I’ve decided this spring that one of things I love most about gardening is what its taught me about time. I’ve had my mind in the dirt for comfortably over twenty years now and as such, have had the pleasure of going back to return to work on projects that are decades old and reflect on what lasts and changes in a garden over the years. I’ve also learnt how to bring a garden to life in a couple of seasons, but the mastery is in learning how to create a garden that works across time. It’s not just about being patient about the garden reaching a particular point or moment and then expecting to hold it there, in good garden design the magic moments a decade in may be hidden by different aspects of a gardens performance in the early stages. I like to think of a garden like a play or performance in which seemingly minor characters that sit in the back ground at the beginning of a script reveal themselves through the telling of the story to be the hero’s as the narrative unfolds.
These are my main lessons in time I can offer for this summer;
- Plant for now and forever. When planning your garden expect things to change over time, some plants that you love in the beginning won’t be around in the end but it doesn't mean you shouldn't start with them.
- Fill the gaps in between slower growing plants with colour or groundcover so your soil is not left bare for competition in the years your garden is establishing.
- Plant things you have to wait for. It might take 20 years for a walnut tree to fruit but every walnut you've ever enjoyed was planted by someone who was willing to pay it forward.
- If you arrive in an overgrown garden that is dying to be whipped into shape, spend some time thinking about the reasoning behind the previous gardeners planting before you warm up the chainsaw. The number of sites I’ve visited where a tree has been taken out only to reveal a tower looming behind, or a prevailing wind that makes it impossible to sit outside.
- If you want change a garden, consider doing your removal in two stages. The first so you can get a new garden started, but leaving in some established plants that you may choose to take out and replace once the garden has established. Done thoughtfully, this can mean the existing plants offer some shelter for a new garden as well as privacy or shelter for you too.
- Before you pull out the plum or pear that never fruited do a bit of research and see if you have the right pollinator in your garden. If you don't and you don't have room ask a neighbour if they would like to match with you. Bees don't care what side of the fence the tree is on and sharing plums at harvest is an added bonus.
- Have a pruning plan for your trees from the beginning and stick to it from the beginning. Too many trees end up needing a hard and unattractive prune or being taken out all together because they weren’t cared for soon enough.
- Planting at the right time of year does make a difference. We can plant and water in many parts of the country most of the year but for trees and shrubs, an autumn and winter in the rain to develop strong root systems does make all the difference.
- Take photos of the garden as it grows and changes so you can look back as well as forward. Its our reward for the love that goes into a garden, to look back and see how far we have come.
- Most of all make sure you take time to pull your head up out of the weeds and bushes and admire your work as others do.
- Smell those roses as they bloom!