I’m busting to share with you the latest excitement in my life: my new garden belonging to my new house. I have always maintained that neglect has a certain charm, and that is something that was certainly applicable to my new patch that is, until the heavy machinery came on the scene.
The previous owners, two elderly sisters now sadly gathered, had laid out a charming garden, about one third of an acre (a good, manageable size) on the edge of a small hamlet. It’s surrounded by a tall blackthorn hedge with a wonderful view of undulating farmland beyond. It had obviously become too much for them in recent years, but this was just the sort of garden I was looking for, a space with huge potential containing nothing I had to keep. The garden had become very dark, owing to a huge silver birch planted at its centre and a long line of Leyland cypress trees, planted originally as a hedge, which had become enormous, leaving a great swathe underneath of dry and nutrient-deprived soil.
Even stinging nettles struggled to survive there. The garage, a 1950s, prefabricated, concrete monster, growled in one corner, its neighbour being one of those thin-framed, huge, glazed sorts with a sliding door. Ever mindful of keeping in with the local authorities, I wrote to my parish council and the local county council to tell them of my proposed intentions to get rid of the above-mentioned trees and buildings. I would encourage everyone to do this as a matter of courtesy. Because I don’t live in a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (which, in fact, it is), there were no Tree Preservation Orders, and my garden is not within a Conservation Area, so I’ve had a free licence to do whatever I wish. I now have a beautiful view of the previously screened-off rolling hills and the garden ‘breathes’ in the absence of the vast central birch. I’m left with large piles of wood ash, tree roots sticking up everywhere, a torn and squashed lawn, piles of logs, carpets of sawdust and large areas of bare earth. None of these things bother me. Now, however, I intend to live with the garden for a whole year to discover what surprises lurk under the soil. Being in too much of a hurry, especially with a garden like this that has been loved and cared for over many years by discerning gardeners, would be a great mistake. I’m fully expecting a glorious spring display to appear.
The rest of this winter will be spent shaping overgrown shrubs, removing tree branches that have been damaged or that hang too low, taking out the dead remains of herbaceous perennials, and generally tidying up. I dream of bonfires lit by a silver winter sun that doesn’t dare venture far from the horizon, the resulting smoke depicting the shadows of bare tree branches. What is clear is that my new garden deserves serious replanning, as presently it’s all visible at first glance. There is no mystery, no intrigue, precious little to urge the visitor on further.
The solution, I feel, will be achieved with the introduction of ‘rooms’ within the garden, separated by hedges. And for the garden’s main backbone, I’m intending to plant a ‘crinkle-crankle’, or serpentine hedge, leading away from the proposed conservatory in order to take the eye straight down to the end of the garden. Before I’m gathered to that great Nursery in the Sky, I feel I must plant such a hedge, having first been influenced by the late Sir Frederick Ashton’s wavy wall in Suffolk, and the beech serpentine hedge at Chatsworth. Crinkle-crankle walls were invented so that tender climbers and trained fruit could thrive in the concave recesses, where heat is trapped. What I am certain of is that this hedge will become a conversation piece, a desirable ingredient in any garden. ‘