now it makes sense.  By taking this approach Keith has created borders which face north, south, east and west and by planting trees and shrubs on the tops of the mounds and banks he is creating shade.  As he explained woodland plants don’t need to grow under the tree canopy just in the shade created by the trees and shrubs.

As many know I have a sloping garden.  It probably slopes at 45 degrees.  I am so used to it the slope doesn’t bother me to work on but I do struggle with how the plant it and achieve the best results. I have never yearned for a flat garden but I have to admit having a garden sloping up from the house has, and continues, to challenge me.  Sometimes I almost feel paralysed by the borders and this leaves to dithering and inertia and dis-satisfaction in the result.

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So what has changed? Well Keith talked about mirroring nature in the borders and how he used inspiration from sights he had seen around the world and indeed in others gardens to create vignettes and views.  Admittedly his vignettes are equal to a substantial size of my garden and when I asked him later what he followed the erythroniums with in his magnolia glade he admitted that the interest in the garden moved to another area.  This is a luxury I don’t have, every part of my garden has to work hard to give as much interest as possible but talking with others and looking carefully at Keith’s photos I can see how I can use many of the plants I already have in a better way with the shorter geraniums underplanting the taller and more vase shaped woodlanders such as Maianthemum racemosum. I am also going to think about how I position some of my shrubs in order to create more shaded areas for my favourite woodlanders.

It is interesting as many of Keith’s ideas weren’t particularly revolutionary and I had heard and seen various elements that he was using in various places but somehow it was how he brought it all together, and of course his infectious enthusiasm, that really struck a chord with me.  As he said to me when we discussed his talk this morning – slopes give you so much more scope and interest and why would anyone want a flat garden!

So here I am home ready to plan and scheme over the coming winter and learn to love and embrace my garden taking into account how the slope and positioning of taller plants can provide different environments for my favourite plants.  Roll on the spring.

 

*The photos are of the Big Border back in May which actually looking back isn’t too bad and I need to do more looking back at photographs before I make any rash decisions.