Do you have a sensory garden? If not, are you sure?
I find myself sitting at a little bistro table in my garden with fingertips poised near the keyboard. It’ll be my first post for a few weeks you see, after life, as it does, got a little heavy. But with a few moments of peace available I’m determined to reignite my writing brain and post something interesting, or useful at least so here goes; a post about my sensory garden.
Welcome to a slice of my weekly gardening journal – this entry a little later than planned, but an important entry nonetheless; as you find me on the last page of my chapter gardening in the Cotswolds.
Essentially it’s change of job time, equalling new days and new challenges ahead. My boots though are not yet cold from tearing around the works garden, preparing things as best I could for the inevitable gap between me and the next gardener. Therefore, for this journal entry, unlike my usual format of reviewing and looking back over the previous week, I want to be a little more creative with a look back over my last year.
Not wanting to assume that you know anything about the place, I shall try, at the risk of under-selling, to explain in one paragraph the garden as I see it.
Situated in the rural Cotswolds, the mellow stoned Manor House with its formal east facing Georgian façade has owned its place in the landscape for more than three centuries. Lichen and moss enriched dry stone walls and mature woodland wrap their arms around the garden, where plants ornament every corner, and iron fixings pepper every available garden wall. Fully grown walnut, beech, lime and oak trees anchor the garden firmly to the limestone packed soil, and sweeping lawns roll away from the house to a reflective pond and farmland beyond. Did I mention the kitchen garden…?
Moving into a working position there took some time, with my notice period taking a full three months to navigate. Apart from brief visits to keep things going therefore, my start was held back until mid-November, about when the rains arrived – and seemingly for the whole winter.
Welcome to a slice of my weekly gardening journal – an entry for the week leading up to Saturday August 22nd. This journal entry isn’t my usual written response to a week of working in the garden, as I’ve been away for a week in the wonderful North East of England staying with family.
Instead of the normal journal, I’ve endeavoured to understand the special characters of two gardens I’ve visited this past week. Not reviews as such, but short descriptions and questions: what aspects of each garden visit struck me and what flavour, if any, did each garden leave. The gardens featured are the refreshed ‘Belsay Awakes’ garden and the stunning Wallington, both in Northumberland.
Welcome to my garden journal for the last week in May.
It’s funny when you become aware that the default topic of conversation between people is often the weather. I suppose that whether we like it or not, weather affects most everything we do – and especially if you spend a lot of time outdoors. So, whilst I never want to admit it, it is often what I drop into my journal each week, not as a detailed record but as a general comment on how it has guided or impacted my week.
This week is therefore no different, and here’s my weather remark for the week at the end of May: Strewth it’s been bloody hot this week!
It was a slightly shorter week due to the Bank Holiday, but it was a tough one to get through simply because of the heat, of which I’m not altogether fond. I won’t dwell on it, as I have far more interesting things to record in the post, but I only hope the weather offers a bit more balance, and maybe some rain, and soon!
A summary of my gardening week both at work and home reads like so: Monday – Various potting on of veg plants at home. Trimming box topiary. Tuesday – Watering (Lots). Received large delivery of topsoil. Compost heap working. Mowing. Wednesday – Scything and grass clearing. Strung-up wigwams. Weeded through tulips beds. Thursday – Watering. Mowing. Began brewing compost tea. Potting up. Touch of topiary training. Friday – Watering, including auriculas. Cleared dell area to access pond pump. Cleared tulip bed & prepared for planting.
The stunning flower above I took for a common spotted-orchid, (Dactylorhiza fuchsii) though on further investigation I’m now more inclined to see it as an early purple orchid. (As such I’ve focussed again on it in my journal entry for 6.6.20) It was a real treat to find a little collection growing alongside the pond at Broadwell. I didn’t pause for too long as I was midway through a mowing session, but they had a rich colouring to the flowers that really shone out from amongst the flag iris foliage where they were hiding, and as always, it was a real thrill to discover them somewhere new. My awareness is now heightened for sightings elsewhere!
