The great Gertrude Jekyll famously and rightly said:

“The possession of a quantity of plants, however good the plants may be themselves and however ample their number, does not make a garden; it only makes a collection. Having got the plants, the great thing is to use them with careful selection and definite intention.”

So Marianne and I continue our email discussion here about how we use our plants ‘with careful selection and definite intention’ – adding links and photos where we think helpful.  The first part of the discussion is here.


 

Marianne

Living with a garden that is less than satisfying….ooo that’s tender.  Something to keep me up at night this winter. [goes off for her own sulk….]

You are perhaps pricked by my use of the term ‘heavy design.’ Don’t be. It’s merely a term I used in the moment, to describe gardens that have a very obvious structure, usually typified by a good deal of hedging or enclosure.  It was not meant pejoratively.  I’m a fan.

The cost of ‘heavy design’ (at least initially) is heavy cost, if you want to be literal – and most of us have to be, unless we inherit a garden and an endowment to go along with it.  Or unless we just plain inherit. It’s why you started with plants against a wilderness, and why I am doing the same.  Lucky to grasp and hold the land to begin with, and now to build a garden….. But would I actually wish to live in a garden designed all at once with great wads of cash?  I don’t know, but I think not. There is something appealing about growing with and towards a design.

beginning of garden

Marianne: Late spring 2016 and I’m feeling proud there is anything planted in this field period. And disheartened by how tiny everything is. I’ve traced the general path, but the serpentine bed on the left is still a gleam in my eye – and as flat as a pancake.  I uproot everything a year later and go full hugelkültur, outlining the long shape of the bed with the mower at least.

 

comparison garden

Marianne: So here’s somewhat of the same [extremely unsharp] view in summer 2020. Perhaps you can see why plants come and go. At this point the real winter structure is the fence and various specimen evergreens.  Today this view includes the new wooden greenhouse within the fenced kitchen garden. I’m thinking black for the fence – what do you think? [Anne: Yep, black would work.]

Anne

Landscaping can be expensive. Our challenge was to do it affordably. It can be done – and takes time. And that’s good, because you get to see where it’s going and whether it works for you. (I wish I had a photo – but our yew hedges started as a bundle of seedlings that I could hold in two hands.)

Marianne

I am amazed by all you and Charles have done – gives me great hope. And I believe in that – it’s one of the core messages in Big Dreams, Small Garden. But in weak moments (August) I am envious of those who can walk their grounds with a designer and crew in tow, and I get snippy. If Jo Thompson et al showed up at my doorstep offering to do a bit of pro bono, I’d jump at it FAST and live with it HAPPILY. “Let me play with the plants,” I’d say – “just give me some strong bones….”

Anne

I’m glad I couldn’t. I like that it’s our own work.

What’s missing in our discussion so far for me is the actual design. I mean the garden plan, which creates the places where we will put the plants.

Veddw Garden Plan by Elizabeth Buckley

Anne: This is ours – and was retrospective. We didn’t start with one. [Marianne inner monologue: This woman is punching well above my weight class. How do I leave the conversation with dignity?] [Anne: ha! Been at it longer than you.]

Drone-Picture-of-Veddw-copyright-Charles-Hawes-

Anne: Here is a photograph, so people can see what we’re discussing. 

The possibility of getting bored with plants themselves, coming, going, growing, doesn’t enter into it much for me. It’s not really possible.

A trip to Beth Chatto’s garden told me what I needed, which was not to make a garden like hers. That helped shape what I went on to do.

Marianne

You don’t pull your punches do you?  Poor Beth.  But hers is a completely different garden.  For one, it’s more of a research laboratory, much like that of our Elizabeth Lawrence but on a much larger scale. It capitalizes on various conditions and microclimates and many of her combinations are very good indeed. 

