Be Among Them

I recently decided to add a new flower bed to our cottage garden. This has taken me months, for I do just a little at a time so as not to antagonise the Parkinson’s Disease that I have.

I’m one for wanting to be drawn into a garden. I like there to be little corners to discover and different perspectives from which to view a garden. If you look back to where I have shown the early stages of our garden, you will see that it was a blank canvas. Literally, it was nothing more than an expanse of meadow grass. That is beautiful, in itself, but not interesting as a garden in which to find yourself walking around and discovering the plants.

From the patio, which we added a few years ago, we have been met with a view of our little garden that was still just an expanse of grass; albeit with the addition of hedgerows and planting that I have added around the perimeter.

The patio, itself, has been enriched by the addition of lighting, potted plants and perimeter shrubs. These add interest and fragrance and many attract in bees and butterflies, in particular.

I was still frustrated by the lack of feeling drawn into the garden and so I thought about extending the flower bed, from one side, into the centre of the garden, if not beyond. This is precisely what I set about creating. Using some Victorian slate tiles that are for path borders, some of which I had found under the top soil, I started to build a flower bed and then extended it out into just beyond the centre of the garden.

With the patio area seeming like a ‘room’, itself, this new flower bed divide had the effect of splitting the remaining garden into two ‘rooms’. So, the cottage garden is now defined by three specific areas. We have the patio end of the garden, in which the patio and the grass area beside it form one ‘room’, we have the central ‘room’ area and we have the ‘bench’ end of the garden; so named because I bought a new bench and placed it under the Japanese Shirotae tree in the far corner.

Over time, my next task will be to think about how to define these areas more specifically with, perhaps, zoned planting schemes or maybe just by definition of the type of garden furniture or features we may add. For example, the wooden bench in the bench end of the garden is now situated in what presents as a small, shrub lined perimeter. It has the feel of sitting in a country park, beneath a tree and in tranquility. I rather fancy a stone bench and a statue or two, with some wilder planting; perhaps increasing further our fern gardens, for the central ‘room’ of the garden. Maybe creating a courtyard feel by adding some hard landscaping in parts; such as gravelled areas, trellis and vines. Then, in the patio end, I like the idea of adding large, raised planters and growing kitchen herbs; effectively creating a little kitchen garden and growing veg in pots.

This is how a garden evolves. Over time, looking at how you use your garden space and then taking a risk by, even in a small garden, bringing beds into the garden, rather than sticking only to the outer edge. Once you start to move away from that very mundane border style that was such a part of mid-late 20th century gardens and you bring plants into the central areas of a garden, the imagination fires up and you can start to create those wonderful corners, nooks, rooms and interest areas. The garden starts to come to life and you start to feel drawn into it; wanting to explore and to experience the full length of the garden, rather than always to sit in the same place looking at the rest of the garden.

Another thing that occurs to me is how we have become people who enter a garden and look down. We look down at small bedding plants. This is fundamentally wrong, in my view. Again, I attribute much of this to the latter half of the 20th century. Surely, and please comment below on this, but surely we should be entering into a garden ‘among’ the plants and looking up, in wonder and awe? Currently, we enter a garden, look down and admire plants that, at best, may reach calf or knee height. That’s it! Well, I don’t think that is anything like a rich enough experience of nature. We humans should be walking among the plants. We should be meandering through plants of all heights and ideally also looking up at some of them. This can be achieved even in a space of just the size of a small sitting room.

I will write more on this subject, but I want to encourage people away from the disposable bedding plants that we have for one year at a time and which we have to always look down at. I want to encourage planting of shrubs, small trees, hedges and other plants that not only reach our own height but which may grow even just sligtly taller than us. I want people to feel drawn into their gardens, for plants to be big enough that you can’t see behind them and so you have to move toward them and seek out what lies behind them. I want this also for the habitat that it offers our wildlife, whose own natural world is continuously plundered by human kind. Let us restore the woodland, in our gardens.

Take a look, next time you go into your garden or the garden of someone else. Take a look at how you and they all experience and observe gardens. How much time is spent looking down? How much of a garden do you experience by moving through and around it? Do you remain pretty much in one end of the garden or do you go into it? Is every part of the garden visible or are there things that cause us to go and look behind them? Are there little nooks or corners for surprise discoveries; perhaps a pot containing an extraordinary plant is tucked into a little corner and awaits to be discovered and enjoyed? How often do you look up to see your planting at head height or even silhouetted against the sky? There is so much potential and so many people are missing out on a richer experience of their gardens, I believe; due to our perimeter border style (habit).

I think my point is clear and yes, I know there are many practicalities to consider but even putting a hedge or trellis with vine into a position that juts out from your perimeter border will suddenly add an interesting nook to be explored. Go on, give it a try.

If you have thoughts on any aspects of this post, please do comment below. Meanwhile, here is a look at how the garden is now starting to create areas that add layers and which will draw you in, as viewed from our garden patio. You’ll notice that the shrubs I have planted alongside the patio (Buddleia) are apart enough so as not to close the view, but instead to create a part-view that entices you to look through, around and beyond. Seeing a glimpse of what lies behind will only further entice the curiosity to explore.

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