Just window shopping.
Feeding the eyeballs, keeping the creative bits oxygenated.
Doing its thing in the carpark.
I’m always interested in artwork that fills the space between what we experience and what we can adequately express with language.
David Nash is one of those artists for me that communicates with work what I don’t have a grasp on intellectually. I used to find that very challenging – not being able to think my way to an adequate conclusion – now I enjoy it more than anything else.
Photograph by Anne-Katrin Purkiss
I remember reading an article with Nash a few years ago about his living sculpture The Ash Dome’s unexpected short life: the monument which was designed to outlive him by many years was suddenly going to die before him because of the ash dieback fungal disease that is decimating the UK’s Ash tree population. It struck me then as a personal tragedy. It strikes me now that this has given the work a global significance that it might not otherwise have had.
But we won’t dwell on tragedy for long. Nature never does. Let’s always look for the light between the trees, and chase inspiration.
What I’m interested in is the human compulsion to monument nature, one way or another.
What is it about? How do we tend to prefer to do it? Why do some materials sing out loud, and others stay uninhabited by the spirit that moves us?
Why do we make ‘stuff’ to access and engage with other ‘stuff’? And I suppose the ultimate question is: are humans capable of feeling like they’re communing with something if they’re not in some way disturbing it?
David Nash: 200 Seasons. Installation view, Towner Art Gallery, Eastbourne, 2019. Photo: Rob Harris.
I keep being reminded of Anselm Kiefer’s work as well, which has always been about living and dying in my mind, explored though the trickiest of materials: the soft metal lead in Kiefer’s hands is so fluid and malleable and natural as a wave, yet so poisonous and dark and deeply occult. David Nash’s sculptures are riddled with inherent deception because they speak so much of life and living things – they still glow with the woody vitality of their origins – yet wood as a sculptural material is dead. Otherwise it would still be a tree…
Ash Dome. Image from Artnet
I wonder if that’s why his living sculpture has met such an end..? If it is only becoming what it was used for: stuff, to make stuff, about nature – no longer nature itself. The fungus is rather like an aggressive critic – this is nature, actually: Me, what I’m doing. Sorry. I can’t help looking at those original sketches and seeing them as rather clairvoyant.
If Nash had set out to make monuments to nature, it was in the ways in which those monuments fell that he inadvertently managed to capture its true character. The Ash Dome falls sick, and his Wooden Boulder rolled into a river and is lost to the tide…
Nothing is forever. Beauty, calm, tranquility – these are things that we value, but they were never the whole story. There is decay, renewal, destruction and chaos. Those things are as much as part of nature as the bark of the trees and the blue of the sky, and how we respond to it? How we edit it when we think we are immersing ourselves in it? – well, that will ultimately determine our spiritual resilience.
Because if you can love a thing when it is at its most dangerous, and you can find joy and inspiration when confronted with chaos and difficulty, then you’ve probably discovered the very secret of life on earth: it thrives wherever, however, whatever. If it’s still comfort we seek, even after all this, then we can comfort ourselves with the details: there are creatures thriving in poisonous sulphur lakes, and in caves that haven’t seen sunlight for a thousand years; there are multitudes swarming around the boiling undersea chimneys of doom, and there are plants colonising the abandoned contaminated places in the world where radioactive wolves run free and trees are king once more.
We humans are part of something so much bigger, and our will to survive is a family trait.
I don’t think monuments are really about nature at all. I think they have always made us feel better by providing us with something permanent in disguise. Our monuments at least don’t change so swiftly as the landscapes around them. While we are busy writing Nature’s epitaph – as though it is on its last legs – are we guilty of projecting our own mortality onto something that never dies, it just never stays the same for very long?
When I think about the Ash Dome in this context, I don’t feel bad for Nature: we’ll have resistant trees making a comeback in 50 yrs or so. If not them, it might be the great age of some other tree for a while. When trees fall, it will be the age of the ferns, or moss, or succulents. Or swathes of terra firma will give way to underwater forests of wavering fronds…
Or, if my garden’s anything to go by, the weeds will have their day – those survival-of-the-fittest champions in their many endless forms, being exceptional at what they do, and burdened by nothing, contained by nothing, put-off by nothing. And why not? They’ve got the qualifications – they pass muster. They’re adaptable, that’s all that counts in the end. The rest is archeology.