When you think of it as a scrubby, sloping lot with a drainage ditch running the length of it, the ambition and vision is admirable and motivating.  There are weak areas which leave you wanting, but damn I don’t feel qualified – based on the state of my young garden and my awareness of what it takes – to touch upon them. 

beth chatto garden

Marianne: Say what you will, but I wouldn’t be ashamed to create this outside my front door. [Beth Chatto gardens in August 2018]

chatto garden

Marianne: Or this. Chatto’s gravel garden. Yes, it’s a laboratory, but a beautiful one. Full marks from me in light of a dry 13 inches of rain up to that point in August.

I think my great enjoyment of her garden had much to do with following her writing for so many years.  Fascinating to see the garden in person, and I suppose I always expected a beautiful, wild laboratory, not a heavy design.

[There she goes again with that detestable phrase…]

Do you think this is a wide open space vs. rooms issue for you?

Anne 

Beth Chatto designed, if I remember rightly, with island beds and planting informed by “ikebana, the Japanese art of flower arranging, where a scalene triangle is used to create an outline that is both harmonious and dynamic.” See here. 

It might possibly be described as ‘naturalistic.’ But let’s use that term with caution. Michael King had wise words to say about that, see, “Naturalistic Planting is anything but.” [Marianne: so worth reading.]

I realised I wanted clear divisions, structure, views, many gardens separate from one another where I could do different things. And to be able to sit comfortably in an enclosed space. Most of all framing. Framing which allows and sets off the accompanying wildness. So, not just wide-open space vs rooms.

Wild Garden at Veddw copyright Anne Wareham

Framing to set off the planting…

This was/is simply my preference. There must be virtue in both approaches. My point here is just that there is a basic idea and form behind both, from the beginning.

Marianne

“Virtue in both approaches.” An even-handed assessment sure to win you enemies.

The prevailing winds are blowing the seeds of naturalism in this country right now – particularly native-based naturalism. [Anne: This is truly irrelevant in the UK. That bird has flown.]  It’s exuberant, dynamic, and it fits the times. And it sounds the best way to create biodiversity; and after all, what sounds best, is best these days.  Chacun à son goût be damned.

Yet, gaining traction is a very subtle moralistic framework just under the surface that concerns me.  As is that very real [inconvenient] truth so well expressed in Michael King’s piece that these are still maintenance-intensive gardens. Hits newbies like a brick, usually in August.

Marianne: A rich tapestry of ripening perennials at The Delaware Botanic Gardens. Comes with a large team of dedicated volunteers. [Piet Oudolf design, my photo.]

Gardeners who wish for enclosure, formality, geometric lines…for lack of a better word, order, may be left by the naturalism narrative feeling that there is something morally wrong with their design.  That’s why I love Dixter’s juxtaposed approach of contained, exuberant splendour. [Anne: it also has a large team of dedicated volunteers and paid professionals.] [Marianne: Yes. But this vision can be adapted.]

 

Speaking of Great Dixter, I just finished your post on Is Over Gardening Over, and have yet to comment (though Jenny Price Nelson encapsulated my thoughts in her comments).  [AnneI do seem to raise hackles a lot!]

Here’s the way I approach my garden: through thoughtful stewardship that does not deny, dismiss or demonize the human desire to create art and beauty through horticulture, does not judge plants reflexively based on their passports, and does not bend to fad in either plant or plan (tho I may have a little fiddle occasionally). I hope to come out of it someday with something worthwhile. (Though I reckon it will not fit any critic’s view of an excellent design.)

overhead shot of garden

Marianne: Here’s a drone shot of part of the lower gardens in June 2019 I believe. The serpentine bed is outlined, the juvenile thuja hedge/berm is in (stopping a groundwater seep from the forest). Last year, much of the interior of the kitchen garden was razed to prepare for a formal redesign. So far, only the greenhouse has been built. If I had a crew, I’d partially clear that south facing hillside of mulberry and ailanthus (on rt) to extend the main path and create a terraced, sunny gravel garden.  Ah sun.  I get so little.

