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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My Garden This Weekend – 2nd November 2015

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An interesting long weekend has been had.  I had a couple of days off at the end of the week as the tree surgeons were coming to tackle the vast weeping willow at the end of the garden.  I really should have tackled sorting out the tree when we moved in some nine years ago but given the lack of access from the front and the slope I have put the problem off.  On top of that the tree is situated in the far corner of the garden and its roots disappear off across my neighbours gardens.  To remove the tree completely would result in considerable upheaval not just in my garden but in three others.

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You can see how the tree dominates the top of the garden and completely swamps the cherry next to it. The tree was approximately 40 foot tall and the branches twisted and contorted causing the tree to be incredibly top-heavy.  Earlier this summer, in the high winds we had, one of the top most branches snapped leaving the branch hanging over the neighbour’s garden.  Luckily the neighbour to the left isn’t very interested in her garden and the top of her garden is quite overgrown so she wasn’t bothered with the branch hanging down into it.

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The chaps, four of them, had a tough job working out how to deal with the tangled mess.  Luckily the non-gardening neighbour had agreed to them accessing the tree through her garden and this proved to be a huge bonus as all the whippy branches were taken out this way instead of the guys having to negotiate my busy garden. It was quite mesmerizing to watch the tree surgeon up the tree.  I was stunned at how they move around without seemingly any thought slowly but surely reducing the tree.  We spent some time considering the cherry tree which had grown mainly to the right due to the willow engulfing it on the left.  It looks terribly sparse but with some consultation it was trimmed and shaped to try to give it a better appearance and hopefully with  the better light it might re-shoot and grow better.

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You can see that we have kept the logs.  Some my eldest is going to keep for wood turning but the very big logs are going to go to his scout group for them to use to sit on round the camp fire and also to use when they train the scouts to use axes – a vast improvement on the pallets they currently use.  I am sure some will also disappear off to various friends’ wood burning stoves. The willow was reduced to 4m and I have to admit that for 24 hours I was wondering what had possessed me as it looks so stark.  However, being willow, I know it will bounce back next spring and in no time at all the compost bins will disappear from view under its cascading branches.

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After all the excitement of the tree surgery my efforts the following day seem paltry but I succeeded in sorting out the front border in the front garden which has been irritating me for ages.  As long-term readers will know I featured the front garden on the End of Month View last year and it perplexed me all year.  I removed a line of deschampsia which edged the lawn as I felt they were a barrier to the rest of the border.  When I first cut the lawn into a rectangle I had a notion to edge the borders with alchemilla mollis to provide a lime green cohesive edging. I did this along the two long sides and it looks quite good.  I then added alchemilla mollis along the bottom edge when I removed the grasses but they haven’t done well at all; probably due to the border being in full sun which becomes quite baked in the summer.  So the Alchemilla was ripped out.  I then dug up the various plants in the border apart from the shrubs as well as some bergenias in the side border and also some libertia that was disappearing under the laurel hedge  These, along with the two shrubby salvias, some francoa and a bronze leaved libertia which I divided, were replanted in the border.  I know all these plants do well in the conditions as they are the plants that have been thriving here for the last few years.  I tried very hard to avoid planting in straight lines and create a more random flowing effect but I don’t think I have quite achieved it.  However, I am really thrilled with the effect I have managed to achieve especially as it has been done with existing plants.  Hopefully the plants will now settle in, bulk up and spread and give me all year round interest with little maintenance.  The intention was to use a limited plant palette which picks up on the red of the grevillea and shrubby salvias.

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End of Month View – October 2014

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October seems to have been a wet and windy month but it has certainly been a busy month for me resulting in not much gardening time and of course with the evenings drawing in things aren’t going to improve until the Spring.

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I’m amazed at how much the succulents have filled out in the trough in the front garden.  I was worried when I planted it back in the spring that I hadn’t included enough plants but now I am far more happy.

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Here it is in situ and I am again pleased with how well the succulents planted in the border have done.  I do need to lift the Aeonium but I am going to risk the other succulents.

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The staging area is entering its winter period and is currently home to various pot of mixed alpines.  There are also a number of tender perennials in pots that are being collected here ready to overwinter storage. This area continues to work well and keeps my rapidly growing and eclectic collection of plants in some order.

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The patio border is now loosing its summer clothing but I know that there are lots of bulbs waiting to appear come the spring and this is one of the first areas I am going to tidy this weekend.  It is definitely more balanced since I moved the edgeworthia to the left which just shows you shouldn’t shoe horn plants into spaces rather than make an appropriate space for them.

2014_10300021The cottage border hasn’t really changed.  There are still some roses appearing but the plants are definitely shutting down for the winter now so I will give it  bit of a weed and tidy and wait for the bulbs to appear.  I am pleased with how this area has developed over the last couple of years.  When I dug up the back lawn two years ago I was completely intimidated by the space and procrastinated for ages trying to work out where and if to put in paths.  In the end the path showed itself as it was the logical route to the plants.  It was meant to be a narrow access path not a feature but its now my favourite route around the garden and also the cat’s favourite sun-bathing location.

I need to do some tweaking to the Big Border on the right of the path.  Its just a case of re-positioning some of the plants so the lower ones hide the legs of the taller ones.  I find that planting a slope, as this part of the border is, quite challenging as you not only have to take into account the view from the front of the border but also how the plants relate to each other as they go up the slope and in this case the border is also viewed as much from the back so in fact it is a sloping island bed – what a ridiculous idea!  I am still pondering moving the Cotinus at the end of the border.  Its rather large and whilst I know I can prune it I think the rest of the border will work better without it so I am considering a new location for the shrub.

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The far end of the Big Border is quite shady and home to several spring flowering woodland plants and a small Magnolia but I need to add some interest for other times of the year – maybe improve the foliage textures and find something to go in the bare patch in front of the magnolia.

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Finally my favourite part of the garden – the new seating area.  Its looking a little messy as I have added some fine gravel from the greenhouse which might not have been the best idea but with use the small grit will work its way down between the larger stones and hopefully it will look OK.  The tin bath pond is being emptied over the winter and I will start again in the spring once I have decided what plants to use in it.  It has had Zantedeschia in it but they won’t overwinter in the pond so I will probably store them overwinter under cover.

I think there is still a lot of interest in the garden but mainly from foliage which is rapidly becoming more important to me than the flowers. I do think that there needs to be some stronger structures included to give it winter interest so I will have a think about this over the coming months and see what ideas I can come up with.

If you would like to join in with the End of Month View meme you are very welcome.  There are no real rules, you can use it as you want. You can feature one area through the year or you can do a tour, whatever.  I do find it is very helpful in making you look critically at your garden but also it helps you to see how things have changed and improved over time.  All I ask is that you put a link to this post in your post and add a link to your post in the comments box.