The next image shows an age old favourite called Ragged Robin (Silene flos-cuculi). Another beautiful flower but it doesn’t matter how hard I try, all I can see is a ring of pink suited little people…. Please tell me you can see it too!
Anyway, on with another moment, the first strawberry to ripen at home! It’s basically an old galvanised bucket, drilled for drainage, and planted with three strawberry ‘Honeoye’ plants that are apparently good in patio containers. The first one is now ripe, and is reserved for my youngest son who loves strawberries, in fact they were planted largely for him, although for some reason he’s not yet ready to try the first fruit… I can but try!
The next image picks up on one of my favourite occupations, that of scything. I’ve cherished my Austrian scythe for a few years now, although I’m the first to admit the correct technique still alludes me. I remember my tutor making the scything action look so effortless…
The task was the clearance of some undergrowth in order to access a water pump, but once this was finished I moved on to a brief session removing flowering stems, and a few thousand future seeds, from a good few docks growing amongst a grassy sward. “One years seed is seven years seed” as people say..
The scythe is excellent for both of the tasks mentioned, especially when used with the shorter ‘ditching’ blade, and where the docks are concerned it’s simply a task of swishing (none technical term!) the blade above the grass to take out the flowering dock stems. It may not be the complete answer, but it’s fuel and chemical free & it’ll stop them spreading ever further – a little bit of natural selection if you like.
My last image above of sun setting behind the trees is an image of mine taken for use, along with some text, on the Silent Space website. The new web page added this week will grow as more articles are added, and is intended to offer views of how, during lockdown, some people have found calm and solace through nature.
If you haven’t discovered the Silent Space initiative as yet, you might like to explore the link at the end of this post. Essentially though, a most basic explanation is that Silent Space exists to help people find a space, usually in a park or garden, where they can properly relax and enjoy a few peaceful moments of peace. During lockdown however, most ‘arranged’ Silent Spaces in gardens have been closed to visitors.
I’m glad to say that Silent Space in general is set to go from strength to strength, and its need is more important than ever before now that many more people are discovering the restorative power of gardens and green spaces. Do please check the link below and see the incredible number of places that will soon be open again to offer their Silent Spaces.
Well that has to be it for this week, but needless to say I have another busy gardening week ahead, and will be back with more luscious images and text next week.
Whether we believe in Blue Monday or not, many people do feel down in January, maybe because of all the hype and increased activity of the festive period. In truth though, there can be many times throughout the year when our spirits can for whatever reason, drop. Feeling over-worked, stressed, overwhelmed or just a little lacklustre, all are common feelings to many people at one point or another. But there’s hope…
One thing I have come to understand is that I definitely need quality time alone to unwind and recharge, maybe you feel the same too? “Ha!” I hear some people say, “like when do I ever get quality time to myself?!” Well, I’m familiar with this as well – very much so.
Now, I’m fortunate to work in the field of horticulture, which is to say that I spend most of my working days gardening. Something I’ve realised recently is that whilst I’ve prepared, restored and created gardens for people to visit, enjoy and relax in, I’ve also been able to experience these myself, even whilst busily working away.
Whilst in these spaces, I’ve always remained aware of the busy, thriving world outside because of lorries in the distance, jet planes overhead, ‘trends’ seen on social media during tea break and even by email – and yes, gardeners do get emails! Either way, I know that I’m never really that far away from the hustle and bustle yet, whilst I’ve been in my garden space, I have in a way been enjoying respite away from that congested, energy sapping world outside.
Please don’t misunderstand me, gardening is all-engaging, can be very stressful in many positions, and often, when a calm day of gardening appears to be ahead, a physically and mentally challenging day actually unfolds. Yet, through my work I’ve come to understand how, when ‘at one’ with nature and the green, growing environment; I can be completely calm and at my happiest.
