We need a landscaper with a little digger and much drainage work doing. This relentless rain is beginning to make our yews suffer. The only way you can kill a yew, besides ruthless attack, is making it sit in water. And that is just what this weather is doing, despite our garden slopes.The hedges above are browning.
We haven’t found a local landscaper yet, which is surprising, but neither have we had the weather to bring machines on the land. So – we suffer and worry.
It’s a strange business having heavy machinery in. They can change a whole landscape in moments. Scary. And needs caution.
Since I started making our garden twenty six years ago I have also spent a great deal of time studying the history of the landscape I’ve made the garden in. I started by investigating the history of our house. I suppose that we generally tend to think that it is buildings which are important historically, but I came to realise that the land had been intensively used in a variety of identifiable ways long before the house was built.
This is clearly true everywhere in this country, where all the land has been being used for thousands of years. Even a modern housing estate has a history worth investigating when you start focusing on the land rather than the buildings.
And one of the things I discovered was just how much of the detail of the past is still there in the land, especially where earthmovers have not reared their buckets. We have a little corner of the garden sticking out incongruously into a field. I puzzled over how it came to be such a funny shape for a long time, and it took several old maps to make sense of what I was seeing. This bit of land was the end of an old lane into the field. The reason it was sticking out was that the current field was once several fields, and the lane ran to the end of one of these old fields. Those fields had been the land belonging to a cottage, of which there are no visible remains. But once I had pieced it together from the map I could see clearly where someone’s home and garden have left their mark behind.
This land, which is ours for a time, has a little wood and a steep sided valley. From the Tithe Map of 1841 we can see that it was arable at that time – as a result of shortages caused by the Napoleonic Wars ? That means that this incredibly undulating land would have been ploughed. When I dug up the shoe of a mule it became clear how my predecessors on the land had done that unlikely and very temporary ploughing.
Elsewhere, an expert in woodland conservation pointed out to me that the trees which appear to be growing out of our walls actually predate the walls. They are the coppice trees which were in the wood before the land was cleared for cultivation. The bark of the coppice trees used to be used for tanning, and stripping the bark was a seasonal occupation for people living here. The wall builders had just incorporated the trees into the walls when they built them.
All this makes me want to be very gentle with the land, and leave these marks of other people’s lives, along with my own. The danger with the earthmoving game is that suddenly the machine erases all marks of the past, and if I am not careful I am no better than the person grubbing up hedges and building houses and roads all over our very fragile countryside.