Garden chainsaw massacre

So far, this year has been an amazing one for the garden. Spring brought out bulbs in glorious plenitude and blossom on the fruit trees of a rare beauty. And now comes another period of the year that has its own special quality. Here, we let the bulbs die down and the grass grow, which, sprinkled with the vibrant yellow of buttercups, the milky flowers of cow parsley and the pink blossom of campion, forms a delicious contrast to the containing clipped yew hedging.

Since I last wrote, much has happened. To begin with, the garden I planted in honour of The Queen’s Silver Jubilee in 1977 has been demolished, re-laid out and planted. It was ravishing in a way, a circle of white Iceberg roses together with a yellow one called Charlotte, arising from a froth of perennials in shades of violet, lavender and purple. But flooding was a perennial problem, and, during the past two summers, it was less a garden than a lake. Drainage of some kind, I concluded, would have to be put in. The horticultural bullet would have to be bitten.

Add to that the decision that the encircling conifers should, after 30 years, come out in order to let the light in. They’d served their purpose keeping out the frost and wind coming from Wales as other, more interesting plants, grew in their shelter. Well, there’s nothing so exciting I find, in my mid-seventies, as having the bravery to embark on major changes. Out went the conifers (bar one to retain a necessary vertical accent). Drainage was laid and the former circular garden demolished.

Now, I look down on a new garden barely two months old, which has been transformed into a handsome rectangular processional way to the Rose Garden. It’s made up of two beds, fronted by bergenia and backed with libertia, planted with hostas. Vertical accents of urns with box balls and yew pyramids in the making emphasise the perspective. All of this sits within a frame of grass,
followed by an oval of flowering shrubs backed by an amphi-theatre of clipped laurel.

For the first time, the full breadth of the Rose Garden yew hedge can be seen. It took some nerve, I thought, to obliterate a garden that has gone into so many books and magazines over the years. But I have every confidence that what has replaced it is even better.

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Meanwhile, there was a finale of chainsaw madness. Until now, the great pleached lime avenue has been a hidden spectacle from which you couldn’t spy other areas of the garden. Wow, what a surprise to take it into reverse, fell more conifers, lower-limb others and open up vistas across the garden and even beyond it, into the Herefordshire landscape.

It is fascinating to discover when something as dramatic as that is done just how much it changes your perception of what remains. Topiary, which was once dwarfed by soaring conifers, now rises above the surrounding planting. Likewise, the Acer griseum, a queen among trees with its reddish, papery bark, dominates a scene in which it had previously been only a bit player.

Reducing the hours of employed gardening help has got me out into the garden hands-on, and I don’t regret it. I’ve discovered the joys of my late wife’s favourite task on a summer’s evening: watering the Kitchen Garden. That really is rewarding as seeds germinate and, in the case of some salad greens, the produce is ready for plucking within a few weeks.

Alterations to the garden have also re-energised me for taking groups around. Garden visitors tend to be quite elderly my age, I suppose! often propped up on sticks. Good for them, although I warn them that this is not a health-and-safety garden. My message, as they leave, is always the same: go home and chop something down. Who knows one of them might be brave enough to do just that.