Saturday, 20 August 2011

Rocks in the road - To Ramona

AUGUST.  The time when, as a gardener, the thrill has gone, everything lacks sparkle somehow.  My energy is low, little excites me out there.

But then, I drift into a little light weeding or tidying and somehow just seeing the squalid dead stems of campanula persicifolia cut down and the nice leafy rosettes revealed - that's enough to start me off on removing the dead stems of hemerocallis and picking out the browned leaves.  A bit of this and I can almost face pruning the lonicera hedge and picking a bit more gubbins out of the pool.  I weed the gravel a bit - it's just lying on some Type 1 I battered down with a mallet 15 years ago.  I've never topped it up, use a little glyphosate on the weeds that break off leaving their roots in there, but in general I would not say it's too bad a surface.

Sometimes you have to make your own path easy, gently gently creeping up on what needs to be done.

Over the weekend, I removed two large santolina Edward Bowles from the side garden, where they were called "santolina boulders"  (should have been Bowleders) and supposed to give a repeated motif, leading you through the garden and giving solidity and shape without formality.  Plus there are no real boulders here and sometimes all you want is a few rocks.  There is an exquisite French garden (Nicole Vesian was the maker) where this idea is taken to the absolute edge of beauty - proper rocks included.  My santolina are much less tenderly cared for than the tight shapely roundels of that garden, and they are usually allowed to flower at some point every year.  They have pretty pale yellow flowers and grey rather than silver foliage.  But they do get a bit big.  So two have been removed, with some trepidation in case their absence just makes the whole thing look a bit more uncertain.  I'm trying for scale, volumes and spaces in harmony and all that kind of thing.  But of course I'm aware the whole idea is completely odd at the north-facing front of a late Victorian double-fronted house.

So there we go, a sort of idea I nicked and gestated a long time ago, one I've never completely fallen for but that I putter along with relatively happily, it being an area we just walk through or hang about in to see what's going on in the pond.  I would add that this part of the garden was heavy yellowish clay ( the house was a brickmakers).  I have not amended it, just covered it up with gravel and grown things that have been prepared to put up with it, like the santolina, the lonicera hedge, skimmias, the phlomis and the bergenias.

Ideas and fashions in gardening are a kind of genteel republic.  We can all visit gardens and thumb through books, looking for a convincing solution that excites and charms us.  It's fun and it's not against the law, except in very arcane circumstances.  Later on, it's equally easy to dismiss and reject the proliferation of copycats when a particular idea dies, even if we are part of that army of followers.  I'm balancing there, longing to defend myself and carry on borrowing and adapting, but worrying that it will all go horribly wrong and look like yesterday's takeaway.

Turn with me to To Ramona, in the Another Side of Bob Dylan version, for a little light bracing.  So it seems you can get away with "cracked country lips" and still be loveable in your imperfections.  What you cannot do is be untrue to yourself.  Only we gardeners can decide if it's truer to ourselves to follow and imitate the things we have thought admirable, or whether we must throw ourselves onto the stony landscape of unrelenting originality.  Poor Ramona, she had to go back to the south, neurotically longing to be like others.  But what a beautiful tune, how tender he sounds as he condemns, knowing that they are both struggling with the wounds of youth.  They are very real characters, they could almost step out of the song.

We all play a slightly double game when we believe that we don't care what others think of us, I would love people to admire some of my gardening ideas as original but in the end it's not the most important thing.   Dylan of course knows that to be true, though he won't let Ramona off the hook; it's how you use and combine the elements and influences that matters.  I'm not one of those who criticises him for plagiarism, for me he always brings new light and remains himself, whatever he turns to.

If you peer more closely into the photograph, you will see a shaped hedge on the right hand, protruding out behind the pond.  This is lonicera nitida, trimmed against the usual close-board fencing, and it hides it neatly and effectively.  Not an idea I found anywhere else, but it has turned out to be both successful and efficient, despite the frequent trimmings required.  Serendipity?  Not at all.  The tiny leaves work well with the santolina, the fence was quickly covered  and the pond defined - all things I wanted to happen.  Follow others and you sometimes find something different on the road.

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