No, it’s not nature I think that will collapse and disappear.
…I look at Nash in his studio and feel a little bit sad.
When I titled my last post Preparing to Move Indoors, I didn’t think I was being literal… but I guess the old adage is true, you become the things you spend the most time with, so I went dormant. From the outside at least, on the inside… wowsers.
Most winter rituals involve a great deal of plotting and planning – fantasising over seed catalogues and drawing out new areas to be renovated and transformed. I haven’t done that yet this year, and last night I dreamt that hundreds of bulbs suddenly appeared in the garden overnight, and there were purple tulips and bright gold something-or-others trying to push their heads out through carpets of thick frilly weeds, and I woke up thinking, ‘okay garden, I got the message, thanks. I’ll think about you more in the front part of the brain.’
It sends missives and emissaries like this: a cackling magpie to make me glance outside; a particularly loud dawn bird tapping its stubby little beak on my old crumbling window frame; leopard-printed slugs coming up through the kitchen sink. Little passive-aggressive callers from the wild.
You might say I should change my name – that no compulsive gardening has been in evidence over these past months – but that would suggest a rather narrow view of exactly what gardening means… 😉
All Photos by Yamtan for Notes from a Compulsive Gardener
As I’ve been investigating plant properties of late, and as I am something of a bibliophile, I’ve been nosing about all sorts of source material in my research.
From botanical journals to old wives’ lore, and those periodicals of note in between where plant and myth meet – the carry-on between thinking and planting is complex, and hearty.
The gardener might naturally take particular interest in any writings on nature, plants and the garden itself, but there’s always a new context to consider and steal from. Have you heard of a shadow garden, for example? A midnight garden? A physic garden in the front, with a hawthorn portal into various alternative dimensions in the back..? I mean, the design potential is inexhaustible…
I came across a concept recently, which I’ve doubtless read a hundred times before, but for some reason (probably my parallel literary research) it’s got my creative juices flowing.
This was the idea of something called The Hallow.
‘The Hallow is an old concept that retains the idea of an ancient center of equilibrium. It is unchanged by anything that has ever had contact with it […] No theology, religion or spiritual system has ever influenced its existence.
‘The Hallow stands between the material reality and non-material reality. It is neither, and it makes it possible for both dimensions to interact without collapsing either one.’
Well, colour me intrigued.
Ideas and concepts about in-betweenness – the liminal, the uncanny, the unnamable, the abject and obscure – have always been a personal fascination of mine (my favourite art is that which either manages to, or at least tries to, express the inarticulate). But the idea of this as a place is just thrilling. Especially as a place you can access! Not so much go to, perhaps, but draw from. What a sensation!
And it makes perfect sense.
Have you ever found yourself lost in a wild place? That sensation of being very much somewhere – surrounded by the natural, the real, the solid, the temporal – yet the creeping fear comes from a sensation of exactly the opposite?
Never judge a book by its cover! If you’re into plants, you might as well go really into plants. Good luck with it!
(As an aside, if you’re interested in gardens you can truly get lost in, I’ll be posting something about a genuinely terrifying garden at the weekend if I get round to it!)
Everyone’s getting excited about the Easter break – a beautiful four-day holiday. Gardeners all over rejoice…
I’m trying not to over-plan it. Instead I’ll enjoy the opportunity for seasonal reflection.
Easter as a holiday gets a bit of an ambivalent response, I’ve noticed. It’s not the big annual blow-out like Christmas, and it doesn’t have the party spirit of Halloween. I’ve always thought it was a bit mysterious: for a start it shifts around the calendar so you always have to ask someone when it’s going to happen. It’s all linked to the moon, which adds to the silvery elusiveness of the whole affair.
You also have the deeply somber mood of Good Friday, which when we were little was somewhat laden with doom as we expected the sky to go black at about 3pm, and I’m sure I’m imagining it actually doing it – but Friday was spooky and glum (my sort of day altogether) when you have to eat special food and not go anywhere.
Saturday is plonked in the middle with nothing happening, then Sunday is the Spring festival in all its glory.