BTW, I’m planning on a very small area that was sown with wildflowers (just to hold it) devoted to these naturalistic perennial drifts.  I’d love to punctuate them with your silver balls on pedestals. Brilliant.

Globes in the meadow at Veddw Garden copyright Anne Wareham

Anne

Thank you. You don’t think the silver err..balls (we tend to call them ‘globes’ out of embarrassment) undermine the ‘natural’ look?

Marianne

Whatever you term them, they are a strong but complementary expression of human intervention in a naturalistic setting.  They signal ‘garden.’ Much like my habitat nests. Only shiny.

habitat nest

Anne

Michael King is quite right – ‘naturalistic’ gardens are no more natural than Versailles. They just attempt a different look: He says

The intention of today’s schemes is to make an emotional connection with those things we consider natural. We call them naturalistic because we want to experience the freedom of the open field, or meadow, or prairie that is far removed from our urban existence. By using a more wild looking assortment of plants and arranging them in sweeping drifts and intertwined mixes, we seek to emulate the feeling of spontaneous nature within the confines of our back gardens and local parks.”

I suppose what seems critical to me, before we start sticking plants around the place, is to think of the kind of design which appeals most to us, to give us a framework to work in?

Marianne

Yes, and I’m doing that, but I can’t pretend to having it all thunked out yet – a good plant holding area for onesies and cuttings takes the pressure off somewhat.  Every gardener should create one, if they can spare the room – and they have the discipline to keep it ordered, manageable and healthy.

Without those wads of cash I was mentioning earlier to lay down an immediate framework on a large property, we must slowly build towards something – a idea of the design. But how can we hope to follow through with all we plan, or know what will actually work? Theoretical vs. Practical. I’m having to adapt my courtyard plan drastically as a result of finding out what floodwaters are capable of – nine years into living here.  It’s changed everything. I am also hesitant to create too much formal evergreen structure in an open, naturally beautiful space.

Carex 'Ice Dance'

Marianne: So the photo that started our entire discussion is of what was to be one of two pergolas to create a courtyard. It seems wiser now in light of the flood to extend the hugelkultur beds and direct any future floodwaters away from the garden, not into it. Carex is not fun to clean of muck.

 

garden comparison Marianne

Marianne: And just for fun, here is a wider view the autumn after we moved in in 2013. Mike’s building the chicken run, young David on the roof. The pergola doesn’t exist yet. The mess from the sycamore always will.

I’d say I’m on track with about 40% of the area I wish to cultivate.  Connecting the individual areas here is my biggest obstacle – especially with the creek cutting the property in half.  A beautiful, temperamental monster.

And I have another fairly immovable object – my husband.  Mike loves gardens, but he does not wish to be bothered with the inconveniences a design can wreak on the day-to-day management of a large property or the daily life of its owners – see A Garden Tragedy.  You are fortunate to garden with a gardener-spouse.

Anne

The gardener spouse was bounced in at the beginning.

You ask “But how can we hope to follow through with all we plan, or know what will actually work?” – We did it by making a bit, then another bit and so on…always seeing whether it worked all right.

That’s the virtue of managing without Jo Thompson…..

Marianne:

Just for the record, I’m still open to a bit of Pro-Bono Jo 😉

chatto tea rooms

Marianne: Aaaaand what I really remember at Beth Chatto’s garden. If you won’t have a tea room at The Veddw, how about a Prosecco Room? 😉 [Anne: With no shelter it could get very soggy in the rain…..You need £££££££ to build a tea room.] [Marianne: I drink Prosecco in the rain all the time round here.]

Anne

Now we understand….

One thing which emerges, besides how much we actually have in common, is that it seems you are subjected to particular pressures, viz: ‘thoughtful stewardship that does not deny, dismiss or demonize the human desire to create art and beauty through horticulture, does not judge plants reflexively based on their passports, and does not bend to fad in either plant or plan.’

Is that that what we need to discuss next?

Marianne

Do I dare and do I dare….

Until then.