My Garden Blog: The Legacy
When moving into an existing house, new owners will discover a legacy waiting them in the garden. In our case, the house was originally owned by a lady who was, according to neighbours, a bit of a blue stocking, and the garden had been planted with a carefully selected range of plants which, however, over the years had become too large or too tired, while, during the several years before we moved in, the house had been let, and the tenants had obviously had a very limited interested in gardening. So, we inherited a mixed legacy.
The garden (which, in metric measures is about 17 by 6 metres — not an acreage) can be thought of as consisting of four quarters, and three main sections. The upper and lower quarters are patios, while the middle two quarters consist of a lawn. On either side, there are borders, south and north facing respectively. When we moved in, we discovered that in the bottom (or eastern) quarter, there was a deep tank which, we learned, had been constructed, under duress, by the estranged and soon to be former husband of the shrewish woman from whom we bought the house (we never actually met her, as throughout the difficult transaction she proved to be totally elusive). The tank had been the home for koi carp which, along with the venomous vender, had long since removed to a new home. The squalid contents of the abandoned tank resembled those of a large tea pot: tea coloured water and a mass of leaves from the copper beech overhead. It was clear that this curious piece of legacy would have to go, although achieving this looked more like being a piece of civil engineering than gardening!
Between the lower quarter and the lawn was a bed, covered in a semi-permeable membrane and mulch, in which were planted a cordyline australis, or, as it is better known in my native New Zealand, a cabbage tree, a fan palm, and a yew somewhat half heartedly trained over an arch way which separated the lower and middle halves of the garden.
The south facing border was a bit of a jumble, with lots of ill disciplined, and in some cases, invasive shrubs and ivy forming a virtual hedge. There was, nearest the upper patio, a flowering peony and a very played out tamarix tetrandra (or tamarisk). There were also several roses, some planted too close to the fence cum hedge, and one which was extensively growing in the hedge. This would prove to be the Kiftsgate rose, a vigorous climber, named after the garden where it was originally cultivated. [http://www.kiftsgate.co.uk/]
From nearest the upper patio, the north facing border contained a japanese quince (or Chaenomeles), an all over the place Forsythia, a cherry laurel, and a mature prunus. This border was also copiously filled with Euphorbia Amygdaloides, var. Robiae (or Mrs Robb’s bonnet). As the garden books point out, she ‘can be invasive’.
The upper patio included a built in planter along its eastern edge, in which there was a sad rose and other sorry planting.
Both side borders also contained a selection of miscellaneous plants, including various kinds of spring flowering bulbs, some yellow loosestrife and bits and pieces whose identity would be revealed in due course.
So, what we had was the ghost of someone else’s idea of a garden. Or, indeed, at least two people’s ideas of a garden. Of all of these pieces of legacy, the only really useful inheritance was likely to be the garden shed, located in the lowest part of the garden, the cordyline, the palm and the prunus. The challenge from now on was how to avoid being imprisoned by these other ideas, and, while preserving some of the legacy, attempting to put our own stamp on the garden. In short, we were faced by the challenges which face all change agents: existing structures and practices which militate against introducing innovation. And, as I was to learn, plants, like people, have their own habits and preferences, so over the years, the half formed visions of how the garden should look have been subject to many a compromise. Of which more anon.
- 10 Jun, 2010
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