Never mind Easter Egg hunts, it was the Easter tree I looked forward to: a branch of something like willow brought into the house and hung with little painted eggs, surrounded with bunnies and treats That tree became very important to me: the old green corduroy fabric Mum used to lay out to look like spring hills; the miniature birds’ nests and fuzzy yellow chicks…
I’m not sure what the weather’s got planned this weekend, but as long as we bring Spring inside, I’m sure we’ll capture the strange Easter spirit. And before Sunday comes, I’ll take the opportunity for some deep inward thinking.
I’ve always thought it’s important for seasonal celebrations to reflect the darker, quieter, sadder aspects of life as well as the fantastical and joyful. We can never suppress the minor key altogether – think of all the beautiful melodies we’d lose out on if we did.
Do you know what I was lying awake thinking about last night?
Non-hierarchical data systems.
Why? Well, bear with me, it’s a gardening thing.
I work as something of a creativity aid – what I’m hired to do is listen to client’s jumbled information and assemble it into attractive, persuasive words and images. But what I actually do is try to nudge their own creativity into the fore – like an undercover creativity Mary Poppins! My personal and professional goal is to make myself unnecessary, which now I’ve written that down…
Anyway, one thing I keep butting my head against is a deep-seated problem about how information begins and ends on any page. If the subject or process I’m writing about is non-linear (dynamic, cross-disciplinary, multi-layered), what makes you decide on the where you start? And doesn’t that effect the position and absorption of the following information?
I’ve always kept within conventional forms before, but these days, I am desperate for more. And it was last night’s pondering that led me out into the garden realm and into the way plants can offer varying, inspiring solutions.
We all know the tree system – the trunk is a subject, the branches can be fairly lateral, the leaves can intermingle – unless you have a rotating 3D model that brings in other dimensions, it’s hard to get away from a beginning and an end…
But what about the Rhizomes?
‘The word rhizome is used as a metaphor, to compare the growth and structure of rhizome navigation interfaces with the complex organic growth and structure of rhizomes, underground plant stems that send out roots and shoots from their nodes.’
Image from Bamboo Botanicals
But we still have the problem that we might be tempted to read from left to right, indicating a first and a last.
Why is any of this important?
An implicit hierarchy which is just generally accepted in information is one thing – on the most basic level, it really is just about reading information in its clearest form.
But data and information are worth big money to corporations, governments, companies and criminals for a reason.
Hierarchy of structure also reveals hierarchy in attitudes.
A general convention for the presentation of data can hide an implicit hierarchy in attitudes.
In a less sinister vein, flexibility is something humans need, in their bodies and their brains, as flexible attitudes, joints and open-mindedness all keep us younger for longer – so I assume that extends out into our greater communities; our work…
If I tipped a piece of paper on its side and rejected linear narrative information delivery, and created a dynamic structure where the reader decides their own path, how is information encountered? How is it absorbed? The answer might be: individually.
Minakata Kumagusu created his own philosophy, called “Minakata Mandala,” collecting so-called cryptogam plants in the wild forests
We struggle to find the right word – people are paid thousands to hit the right subconscious notes, but I begin to wonder if the way to accessing all that potential in the minds of ourselves and others is simply to change things up. Access creativity. Expect creativity – allow creativity.
I can’t help but wonder, if the hierarchy falls away from how we write and receive a snippet of information, might it make lovely flexible ripples into the rest of our social norms and the way we communicate with and treat each other?
We might even stop clashing and rattling and start flexing and swaying!
Fedor van der Valk – String Gardens
I don’t know why I’m all arty-farty at the moment, but the day job is giving me headaches and it’s too wet to dig, so the mind ploughs a mile a minute.
I’m looking at the arresting sculptural forms of Daniel Ost and wondering… is this a rare example of genuinely reinventing the wheel..?
“Ost’ s works make us think not of ‘animal spirits’ but of ‘floral spirits’. Flowers and buds, new leaves and fallen leaves, the ‘floral spirits’ in them literally embody the life force. This is truly food for the soul; one can never tire of looking at such works.”
Hidetaro Sugimoto, owner and preserver of Sugimoto House
Sometimes I wonder if it’s just a matter of showing us familiar things in a way we could never imagine them.
Obviously, these are more than ‘floral arrangements’. On one level it’s sculpture that uses flowers as materials, and we could look at it that way and think nothing of the fact they were once living things, or that the pristine lines and vibrancy and form will last only as long as these vegetable objects keep from rotting.
