At this time of year I make a point of getting away to see what other people are doing in their gardens and it always prompts a great deal of thinking. One thing I got preoccupied with this year was tidiness and the wild.
I cheerfully say to visiting coach parties that I garden Veddw so that it is comfortable in the surrounding countryside. And that this is not simply about tolerating, or even encouraging, some weeds; it is about managing a dialogue between what we might term ‘natural’ and that which we think of as ‘gardened’. People often nod enthusiastically, but when I visit gardens and see how much control people wish to inflict upon their patches I begin to think that they must actually find Veddw quite shocking, if not incomprehensible.
At Veddw I try to get the various different parts to merge more; to talk to each other. For example, where the meadow ends by a particular path, I have the other side of the path sexed up with geraniums, honesty, roses and the like, comfortably mingling with meadow plants which have seeded there – otherwise and in other contexts known as weeds. This avoids a stark contrast while creating a sufficiently different look to the far side of the path.
When I first started making the garden I mulched the ground to clear it and planted into the nearest I could get to weed free empty ground. But more recently I have planted into the existing grassland – not just the usual bulbs, which we have in the meadow, but tough perennials which manage to fight out a living with the existing meadow plants. The land was almost all all rough grazing when we arrived, and appears to have been unploughed for the past two hundred years, so there is a rich mix of meadow plants. Which are not all, despite the popular epithet ‘wild flower meadows,’ flowers. Some are grasses, there are ferns and there are other foliage things with effectively invisible flowers that botanists can identify for me.
If a weed/wild flower is vigorous, healthy and at least half good looking, it will probably stay. A large part of my gardening is looking carefully at how things are working together and what they are contributing and then removing, culling or encouraging accordingly. And then having fights with Charles about whether it works or looks too weedy. Or has a weed that he loathes, like a certain very pretty yellow vetch, which likes to scramble. (That can be a bad look, like bindweed can).(but I rather like that vetch…)
The greatest thing which separates the garden from total wild and woolly are the hedges and the mown grass.I don’t want the flowery bits to be segregated from the grass, so tough plants sprawl over the edges and the mower keeps the parting – and keeps it invisible. The grass is clearly never ‘lawn’ with the so frowned upon lack of ecological variety – it is mown grassland and has its share of clover and daisies and more mysterious things. It has been cut weekly in the summer and never fed in 26 years and survives. But it doesn’t look like lawn. To play with the wild/gardened theme I recently began to allow a strip of the grass to grow into its meadow self along the Yew Walk.
And the hedges are for many people, and me certainly in winter, the essence of the garden. They provide the sharp, the contrast, the declaration that this is a garden. The ‘wow’. And the major effort and expense.
The trick and the problem with retaining a piece of the ‘wild’ – let us call it that for the time being, though of course it isn’t – is incorporating it harmoniously and coherently. That means that you will have problems if you garden like this:
Because anything which looks a bit loose and rough will stick out like the proverbial sore thumb. You will be confronting the style of your garden with something totally inappropriate. But wouldn’t you rather be a bit wild instead?