Trees and new bits. Gardening in the north
What I like about this time of year is working out what I want to do in the garden this season. Half of gardening, as Monty Don so truly remarked, is just grownups going outside to play. If you don’t have that sense of fun then just put it down to grass and shove in a few trees to help the planet. I’ve got a patch of ground, south facing, bounded to north and east by good stone walls. My fun, now that its time has finally come, is deciding what trees I want to plant there, and whether I add other things – ferns and bulbs being the obvious easy answer (and the answer is equally obviously yes).
It will be low or no upkeep. Young trees in tubes are safe from rabbits and the dreaded strimmer. And as one gets older, upkeep is more of an issue, and in any case I’m having to think laterally about various bits of my too-complicated garden. Some of these are going to be let do their own thing. I quite like the Sleeping Beauty/Miriam Rothschild bit. Never mind if the neighbours are shocked. Prim prissiness works no better horticulturally than in other parts of life.
Nearly best of all is a green garden – grass, stone, and, perhaps, water. My two very favourite bits of this garden started out absolutely simple – a sweep of grass in front of the wall with a tightly pruned honeysuckle abune, and in the other, nothing, just the grass and the beautiful walls. They’ve both gone now, submerged in the onward rush of planting, but I regret them. I’m not allowed to say “less is more” in this house. But it’s true.
The garden we have now is very old. It was the original garden for the Big Hoose and dates from the early 18th century. Nothing beyond the fact of its existence is known, but it would have produced food and herbs, culinary and medicinal, for the house. It’s carefully sited, on a slight incline, with a well, and the lower part gets fairly soggy in our wet winters, which means we have a screen of trees right along to give privacy. It’s had a couple of makeovers, one in 1820, and one about fifty years later, when the redoubtable inhabitant of the Big Hoose, who was herself a keen and knowledgeable gardener, put in some genteel paths and lots of new plants. After that, it was a field. Our house cow used to live there in the summer and stand under the big sycamore by the gate waiting to be milked. It's been reclaimed, and in the process I discovered some Victorian plants which survived the years of neglect. Gardening is of course a long term business, labour intensive, slow to come to fruition; everything that modern life is now, including being healing spiritually as well as physically. Is there a lesson there?