We might also think of Ikebana, which uses both the structure of living things and the negative space of the pause, the breath, the Ma in between – which is as essential to the rhythm of life as the rests and white spaces between the notes on a piece of music.
I feel certain that these amazing forms wouldn’t be nearly so arresting if they were made out of anything else, because no metal or textile or sculpted wood has the crisp vitality that is the newly burst life of a fresh-stemmed plant.
It is a sensory particular that gardeners understand on a foundational level – that green of spring and that squeak of life-full leaf, and that urgent, pushing, emerging brilliance.
To have captured that in an inanimate installation, in such a myriad of forms is what I would call (self-consciously) genius. There is no colour like living colour, there is no tension like the bend of a living thing, and there is no beauty like the beauty which we know to be fleeting.
That an artist would create so intricately with the full knowledge of pending destruction, I can only admire it. I am still in a state of fear about un-lasting things, but looking at these works, feeling if not completely dissecting the underlying ritual at work, helps me to realise there is so much more to life than simply living forever!
Some weeks ago I said a veg patch wasn’t always a beautiful sight out of the window, and a very wise commenter pointed out that this was a woefully limited way to look at it, and she was right. So I’ve decided on the look for my new fruit-and-veg garden everyone… Many thanks, Mr Ost!
I’m putting this piece under ‘jobs for winter’ because I think finding inspiration is an important way of staying in touch with the garden when you might not be spending a great deal of time physically in it.
I know I’m not among a minority in the gardening community who feel more peaceful and restful and content out in the garden than anywhere else in life. The winter months can be particularly hard on folks for whom the garden is a soothing retreat. Sometimes you have to generate that peace and connection in other ways, and I find even just looking at gardens and plants can help keep the inner glow alight.
One designer I never get tired of looking at, is Ishihara Kazuyuki.
Gosho No Niwa / No Wall No War
Everyone knows Kazuyuki from the Chelsea shows if nowhere else, and it’s not difficult to see why his gardens are always so popular. I have heard criticism that they are too traditional for some tastes, but I don’t personally see them through that contextual lens. I see exquisite, thoughtful, eloquent planting, and a wonderful flourish when it comes to materials and palettes. There are certainly echoes of a certain aesthetic and philosophy, but in those very elements are the un-traditional and the down-right bonkers.
Here are my top 5 passions for Kazuyuki’s designs:
This image, taken by Caroline Banks, proves there is no bad view to these gardens. This is the ‘back-side’ of No Wall, No War, and the intricacy of it is staggering, considering this is not the part that wins the prizes.
Moss is a prime ingredient to a Kazuyuki garden, and its effects are manifold. From softening architecture in Togenkyo, to creating bold new textures (which almost err on the side of a humorous and childlike fantasy landscape), to filling the senses with absolute unequivocal green, moss is both a foundation and a highlight: the reliable staple and the star of the show.
Image from gardenista.com
I mean, you couldn’t design yourself a more ideal writing room!
But more than a garden with a bench or a seat, these designs fully incorporate the human into it. In times of trouble when nature is always being held aloof from us in a kind of ‘look what we’ve done, this is why we can’t have nice things’ telling-off, it’s wonderful to see we can have a place amongst natural, growing things which is harmonious and inviting.
Slightly elevated both for our viewing pleasure and to reassure with the sense we’re not disturbing anything.
The multiple layers, the heights and depths – it’s hard sometimes to imagine these plots are often no bigger than a few squared feet, because there is, for want of a better word, coverage, and it is absolute.
The impression of centuries of established growth is automatically soothing. It feels like a garden which will always be there, cool, secluded, self-perpetuating. I think this above all the artifice in a garden is Kazuyuki’s real masterstroke.
The obvious elements and also the senses are all invited and stimulated. There’s nothing missing. But there is also a sense of ritual or worship – the arrangement of these elements like the points of the compass, or the carefully considered incantation on paper – that underlying sense of purpose creates a reassuring tranquility. You are gathered safely in, as it were.
The influence of Japanese gardens might seem very obvious, but these designs are perhaps what I always expect Japanese formal gardens to look like, which is why I feel faintly disappointed when I visit the real thing.
In actual fact, there is as much English tradition at work here as Japanese or Eastern tradition. And this is because some forms are universal. Garden fashions will come and go – and what a merry time we’ll have with all of them! But some things will always draw us close.