I’ve also met many garden visitors and heard countless comments about how they love visiting and just being in gardens. “I love it here,” is something I’ve heard often. I’m completely sold therefore on the concept that gardens, woodlands, landscape and the outdoors in general can offer more nourishment to an individual than may be quantified. Put simply, if there’s a green space where one can be alone for a while to escape from the hectic world around, or even from a situation that needs more thought, then surely it must be a good thing for the individual.
Well, to get to my point, I’d like to introduce you to a set of green spaces where you can head for restorative purposes – and to an initiative that is ‘Silent Space’.
I will not attempt to explain at length, for it’s very simple – Silent Space encourages us to put our phones aside and to take a moment in a garden or green space. For all the reasons mentioned above, and more, Silent Space is an initiative that empowers us to breathe in the green space around us, to reconnect with nature, and to revive our spirits.
Where? You might ask, as often there are no quiet places nearby that ever come to mind for this sort of activity. But stress not, for wonderful people who believe in Silent Space have already prepared and opened areas of their gardens and venues as Silent Spaces, for you to visit.
True, if your garden or the park down the lane offers you a place for solace, then embrace it and use it, but the silent space I refer to here may just takes things up a notch or two.
The single link that follows will take you not just to a website, but to a growing world of much needed Silent Spaces that may offer exactly what you’re looking for. A growing number of gardens and landscapes are featured, and there’s likely to be one near you to try this year, and if there’s not, then why not ask for one, for Silent Space offers us so much, & is sure to keep growing…
“Gardeners, I think, dream bigger dreams than emperors.”
Mary Cantwell (1930-2000)
When I read the above quote from Mary Cantwell, an American journalist and novelist I believe, it certainly set my mind thinking. It reads simply, initially, and for me sparked inspirational thinking in relation to gardening projects or garden expansion. It made me think of growing more challenging, bigger and unique specimen plants, and it reminded me of my bucket list of gardens to visit in exotic, far-flung locations.
The quote could therefore be a simple, straight forward vehicle to encourage bigger thinking, like that expected of an emperor, but by an ordinary person. I guess it naturally sets a gardener’s station relatively low, but instantly lifts that station through some easy to achieve, bigger dreaming; and I have no worries where that’s concerned.
Nevertheless, whilst I doubt that Mary intended to speak directly to gardeners, the quote does take on a new meaning when I read it purely from my perspective as a gardener. I can see for example that the apparently simple quote could have deeper notes; notes that instantly make it more relevant to me on a daily basis. Let me briefly explain…
When I dream, day-dream that is, I’m often seeing gardens.
Or more specifically; I’m seeing garden spaces as parts of a larger garden. I might
have an ornamental border in mind that is ready for change, or occasionally a larger
space to work with and think about. Either way, the space is very rarely a completely
To this end as a gardener, I have to dream. I have to time travel and look into an imagined future to see the plants growing and to see the space fully developed. I’d also say that it’s not just me but we, as a creative gardening community that need to dream on a daily basis in order to achieve a reality that many people enjoy.
We have to dream that journey of each plant and its growth from seed – to sometimes gigantic proportions. To know the vulnerability of each plant is to encourage dreaming that enables ‘sight’ of the plant growing, and enables us to know that plant in its mature form, with competing plants all around.
In that dream-zone we have to make allowance for the challenges each plant will face along the way. Animal and human pests, accidents, stress, neglect and extreme weather will challenge the existence of each plant and garden. That imaginary journey of each plant will therefore trigger precautionary or protective measures to ensure the best chance of success, and it will certainly lead us to delete a dozen plants from any wish list before a single seed is sown, or plant ordered.
Gardeners do though have to understand the reality behind the dream, the processes and resources that enable us to grow from seed, to nurture cuttings or select plants. Gardeners also, sadly, have to understand how other factors may impact the future of a garden. Changing attitudes can sweep away a gardener’s dreams almost overnight. Each new generation can play to the new fashion; and a whole garden can all too easily be swept away with a new broom. Understanding that reality means that a gardener must dream and see the final vision, in order to make the often challenging journey bearable.
