Well if that wasn’t my busiest month ever I’ll eat my hat!
Augcember seemed like a really appropriate way to label this past month or so because it really felt like August and September morphed into one month.
I feel like I have done “all the things” lately. All except, of course, the things in my garden.
Over the next few days I’d tell you all about them because while I haven’t had the pleasure of being in my own garden I have been in and around other people’s gardens. You know, there is a lot that we can learn from other people’s gardens.
I’ll start with the Australian Landscape Conference. What a fabulous few days that was. As always there were wonderful presentations from some of the most influential people in landscape architecture, design and gardening. Throughout the conference there was a lot of talk about people friendly spaces, creating a sense of place, working in harmony with the surrounding landscape and preserving the historical features in our landscapes.
I had the pleasure of visiting Stephen Ryan in his garden. It was an interesting day – we had sun, rain, hail and snow.
The name of Stephen’s garden, Tugurium – Latin for ‘hovel’ is an interesting one not just because it is unusual. In fact, it is a delightful garden, anything but a hovel if you ask me. It’s a lovely place to wander around or to sit and enjoy a quiet moment or perhaps a cup of tea. There are so many wonderfully interesting plants and little nooks that you could loose yourself for hours in what is not really a huge space. What I loved most from my visit was something that Stephen said and that was “I get a lot of visitors to the garden and I always say to them: I hope you enjoy the garden, and if you don’t then that’s your fault”. It made me laugh because it reminded me of the, sometimes nasty, things I have heard people say about the establishing period of my garden. (I’ll talk more about that later!). Gardens are essentially an artistic reflection of ourselves, our lives and our lifestyles. Like all art, our gardens are subjective. What appeals to us won’t necessarily appeal to the next person. It’s something to keep in mind.
Stephen Ryan's Vegie Patch
While up in the Macedon Ranges we also visited the gardens at Alton and Durrol.
What I found most interesting about these two places was the deep growth of moss that we don’t see back in Melbourne, indeed off the mountain. It was lovely. At Durrol, an Edna Walling designed garden, it was like a thick green blanket that was protecting the garden from the cold winter chill. I was particularly taken by the way that the paths were so defined even though they were covered in the carpet like moss. It gave the place a still, peaceful feel. It may look a little bleak in my photos but in the late spring – early summer I can tell you that the place springs to life.
Durrol - Path
Durrol - Stairs
Alton (circa 1870) is another beautiful estate in Mount Macedon, Victoria. It has a very long and interesting history. As you can see below the garden is quite structured and elaborate but it certainly sits well in the surrounding mountain landscape. It’s like a portal to the past. My favourite things about this garden were the beautiful stone structures, the tree fern walk and the inadvertent caterpillar sculptures below (two old radiators).
Alton - Fireplace
Alton - The Fern Walk
Alton - Caterpillar Sculptures
Fergus Garrett, Head Gardener of ‘Great Dixter’ in Northiam, England, ran a master class after the conference, which I attended. He talked in great depth about the need for year round interest in our gardens i.e. incorporating plants that give you interesting leaf colour or flowers in different seasons. He spoke about the importance of taking notes throughout the year so that you can identify gaps in your garden and fill them accordingly. Very wise!
During my class Fergus said something that really resonated with me. He was talking about this process of note taking and how Great Dixter had developed so well because of it. He said, “so, you’ve heard about ‘Slow Food’, well this is a ‘Slow Garden’ ”. I suddenly realised that these words so adequately described my style of design. I often design gardens that can evolve over time. I started working like that because I felt so strongly that the idea of an instant garden, or what I call the “Backyard Blitz Effect” is wrong for so many reasons (forgive me Don and Jamie). I mean, the truth is that you can’t repair your soil and make it healthy in one day. It takes a time and continuous care.
Often when people build their garden all in one hit they walk away and in the long term the space really doesn’t receive the attention it deserves. Plants die, the look fades and it becomes a much less welcoming space to be in.
I believe that your garden should grow with you. Of course, its nice to have it all done in one go but it is incredibly satisfying to stand back after a while, to look at photos of what the garden used to look like and see what it looks like now. How it has evolved over time and that it was your bare hands and hard yakka that made it what it is. That is a sure-fire way to draw people into their gardens and to love that space.
When we have a good design to work with, one that is broken down into manageable projects and relevantly ordered, we interact with the garden more effectively and get a real sense that we are achieving our goals. The added bonus, wether you are building it yourself or having it built in stages, is that the cost is spread out over time. This gives people a chance to afford the garden they dream of. We can all afford a fabulous garden, even with a shoestring budget. All you need is time and a bit of good planning.