An abundance of green, some water, some coloured foliage and delicate flowers, and the soft velvet tapestry of moss… perhaps it is a return to woodland, or a culmination of all our most beloved things, I call it harmony because in a Kazuyuki garden, art meets nature and reaches out with a clear intention for the soul.
It may be a safe place, and a beautiful place, but I doubt we’re so far flung out in the world that these things could really be called bad taste.
I like to be challenged intellectually by art and design, but I will always return to this: the green and abundant home from which I came.
Three annotated images from gardens Illustrated:
(Words by Noel Kingsbury, photos by Claire Takacs)
Updating your wish list on a cold and unforgiving afternoon.
The crows sit hawing in bare branches, the melancholy buzzards search for blue in the sky, the mice squeeze under the gap in the back door and are swiftly ushered out with brooms before they meet the cat.
It’s not that you want to wish away the chilly season by imagining yourself elsewhere, in another time and climate, but a nice hot drink and a seed catalogue can bring a little relief from the sheer hard work of mud.
Instead of footprints, we leave wells behind us, from which the geese drink happily in the evenings, their keels dropping lower and lower; their interest in long grasses getting keener than their interest in food. We’re all in preparation mode. Endless pots of tea leaves go out onto the roses – not that they seem to need it.
All the roses flowered rambunctiously the whole of last year, so much so that I had a thought when I sat down to contemplate what new things to grow – to see about making the most of what the garden was already happy to give me in absolute abundance.
A note of gratitude to my loyal garden friends before sharing my greedy little wishlist!
Forget-Me-Not spreads like wild fire, every year a new patch, always popping up in inexplicable places. There’s nothing sweeter than that soft blue cloud, (that dear colour, that celestial center) and because I love them, their rampantness feels like an absolute blessing. I couldn’t be happier.
So I’m imagining entire beds of Forget-Me-Not from Spring right through Summer, too cool tired eyes with soothing pools… and it’s true they might threaten to strangle out the rest of the season’s plants (Forget-Me-Not’s leaves are more or less evergreen as far as I’ve experienced), but I do a bit of thinning, or I pot them up and keep them out of harm’s way, and when the season’s over for the rest of the plants, I pop them back in and let them multiply. Madness, I suspect, but I’ve no quarrel with them at all.
The roses too love our clay, and so I invested hard during the off-season sales (you can still get your hands on some wonderful off-season bargains now), and I am all-in with roses. Standards, climbers, floribundas, shrub, miniature…
Last year, our 3 yr old stock bloomed from the end of spring until the end of the year – without exaggeration, we had white roses and pink superfairies for the Christmas day table!
I’m going to make roses a part of this year’s design, because it would be very rude not to.
Here’s the view I’m concentrating on first. The all-important view from the kitchen window. If the kitchen is the heart of the home, then the view out has got to inspire love – it’s got to keep you ticking. I don’t know exactly why this is so important to me, probably representational of some deeper meaning, but it’s become an obsession.
So here are some of the plants I’ve been investigating:
Carpets of Colour
The moss garden directly under the window (still a little on the bald side as yet) needs to segue naturally into the planting, and given its typically native feel (native holly, damson trees, Ivy, dafodils etc), I want this transition to be both colourful, but also gentle. But I also live with a couple of people who are NOT fans of the cottage garden look. Luckily one of them is obsessed with woodlands, so I have a direction I’m allowed to explore.
My wishlist consists of purpose-plants rather than ones I’ve fallen for in a personal, dreamy way.
Before I show you my current scrapbook, I am well aware these are ‘weedy’: liable to self-seed and (many of them) creep wildly. As I’ve mentioned before, things where we are don’t take much persuading to go feral, so I’m taking a risk introducing these plants. But I have a cunning plan…
For now, I’ll just indulge.
Here’s another kind of wish list to cheer a grisly afternoon:
I love it when other bloggers recommend books, my wallet not so much…
For all the cold, it’s still an atmospheric time of year.
The flowers about to bud, green shoots rearing their brave heads above the parapet, a sense that no-one quite wants to be the first, but they just can’t contain themselves anymore.
Although I’ve learnt to go into making yearly seed and book purchases with a VERY strict shopping list, I know I’ll end up with a few adult plants as well. All the preparation in the world can’t help you when you fall head over heels for something.
