Do you need a garden style?
It’s a strange thing that my thoughts about the garden are at their most clearest in the early hours of the morning when I am supposed to be asleep. I find myself seeing, with what feels like surprising clarity, exactly how a problem should be resolved and there is inevitably, as the birds warm up their vocal chords, a to do list which would strike fear into many a gardener. Some might therefore question why my garden still remains a challenge to me and the answer to this is simple – the clarity of decisions fades as the sun comes up just like Cinderella’s coach.
I struggle with planting and working out what to plant with what, it’s a constant frustration. The problem isn’t so much about colour or even the combination of textures it is more about size. How much space should I allow? Do I plant for the short term and then adjust as the plant gets bigger or do I plant with the plant’s eventual size in mind? But even more frustrating is the combining of different size plants to create a cohesive whole. I have increasingly added more trees and shrubs to the garden but they seem to be like islands in the border or the planting around them is out of proportion. This morning I was reading an article by Fergus Garrett who said something along the lines of ‘you wouldn’t plant a tiny fern next to a large banana’. Well no you wouldn’t but what would you plant next to a large banana that is of the right scale and contrasts with the leaves? What do I plant around my new Liquidamber in the middle of a border that will provide substance and a middle ground before you arrive at the epimediums, bergenias etc? These are the questions that perplex me when I am gardening.
I love plants and have had a very eclectic taste which has led to borders without cohesion or direction – a veritable mishmash. I am struggling to work out how to develop my garden to showcase my favourite plants. I have a penchant for large leaved and curious foliage but I’m not sure I want an exotic or sub-tropical garden because I also like roses, peonies and irises and I adore all bulbs. Whilst I love foliage I do still want the high moments of colour at different times of the year. I suppose the question is do you need to label your style to enable you to develop the space? I have a number of friends who are very clear about their garden styles and their gardens are wonderful. They have a sense of cohesion and clarity which I aspire to. However, the examples I am thinking of are either based on a very specific plant palette or in a setting with strong architecture which drives the approach. Not only do I have a magpie approach to plants but my garden is the ubiquitous UK suburban garden with a standard late 1970s house of no particular architectural merit.
What adds to my frustration is my apparent inability to learn from inspiration elsewhere. It is quite strange I have visited so many gardens which I have enjoyed, taken many photos, and looked closely at how borders have been put together but for some bizarre reason I am unable to translate it back to my own garden – it’s as if there is a missing link in my brain. It is the same with looking at books and magazines. If I do come home feeling inspired inevitably the enthusiasm slowly fades away as I am unable to relate the inspiration to the reality.
I have started to tell myself I am trying too hard and over thinking things and I am sure this is so. There are small areas of planting which are working well I think and so I think the way forward is to focus on the small combinations rather than feeling overwhelmed by the whole garden.
But right now having written this post I am wondering can you have an exotic or sub-tropical garden which has roses and irises in it? Would it work to combine these plants? And therein lies the problem as I will no doubt no try this and end up dis-satisfied with the outcome and maybe, just maybe, that’s why successful garden makers have a tendency to go for a specific garden style that is well rehearsed and successful.