“When we can see the cycle is complete, it is time to cut the hedges that mark the tended places close to the buildings and provide the contrast to the rough wild hedges that run away darkly and on into the valley.
The link between garden and the beyond landscape is deliberately mutable and I prefer to tread lightly now and to only act where it is really needed to keep in time with the landscape.”
I was completely charmed by these two sentences in a recent post by English designer and gardener, Dan Pearson. Yes! I thought. He was writing about exactly the same philosophy that inspired a piece I wrote two years ago that I headed ‘Blurred lines’. It is always reassuring to find a fellow traveller. And what a gentle way to mark the transition by neatly trimming hedges in the cultivated areas of the garden and then allowing them to be naturally wild and loose in the farther reaches.
There are beautiful photos of a heavy frost in that post, too. We never, ever get frosts of that magnitude here but any readers in Central Otago will identify with the chilly, still beauty of a hard frost in the morning light.
I have been thinking for the past fortnight about that approach of blurring transitions between garden and wider environment and how, to me, it is the difference between a garden that sits on the land and a garden that sits comfortably within the environment. It is all part of the spectrum of creating a garden by controlling nature through to creating a garden in partnership and cooperation with the forces of nature. Mark is currently fond of the description of naturalistic gardening, which he favours, being more or less about tidying nature.
Closer to home, that desire to sit a garden comfortably within a wider environment is what makes Puketarata Garden near Hawera memorable for me. Here is a garden within the environment, not sitting on top the land with no reference – or deference – to its location and sense of place.
Different, but related, it is also what I like about Gravetye Garden in Hawera. I am not generally attracted to formal gardens in themselves but what I like there is how the strictly formal areas melt out gradually to the farthest boundaries where there is the contrast of much wilder areas. Because it is a confined space – several acres so not a town section but on generally flat land and defined by very tall boundary hedging with no view beyond that I recall – it is an example of how a very controlled style of gardening can still be anchored to its place. I see many gardens which could, theoretically, be lifted in their entirety and plonked down in another location altogether and nobody would be any the wiser. That gentle transition from control to wildness at Gravetye Hawera is what connects it to its own specific location.
I will be honest. I am not sure how, or even if, this applies to small town gardens. If you live on a small section surrounded by tall, timber fences currently favoured in this country, it probably doesn’t. The area is already defined as a tightly confined space. If you are lucky enough to have a view – even the neighbours’ trees – then the lessons from Puketarata can be scaled down to a smaller focus but still draw the eyes of the viewer from the close-up view and out beyond, blurring the edges of the garden into the wider environment. Or maybe the Gravetye example of softening the outer reaches could be scaled down to a small, confined space but I am not sure how this would be done in practice.
I do not think I could be happy living surrounded by tall fences. It would be more like a prison to me than a safe space but as I drive around towns and cities, it appears that is a minority view. Human beings can be very territorial.
With the current cessation of international travel, it may be that we are limited to enjoying experiences vicariously for a while yet. I don’t subscribe to many gardening blogs but two I enjoy are Dan Pearson’s ‘Dig Delve’ – at its best lyrical in conveying his delight in his private garden – and Pat Webster in Canada. Pat gardens in Quebec, so under snow for some of the year, and brings a personal focus on the historical and cultural context of her garden. It is not just about plants and design; she is also an artist and the installations she creates for her garden all use that wider social and historical context as a reference point. Pat can also be found on Facebook here.
Finally, and unrelated, Mark, the rain gauge man, tells me we have had over 20cm of rain since last Monday. Even by our standards, that is a lot. The borders, photographed this morning, have held up remarkably well to the unrelenting rain. I have my fingers crossed for more sun this week.