Discipline, determination, a very strict shopping list… and some paving slabs made of good intentions should do the trick.
Plotting, planning, projecting…
There’s so much to think about.
We look out at the garden in winter and feel a funny sort of ache – and it’s not just a pining for our sleeping plants, or to get out there and back to our beloved work, it’s also because pretty much all there is to see at this time of year are all the things we’ve yet to realise.
A garden in winter looks like 100% potential. Potential is an invitation to dream! And for those of us of a compulsive nature… there’s a lot to think about…
When I talk about this garden as a challenge, I do not use the term flippantly. There are no small projects here. We are on the edge of wilderness, the wild plants here are old and tenacious. Introduced plants quickly turn feral if you’re not careful. Everything is always hanging on the cusp of going wild, so if you don’t mind your plant choices very carefully, the garden will rise up and eat you. So every season looks rather like nobody ever bothered…
And on the flip side of that is what I’m going to share with you now: the areas I have barely even started on. The places which will look at their absolute worst. I put myself up as a kind of cautionary tale of what might happen when your gardening ideas run up against nature at its most… argumentative.
What can only be described as a thicket of Buddleja and Snowberry. I regard both these wonderful plants with the greatest respect – the bees and other bugs love them, the birds make nests in the snowberry’s twisted boughs, and in the brown mirage of dullest winter, those pink-white froths of berries make all the difference, and they’re a staple Christmas table decoration. But this particular part is so old and overgrown that the centre of the thicket is in fact quite dead.
This was such a mess last Summer!!
It stands in by far the sunniest patch of the garden, growing fatter and fatter, and taking over precious space.
So, alas, it must be tamed. It’s not going completely, but in its space I want the new vegetable patch, and fruit trees. The sun gets so hot in this little trap that last year I couldn’t work out there in daylight hours. It sounds ridiculous, but it’s quite true.
So my plotting here is first a thorough clearing (I have done this before, and the roots of these two plants are, to put it mildly, tenacious. It’s not quite horseradish scale, but I’d say it took a good three years of re-sprouting each season for me to finally clear the whole lot). I will try to take the healthy stands and replant elsewhere since they make such a wonderful screen, and we are be-neighboured on many sides.
I’m also in the lovely work of plotting a new vegetable and fruit garden for when this plot is cleared.
The Awkward square: this is a rather special patch of the garden. It used to look like this:
That’s honeysuckle, brambles, a bay tree, a damson tree, all left to wilderness – to the frogs and toads and birds. But it blocked out the light.
This was more than a gardening job, I might write about it one day.
But for now, I’ll tell you the basics. From the kitchen window, you can now see out. The damson trees are still formidable, the bay tree still stands, I cut a path last autumn – rediscovering a winding, lovely old crazy-paving path that was laid by a family friend back when I was a child, who isn’t with us anymore and is deeply missed, now it leads down to a bedraggled bed, and viewed under the arch of the tree’s boughs, framed by its tilting trunk, it makes a nice window view – but none of it’s yet working harmoniously.
I planted daffodil bulbs around the tree’s base, and some plants like foxglove and giant allium under the window so their purple heads will hopeful bob up just into sight, and I’ve rescued the honeysuckle to train, and have other scented climbers in incubation, as it were. But my main ambition for this awkward sunken square is something a little tricky…
Yes, moss. This will either be a stunning success or an unmitigated disaster, but the vision I’m toying with images of spring bulbs, native wildflowers, summer perennials, scented climbers and a wild moss ground cover. I’ve no idea if it will work because this little square suffers from both flooding AND drought, depending on the season. But I’m going to try…
The compost suite. I can’t even talk about this, It’s been talked about for so long. All the problems in this plot of land have to do with letting nature do as it may, and trying not to be destructive, but the gardener in me is not actually a passive custodian of wild things, because the gardener wants to make things and shape things too. This clay land can be unforgiving, but it can also be an embarrassment of riches, but you must have organic matter, and you must have it on constant supply if you want to make a clay patch work for you. I’m hearing a lot about a no-dig strategy, but I wonder how much money is then spent on top soil or the equivalent, because here, that cost is by far the biggest cost in the garden.
So. Big plans.
The gardener’s retreat.
