Garden Life – September 2020 – Gill Ford

I always feel that gardens should tell a story, or various chapters of people’s lives as they develop. For me my gardens have been inspired by childhood books, such as The Flower Fairies by Cicely Mary Barker, which makes us look right into flowers – my dad always said that pansies look like people’s faces – some grumpy and others smiley! Also ‘The Secret Garden’ by Frances Hodgson Burnett, in which a garden had lain hidden for several years before Mary Lennox, found the key, guided by an ever friendly robin, unlocked the door and inside was a very overgrown but beautiful garden which she restored to it’s former glory – with a lot of helping muscle power! The first family garden that I remember had a secret passageway that ran along the boundary fence, where I felt that I could walk and run without being seen – of course my parents could see me through the branches but I didn’t know that!

So now, when I am asked to help design people’s gardens, I look for the magic that is already there and then start to design and build separate areas that tell different tales throughout the year. I have been lucky to have had the opportunity of building 3 of my own gardens; one small London one, which was opened for the NGS; a 3 acre garden in Hever, which was a narrow linear garden within which I created 7 different ‘garden rooms’, as you travelled down through it. Each area had different colour schemes and particular seasons when they flourished with a formal green garden, to sit in and rest the eye. It did take 10 years of hard work and there were still areas that were ‘work in progress!’

When we moved to Cranleigh over 7 years ago, we inherited a garden which was a blank canvas with 3 trees near to the house, 4 fruit trees, some raspberries and potatoes popping up everywhere and 12 HUGE oak trees at the bottom of the garden – so it was quite a challenge! I decided to plant tall bushes near to the house, so we peep through them to see the rest of the garden and a similar planting halfway down, so we glimpse through to the garden beyond, which in Japan is called ‘a borrowed vision’. Of course I do have a secret passage along one side, so the grand children can run along it ‘unseen’!

A number of people seemed concerned that autumn was coming early this year, as plants started shedding leaves in late July and early August. However, this was because they put on a huge growth spurt early on as a result of the warm weather but could not support all this growth in high temperatures and lack of rain. So, to protect themselves, they tend to drop some of the leaves to reduce the strain of pumping nutrients and water up the plants. A very clever survival tactic really!

Working and wandering in the garden has certainly calmed me during the COVID 19 crisis, especially growing my own supply of vegetables and fruit. However, I have learnt two very hard lessons this year, which have been increased by the fierce sunshine and high temperatures. I was growing a wonderful assortment of Heritage tomatoes in the greenhouse but they were scorched by the sun and heat, then succumbed to blight this week. Apparently you must never grow potatoes and tomatoes near to each other, as the disease can spread from the potato leaves to the tomato plants. The other is that I ‘always’ put protective tree barrier glue (horticultural grease) on the trunks of the fruit trees to protect the fruit from winter moth caterpillars. These caterpillars can feed on developing fruit buds and reduce the crop but I forgot to do it this year. So, all the apples have bugs inside, which the children call ‘little friends’ – I call them something much worse!

Do take a little time this month, to see what has flourished, is in the wrong place, past its sell by date or even just perfect where it is. Then we will be ready to spend October looking at how to split and move plants, order and plant bulbs, so they can become established, before winter sets in.

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