A freestyle garden

WisteriaShiro-Kapitan’ with alstromeria, perennial forget-me-nots and aquilegia

A friend came out to help with a garden task this week and she gave some advice that has had me thinking ever since. To be clear, I am fine with receiving advice from friends who have experience. I may or may not follow it.

“Your perennial garden needs structures in it,” she said. ‘To encourage people to go in and view it.” My immediate response was ‘nooooo’ but it has stayed in my mind. She was referring to the Iolanthe garden, a bit of an experiment on my part and the last of our new summer garden series. I pondered the fact that I was really pleased when Mark had said the previous day how much pleasure the Iolanthe garden was giving him and I thought about why I rejected her advice as an immediate response. There are two reasons.

The first is that my friend was still thinking in terms of a garden that is open to the public. That is why people needed to be ‘encouraged’ to leave the driveway and venture into that area. She had a large garden herself that was open to the public until a few years ago when they sold up and retired to a smaller city garden. At that level she is right; structure and focal points draw one in to a space.

At last I have a place for hefty plants like foxgloves – but none of the common dark pink one. White or pastelle, please. With Chionocloa flavicans and an equally hefty, obscure lobelia.

But we live here. It is our garden. We don’t need such aids to draw us in. And I realised that at some point in the seven years since we closed, I stopped gardening for show, for public display when the garden is open. I now garden solely for our pleasure, our delight. That is probably why it has been such a shock to me over the last few months to go back to preparing the garden for opening this week. It is a very different focus. I don’t feel I have been gardening. I have been tidying, titivating, garden grooming – and I really don’t find that fulfilling.

The combination of Mark’s hybrid arisaemas with self-sown parsley, lychnis and bluebells amuses me. In this somewhat chaotic planting. There are also a few trilliums and Paris polyphylla with the rhubarb and Joe Pye weed.

Secondly, I realised that the Iolanthe garden didn’t make sense to her and that was interesting. She saw it as ‘a perennial garden’. No, I said, it is a transitional perennial meadow and she didn’t accept that the place for a meadow – transitional or not – is so close to the cultivated, defined areas near the house. Meadows, I pointed out, don’t have structure and focal points as more formal gardens do. I would never plant a straight perennial garden as I have planted this area.

I must accept that in terms of a garden that is open to the public and therefore needs to have some coherence that is easily understood by a reasonably perceptive garden visitor, the Iolanthe garden falls short. Amongst other things, if we were still open for most of the year, it falls short on design. The paths are so narrow that they are single-file and, at this stage, there is no through path for visitors so they must exit the same way they entered. Plans are underway to move the propagation houses which will allow for more flow and a wide central pathway but that will take another year or two.

This colour combination offends me greatly

But none of this matters because we are no longer open, bar the upcoming ten days. My greatest concern at the moment is the disastrous combination of this dusky pink bulb with the cheerful, if garish, calendulas. I think the bulb is a tritonia – maybe T. squalida, but feel free to correct me if I am wrong. I planted them but the calendulas are volunteers. It will be easier to discourage the calendulas from that particular location than to lift the bulbs.

I am not sure yet whether the combination is going to offend me so much that I cut the flowers off the bulbs for our opening. If you are planning on visiting us next week, you may like to step off the driveway and into the area to see.

It is the first year for this garden so it is still getting established but what I envisage is a casual sea of flowers, heavily populated with bees and butterflies, from spring to autumn.  With some grasses. Straddling the lines of a perennial garden, a cottage garden and a meadow – so a transitional meadow. That makes sense to both Mark and me, at least, even if this freestyle planting confuses others.

Our garden will be open from Friday 31 October until Sunday 8 November from 9am to 5pm daily as part of the Taranaki Garden Festival. We are not open outside these days.

16 thoughts on “A freestyle garden

  1. Pat Webster

    This piece really speaks to me, Abbie. I understand so clearly the difference you outline, between a garden for others and one for yourself. This year, with no possibility of people coming to visit, my pleasure in the landscape and garden at Glen Villa was heightened. Everything seemed right, even the projects that were halfway done, or the areas where I knew change was needed. It was pleasure undiluted by criticism, or by the prospect of what other people might think. Next year, we plan to open the garden more often. I feel confident that I will enjoy that experience, too, but in a different way.

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      Pat, I feel we are very much on the same page on gardening matters. Maybe one day we will meet – either in Canada or NZ. I hope so!

  2. Pam Barraclough

    I love your term “volunteers” instead if “interlopers”, as in the calendulas with the dusky pink bulbs. Nature takes it out of our hands and often gets it right!

    I am so looking forward to seeing your garden – and you if I’ve timed it right, figuring Saturday might be a less busy time for you.

  3. Maureen Forsyth

    Hi Abbie – we are very much looking forward to seeing “your” garden next week. In relation to your post of today, are you able you tell me what the plant is behind the calendulas and pink bulbs please? I have it in my garden but, do not know the name of it. I find it a pretty and sometimes unexpected plant that acts as an excellent filler as well as a stand alone plant.
    Kind regards, Maureen.

  4. Emma-Jane Carpenter

    It’s a wonderful time of year! I have been inspired by you and am making my own wildflower meadow with perennials and annuals. I started last autumn. It has started to look fantastic already and I’m amazed at how many bees are flocking to it already. I am down in Nelson and our foxgloves haven’t come out yet down here, but the annuals and daisies look gorgeous and with all our fruit tree’s blossoms (especially the beautiful quince blossoms), it really is a gorgeous time of year. Thank you SO much for your inspiration! The bees and I just love your blog! I’d love to see some more pictures of your wildflower meadow for more inspiration. Best of luck for your upcoming show.

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      That is wonderful to hear. Thank you for saying so. If you type meadow into the search box on the right of my page, it will bring up many photos of meadows – both our own and those we have taken inspiration from overseas. Good luck with yours.

  5. Tim Dutton

    So often what you write is in accord with how we garden and feel about our own garden too. We have plenty of single file paths and some of what we term ‘gardener’s paths’, which are just gaps between plants that enable us to take short cuts from one part of the garden to another without stepping on something. They wouldn’t do for garden visitors at all! We are really looking forward to visiting your garden next week, Iolanthe Garden and all.

  6. Nancy Strybosch

    Abby and Mark I am dying to see your garden again I am making the pilgrimage from Hamilton on Thursday and hope to be there at 11 am Friday for the tour

  7. Pingback: Apparently, almost everybody loves a meadow | Tikorangi The Jury Garden

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