Anchoring a garden to its location

“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.

Puketarata

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.

Puketarata again
And the view from below the haha at Puketarata to show how they achieved the seamless vista in the previous photo
Still at Puketarata

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.

By definition, strictly formal gardens sit ON the landscape, drawing inspiration from cultural and historical precedents far away in place and time. Close to the residence at Gravetye Hawera (not to be confused with its very different namesake, Gravetye Manor).
Gravetye Hawera again, heading away from the house

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.  

Gravetye Hawera melts out to wilder outer reaches and it is this unexpected charm that, for me, anchored this garden to its 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.

Early summer in the borders, after days of unrelenting rain

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.

13 thoughts on “Anchoring a garden to its location

  1. Patterson Webster

    Abbie, I was startled in the most pleasant way to read my name and your reference to Glen Villa in this post about boundaries and blurring edges. (Before reaching that point, I was thinking as I was reading of how I might write on the same topic.) I’m honoured to be mentioned in your post, and to have my name next to Dan Pearson and his always-worth-reading Dig Delve. Your description of my garden and art installations as using a wide historical and cultural context as reference is so accurate that you may find yourself quoted! Thank you.

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      My pleasure, Pat! I am glad that you felt my description was appropriate. By all means quote it, if you wish. We have been talking about this for years. Mark has never had much interest in visiting small, urban gardens because they are so rarely site-specific, anchored in their location. I can only think of a very few which have met that challenge. Most just sit on the land without those broader reference points of time, place, landscape, culture and history that can add much to the richness of a garden.

  2. tonytomeo

    In the redwood forests, we have no choice but to landscape within the natural environment. There is no escaping it. Unfortunately, it is why we are so hesitant to add palm trees. Windmill palms will be added soon, but only because they are relatively discrete. Conversely, within the urban landscape of San Jose, there is no reference to what was natural. Nowadays, even the culture is lacking.

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      Though to be fair, Tony, even looking across countryside, most of the vistas have been heavily modified by humans. If the landforms are original and the skyscapes are clear, that is the most natural we can get!

  3. Lyn Ashworth

    Hi Abbie,

    My name is Lyn Ashworth, and we met (along with many others, so you probably won’t remember) at the Taranaki Garden Festival. I have been meaning to email you ever since, and have been compelled to do so today, following your recent post. It occurred to me that you may like the work of Nicole de Vesian (dead now though) in Provence. I have a book, now out of print, and have taken a few photos of it to show you. If you like them. I will be in Lepperton during the week between Xmas and New Year, and could bring it over to you, just for fun.

    Nicole de Vesian was in the fashion business most of her working life, and started gardening at the age of 70. One of the things she was very interested in was “blurred edges” and although the planting around her beautiful provencal stone house was pretty much all clipped, the clipped-ness receeded as the edges approached, until there was a lovely merging with the surrounding countryside. Interestingly, she was a friend of Christopher Lloyd. I’ll email a few pics of the book from my phone, hope you enjoy them and i8f you want to follow it up, just let me know.

    Kind regards, Lyn Ashworth

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    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      Hello Lyn and thank you for all that. I had heard of Mme De Vesian but have not had a closer look at her garden. If you feel like popping over when you are one the area again, I would be interested to look at the book. Kind regards, Abbie

  4. sarahnorling2014

    Puketarata and Gravetye are two gardens I always make a beeline for when I come to the Taranaki Garden festival. This year at Puketarata I had a moment of clarity re what makes a garden outstanding. Simply, when you just want to stay there and not leave.

  5. Ann Bell

    The move to more gentle, naturalistic gardens is possibly a reflection of the fact that humans have trod too heavily on the natural world.. We are all too aware of climate change, plastic pollution, rampant consumerism, rampant everything, and people’s taste for over-control in the garden is all too evident. Thank you for your delightful newsletters which I relish. A very good christmas to you and all good gardening for 2021.

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      I really hope you are right and that it is a gardening philosophy – and indeed a life philosophy – which will grow quickly in this country. Thank you for your best wishes and may you have a happy festive season, too.

  6. June Day

    Lovely garden. I hope you don’t mind a question about your daphne “Perfume Princess”, what causes the leaves to start to yellow and wilt? I’ve checked the roots and they look very healthy. I have also seen them on clearance at garden centers and Bunnings looking in a similar state. Any tips would be very helpful – growing in Auckland.

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      It sounds as though the plant is stressed. This is most likely to be caused by either being kept too dry or the opposite – over-watering.

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