What is a garden exactly? Can you have a ‘garden’ without a human element? You perhaps know that the etymology of the word is ‘enclosure’ (Middle English from Anglo-French and Old High German), but an enclosure of what? One thing for sure is that it is a heck of a lot more than just plants. There are stories everywhere, layer upon layer, about the provenance of the plants, and they add immeasurably to the pleasure of anyone deeply involved in the creation of their outdoor space.
You do usually remember who gave you what. I will certainly remember that my dear friend Moni gave me the crazily pretty David Austin Rosa ‘Boscobel’ (where Charles II hid in oak tree to escape Oliver Cromwell, in case you’re interested) – a rose I had been ogling for ages, I can tell you!
My son, who works in a nearby nursery, has given me some very special trees, including Gleditzia which glows like the sun, and a ‘family’ pear tree (‘Beth’, ‘Concorde’ and ‘Conference’) – this is a rather clever idea for saving space when three different varieties of pear are grafted on to one rootstock, which then becomes one tree – all three varieties fruit magnificently on mine.I believe there are fruit-growers who have managed to grow dozens of different varieties of apple all on one tree.
Laura has given me some real treasures over the years, although she knows they’ll have a dodgy future compared with all the pampering they have been used to. A stunning Cornus kousa has battled through all the neglect, having planted it in a pretty exposed position. This is a good gift for someone like me – any aspect, in sun or shade, very hardy, and liking a well-drained soil. It’s slow at first (and mine certainly was!) but now it’s six years old and has delightful white bracts all over it in late spring, and vividly bright autumn colour – a tree/shrub to put on your wish-list.
I have kept a handsome Astelia chathamica going that Laura gave me, and I even managed to keep a very pretty Isoplexis canariensis for a few years before I got blasé and left it out to face a nasty frost alone.
You know what it’s like when you have Great Aunt Mildred round for tea and you have to unearth all the knick-knackery she’s given you? Well, it’s always a little nerve-wracking when Laura peers round my garden and asks where I have put her so-kindly-given such-and-such….at least I have the advantage of a garden across the Channel, and I can always say that I planted it there instead………
Yes Elaine is so right, a walk around my garden is so much more than just a visual experience. Every plant I notice triggers a memory of the setting where I first saw it growing, where I bought it or who gave it to me. The now monstrous (bless it) Rosa multiflora transports me straight back to the walled garden on the Hebridean Isle of Jura where I first fell in love with it.
At least half the plants in my garden have been given to me by Louise, (I see she is taking cuttings from her Great Plant this Month – one can but hope!) and I try to reciprocate, not least as an insurance policy, as I know that if my latest gem fails with me it will probably succeed with her and I can beg a cutting back one day. I have tried this strategy with Elaine, with slightly less success I have to admit, and that ‘oh yes, that plant, it’s gone to Normandy’ card has been played a bit too often. As for Caroline, well you’ve read about her garden – would you trust her with anything precious?
Exactly, the little plants I greedily squeeze into my hand luggage after a trip to Laura’s, all rosy-cheeked following their idyllic childhood in a Sussex polytunnel, look in need of a defibrillator or possibly euthanasia after a month in Scotland (three separate attempts with Euphorbia mellifera, our feature picturevthis week, after which I was in danger of being reported to the RSPCP. Much too cold on the East coast of the Scottish Highlands).
But it’s inexplicably peeving when someone says you can’t have a plant because where you are is too windy/cold/wet/chalky/acidy/snaily etc. Although you’ve moaned about these conditions on Facebook for months, suddenly you’re sure you have the ideal spot. Gardeners are truly gripped by a special endorphin when the prospect of a new-to-them cutting or seedling is in the offing.
Like my sisters I remember every plant given to me by friends and neighbours, some of whom are no longer alive (not because they were squeezed into my hand luggage, before you start to make any connection) and it’s lovely that their memory lives on in my garden. However not every gift from a loved one is a jewel. For instance I rather long to haul out my Stachys macrantha its insipid purple flower is nothing short of irritating to me. Problem though – Elaine gave it to me 25 years ago – it is a little bit precious.