Finally, therefore, to return to the quote about gardeners who dream bigger than emperors; I have to say that I agree on all levels. To undervalue that ability to dream big is to stifle imagination, and to prevent the creation of something that may to one person be distasteful, but to another be beautiful, restorative, and life changing.
Gardeners ought to be encouraged to dream, for it is they who create, adapt and grow the unique and heavenly places so important to us all.
Perhaps we shouldn’t tease someone who appears to be day dreaming today, for in ten years we may be applauding their great gardening achievements, and in fifty years we may be celebrating their visionary foresight….
It’s probably my favourite gardening month, so I just had to write about my borrowed garden in May…
Upwards driven, arrow headed Aquilegia flowers begin to open, tainted only slightly by greenfly nestled in a few flower stalks – and not a ladybird to be seen.
De-headed tulips with their bleached foliage continue to
fade from their recent fiery display, twisting this way and that, whilst continuing
to roll ever inwards.
A cascading Gypsophila overflows its pot whilst flowering freely with dozens of tiny white trumpets, all worshiping the light, while from its Lewisia neighbour rise numerous slender stalks bearing exquisite pink blushed floral disks.
Accompanying the above mentioned delicate beauties are many cherished terracotta pots, each supporting a carefully chosen and treasured plant. The plants are not all star performers, some being the most ordinary specimens, but they’re my selections, my collection, and I appreciate each and every one for its own qualities. Collectively, they are my garden.
I have to say, there’s a good few immortal and less attractive plastic pots in use too, which refuse to die. Mind you, I can’t remember when I last threw a plastic pot away, as ‘they’ll all come in handy at some point’. If they’re here now, we might as well use them.
Overriding the flowers just now the foliage reigns supreme, with many textures and forms blending together in communities possibly never to be found in the wild. I would like to say it makes for a lovely floral display, or it’s a tapestry of colour, but to be honest it’s mostly green foliage, and I love it all the same. All that juice moving through the tiny vascular systems – refreshing, fascinating and energy giving.
Lighter, clearly fresher foliage can be seen on a range of
evergreen plants, from a pot restricted cedar in its early stages of topiary
formation to a cloud trimmed, shrubby box in a heavy clay pot. Still, I can see
at least a dozen different plants in flower, (not including the lawn daisies!) with
the promise of many more to come.
A curving rear wall supports a Pyracantha, which to my mind has been neatly trained over many years. It is just now reaching its first annual climax as it begins to burst its many champagne coloured flower clusters. I particularly like the informal holes where birds fly in to go bug hunting.
Along another border, waist high Miscanthus is beginning at
last to own its space, whilst beneath and between forget-me-nots, the happiest
of accidents light up the ground.
Directly opposite, the purple and mauve bells hang in fanned clusters from stout hairy stems, above the most giving of comfrey leaves. Beside this another happy accident, a Welsh poppy, demands attention with its wide open, paper-like orange petals.
Just a little further away a darkly coloured bugle sits unobtrusively beside a towering foxglove, its own statuesque form leaning slightly to catch the light. Each and every year I’m wowed by the strength and beauty of each little flower tube.
And finally on the face of the fence, and arching from a stringy framework of dubious strength climbs a young clematis, its white twisted petals finally open now to appreciate the sunlight. Of course, it wants to scramble every which way I don’t want for it, but it’s a delight nonetheless.
It’s a complicated but fun mix of pots in my garden, and especially lovely in May; probably my favourite month. Whether it is a borrowed garden or a gardener’s garden, or a bit of a shambles I don’t mind; it’s my oasis and it’s imperfectly perfect for me just now. I hope your gardening space is equally challenging, delightful and inspirational, and I’d love to hear about yours.
I have to admit some frustration when I hear people wishing the winter away. Weather can wreak havoc with so many things like the daily commute, or weekend getaway, and can seriously delay schedules for one thing or another – I get that. Continue reading →