As I attempt to view the garden with a clear eye, I’ve found I need to consider decay, disorder and dereliction.
It’s the nature of a garden and garden plants to grow, flourish (we hope) and die. Sometimes this process is beautiful – I love dying hostas.
Sometimes it is not so attractive. I suspect few of us can totally embrace Piet Oudolf’s dictum of just having plants which die well. One of my favourite plants: for it’s sheer exuberance, for its habit of seeding everywhere and for taking every visitor’s eye when it flowers, is Campanula lactiflora.
But it creates one of the significant tasks of the year when it dies because it has to be cut down and, unusually for us, the foliage removed. That’s because this is a job we need to get done in summer, when its coarse stalks would be unsightly and would simply take up too much space. And, besides, it sometimes flowers again if chopped.
Decay can be powerfully evocative. I wrote about this after we visited the totally renovated garden The Newt in Somerset, which some of us remember as Hadspen Garden. We had visited in the time between one garden and the other and found remnants which became very poignant when we returned to find it all poshed up. I wrote about all that here.
The Steps – in decay?
And there is a terrible expression which accompanies the beginning of the end of a garden: ‘It’s got away from them’. It must haunt many people as their garden gets harder and harder to manage. And, indeed, I was reminded of it in our own recently. I looked at where it appeared to be doing just that getting away from us thing and forced myself to contemplate what to do about it.
The place is a flight of steps. You may have seen them before, in the context of the weeds.
It was once a long flight, and there’s a story to that too. https://veddw.com/annes-writing/being-criticised-by-anne-wareham/
What is wrong here.
The truncated remains of the steps managed to get remarked on in Rory Stuart’s review of Veddw in ‘What are Gardens for?’ (a book which should be on every gardener’s shelves.) Rory responded to the question I always used to ask visitors – how would they improve the garden? He said:
- The Crescent Beds need more variety of height, shape and leaf size, so that the verticals are less oppressive.
- A short flight of steps between two holly hedges are too wide for the space they occupy, and unusual error of judgement in a garden where proportions have generally been carefully considered. It turns out that these steps are the remnants of a much longer flight, which has now been abbreviated – showing how this garden (like most gardens) is still in the process of development.
- The avenue in the Meadow should lead somewhere, perhaps through a gate or an arch into the shade of the Cotoneaster Walk.
Wouldn’t you appreciate such helpful comments? So good to know that someone gave the garden that degree of attention. Why don’t people want criticism of their gardens?
I hope I’ve managed to address 1 and 3. It is 2 that I’m still contemplating. The steps are now not only too wide (I have never been able to see how to amend them affordably) but now also covered in weeds.
But I found I was liking them!
I kept on going back, contemplating, and still liking them. Why???
Well, it was partly the slight sense of dereliction. The not so neat and tidy. A corner of the garden secretly doing its own thing. And then also – doing it quite well.
I got Charles to look at it. He the untidiness hater. He the not afraid to be tough and critical untidiness hater. Strangely he could somehow see some merit in it. A very knowledgeable and experienced friend had a look. She apparently could also understand our appreciation of it.
We thought it may need some explanation to our visitors – perhaps some more of my wordy words. That was fun, we had some good ideas, and I think it should be – ‘They’re letting it get away from them’.
Why is it not horrible? I think because there is some unity and repetition in it, particularly of a delicate, small flowered geranium which has been flowering for weeks.
There is a lot of wild strawberry, especially running along the risers, which looks neat and kind of purposeful.
There are also a lot of little seedlings of solidago canadensis, which I love and everyone else seems to hate, and that is going to have to come out. I think? Wait and see? It would look very different with that flowering! Do I dare?
I see a yellow vetch has plonked itself in – and here that might work. There are places where it’s a pain, but it looks good and could be easy to weed out if necessary.
I’ve added some Erigeron karvinskianus right at the top, so it can seed down through the steps, to keep the flowering going. I believe it’s probably the flowers that are making this work. If it were all leaves it would lose that spark.
Well, I didn’t dare let the Solidago or a few other things which were worming their way in. After a consult, our brilliant, much loved volunteer, Dawn, weeded out the things we concluded were likely to grow too big. And left the rest.
What do you think?
It now has the borders at the edges going mad. And another geranium is begining to do its thing: Geranium pratense Plenum Album
So have these steps got away from us??! Or has it a pleasing element of redeemable disorder?
What would you do?