I find it impossible to achieve things unless I have a goal, deadline, incentive and I have got progressively worse over the years. Over the last few years I have had some sort of yearly major project in the garden whether it was a new seating area, digging up the lawn, making space for the workshop – there has been something. I have now run out of places to dig up and to be honest I am quite happy with the layout of the garden although the jury is still out on whether the grass path will stay grass or not (the cat would prefer grass) and at the end of last year I was twitching about a lack of project. When I wrote a post at the start of the year, although I didn’t make any new year resolutions, I did say that I planned to enter more alpine shows and I think on reflection this was instead of having a project – something to aim for, some to achieve.
However, over the last month my mind has become increasingly full of images and ideas for planting the garden gleaned from books, television, magazines, talks. Over the Christmas break I tackled the teetering pile of magazines and scrap booked images and ideas I liked and when I flick through the scrap-book there is a definite style and colour palette that appeals to me – I suppose this is what they mean by a ‘mood board’. But I really don’t like formulaic planting whether it’s a limited planting scheme with plants repeated or very linear, as I tried in the front garden. I don’t like what a friend of mine calls ‘planting by numbers’ which she says some designers are guilty of and which we both agree leads to a soulless garden.
Another friend introduced me recently as a knowledgeable plants-women. I challenge that description as I know from the gardening clubs I go to how limited my knowledge it but I am passionate about plants. I love the quirky, the pretty, wonderful foliage, interesting flowers. I get a thrill out of seeing a plant push its way through the ground in the Spring or a seedling appear or a fern frond unfurl. But I get distracted particularly with social media – ooh what’s that plant, where can I get it, where can I grow it and so I have a garden and greenhouse full of interesting plants but the parts do not make a great whole and this is the problem. The friend who dislikes planting by numbers and I discussed this recently. She too is plants-women, very knowledgeable, and her approach is that her garden is her space to do as she wishes and if the plants look a little bitty then so be it and I applaud that attitude.
However, and there is always an however, I don’t think this approach is working for me. I feel constantly frustrated with the garden and so I have distracted myself with digging up more bits or entering shows. I am frustrated because I strive for my garden to be a floriferous oasis, to be stunning, for the borders to look wonderful just like the magazines. Of course these images have been created by people with a wealth of experience, sometimes with professional help, but also with passion and incredibly horticultural prowess and this I think is the key to it. I need to garden better, to spend time in the garden, maintaining it, tending the plant, understanding how they grow. A nursery woman I know always says that the remedy to most garden pests is to garden better i.e. if you grow strong plants they are less susceptible to pest damage and I think she is right. I have recently been reading about a number of my gardening heroes all who have stunning gardens and all who are amazing plants-women but they have learnt their skills through hard work over a long length of time.
So, a plan is forming in my mind, a sort of project – it doesn’t have a particular object as an outcome, it won’t be achieved this year, or probably for some years. It is more an aspiration or objective and the other evening on the way home the phrase ‘The Impossibly Pretty Project’ came into my mind and days later I still like it. The name can be taken two ways. You sometimes hear the expression ‘impossibly pretty’ used in the sense that it impossible for something/someone to be as pretty as they/it are but also you could read it in the sense that the project will be impossible – although I hope not. The images on this post are of various gardens I love and enjoy and you will see there is a certain look that appeals to me which I suppose is something between a Cottage Garden and the archetypal English Country Garden. I particularly like the herbaceous borders and this is where I get stuck. I don’t want to create a herbaceous border in the true sense of the word but it is the herbaceous part of a mixed border that I struggle with. I have the trees and shrubs but I struggle to work out how to make the perennials, biennials, annuals and bulbs to work together.
Whilst I like interesting foliage I will never be comfortable in an exotic style garden as if I list my favourite plants the list starts: Peonies, Iris, Roses, Daffodils, Primulas, Aquilegias hardly the components of an exotic garden. Having created the Hardy Exotic Boarder which I like I have realised that the plants don’t excite me as much as the above. I want to create a sense of enclosure, of privacy, and escapism. As a basis to this I need to build up the shrubby planting around the boundaries but with the distant view of the Malvern still there. Then I want to learn how to plant my borders properly and this is the real challenge. I can grow plants but I am just rubbish at combining them. I don’t think I do too bad with colours and textures and having a slight artistic bent I can understand that but it is how to get a fulsome appearance without the plants all smothering each other one way or another. I think the key to this, as I have said, is being more hands on – staking properly and dividing regularly but also learning how each plant grows and how it will impact on its neighbours.
Although I have read lots of books on the subject of gardening and planting including Christopher Lloyd, Margery Fish, Beth Chatto and David Culp I think I need to learn from the actual gardens I love. This has obviously been something deep in my sub-conscious for a while as I have already booked myself on a days planting course at Great Dixter, when I also plan to visit Sissinghurst and a couple of other gardens which I think will inspire me. I am off to Dublin and Cork in July on a trip visiting gardens many owned by plant lovers so they should give me ideas to address my magpie tendencies and I have a few other trips in mind during the year to key gardens. I have also started a list of gardens for next year to continue my education.
It is nice to feel as though I have a direction and a purpose. I’m not trying to replicate a specific garden or border but to plant my borders with the plants I love in such a way that they are shown to their best advantage and the whole things looks fabulous and charming. In the back of my mind are the gardens on the recent ITV series Britains Best Back Gardens many of which were remarkable, floriferous and should the passion of the owners – this is what I am hoping to achieve.