This is a complete indulgence, but this old shed which houses machinery, and some old furniture and some very old artwork of mine – and of course two cantankerous geese in the side house, and a log pile and crippled old lean to on the other side – is my little side project. No-one knows what I hope to do with this, but I hope to do it before the summer. The lean to will be a potting hut, and a neatly organised store for pots, recycling materials, any wood I find which I will always find use for. The shed itself would make a wonderful home for a design table…
I’m sure I’ll get caught out before I manage it but winter is all about dreams.
Such a beautiful moment, a rare gift of pure, guilt-free indulgence, when the garden is sleeping and its barren beds and occasional hardy shrubs offer you something of a virgin spot. It is yours to shape, it is your manufacture of paradise. Whatever you dream of – soft edges, wafting flowers, tall hissing grasses, or bright water – this is one area of your life where you can probably have just about anything you want.
Sometimes plans start with a very specific job, like my list above. That list of must-do’s sits alongside a bigger plan for a more cohesive experience of the space outside, and I suppose that’s where we get into Garden Design territory.
I’ll always be considering these three things when I stat wok again this year:
I want my new veg patch in the sun, and not so far away that I can’t maintain or access it in a daily-use fashion, but I also don’t fancy looking out at it all the time – a veg patch can go through periods of not looking that attractive. I like creating specific views from specific windows in the house, so I’m going to have to think hard about where this veggie patch goes.
This brings me to views. I live with other people who are very into green. They like looking out on calming, shifting shades of it, and don’t want that interrupted with colour. Therefore, I have some very real restraints on my compulsion to plant and grow. This isn’t a bad thing, but it does require planning. I have big plant aspirations this year, but they still have to fit with other people’s experience.
The immersive experience is how I like to be in the garden. I’m a fan of hidden surprises: I cut pathways through hedges, I fashion surprise space you wouldn’t know were there until you explore. I like to plant this way too, with native woodland plants accenting whatever I plant so that you always feel like you’ve wandered into a particularly magical part of the natural landscape. It’s not always been successful – weeds quickly overpower this planting style, things can go wrong and I’ve planted for a design in Spring that looks very odd in Summer, etc etc.
I’m also thinking very carefully about the senses for this immersive experience of the garden– you can’t fight the weather in England, you have to work with it, so for those rainy days, I want broad, robust leaves that describe that gentle drum in a woodland of water falling on greenery. For the windy days, I want grasses, and things that release their scent best when getting a bit of a battering. And for those strangely blistering summer days we’ve been having in recent years, I want shady spots to sit and basking plants to look at – generally cool colours; lavenders, Thyrsiflorus Skylark, alpines (the candy-striped blue Lithodora White Star is a charmer, with its highly visible star shape sprinkling about on a hot day), etc.
There is also the matter of making the most of what you have.
If there’s one thing that makes ideas easier to realise in a three dimensional space, it’s got to be drawing.
A rough plan is good, but a detailed plan can make the difference between something looking a lot more sparse than you thought it would, and something that flows and settles well. A basic understand of drawing to scale – even i it’s only circles and oblongs – will go such a long way….
Lots of people don’t bother trying if they already think they can’t, but drawing for function seems to encourage even the most artistically-phobic to put some time in with pen and paper. Sometimes you go into great detail, other times it’s a matter of instructive lines. I think of the act of drawing plants as sharpening observation. When we sit down and really look at a plant, we start to make discoveries, about its seeds, or roots; which insects frequently drop on it; which may be living their microscopic lives within the hairs of its leaves, and all this information comes back to us when we don’t even realise we need it.
Leonardo Da Vinci – the nature detective!
When we observe very closely, we follow the natural inclination towards curiosity, problem solving and attention to detail. These things are exactly the stuff that experienced gardeners are made of. And it’s doubtful I’ll ever absorb the kind of deep, instinctive knowledge from books in the same way that naturally becomes ingrained when I really get to know plants.
So drawing will certainly help visualise a design more accurately – scale, volume, pattern – but drawing will also help the molding of what every gardener probably hopes for:
You graduate from remembering, into knowing.
Drawing your plants is also a very nice way to occupy restless hands during the winter – especially when it’s snowing!
I’m making portraits of my Mystery Iris for posterity, (though my primroses have shown up my rustiness, where the simplicity of irises is a tad more forgiving…)
Does anyone else have any whopping projects waiting for them when the weather lets up?