A Garden of Character

Dear Readers, some gardens are grand. Some are charming. But some acquire something  even better – character. I love the garden of my Aunt Hilary because it speaks to me of the love that she and her sister Morwenna have put into it over nearly 50 years. It includes just the right combination of plants that are managed, and plants that have been allowed to naturalise and roam free, such as the primroses above, which pop up in every colour from cream to palest pink to rose to cerise.

In the autumn, the cyclamen take over.

The controlled anarchy of it all, with flowers bursting forth in the lawn, by the stumps of trees, in every corner, seems almost paradisaical to me. If Adam and Eve walked on this primrose-studded lawn I’m sure they’d think themselves lucky.

But it’s not all about the primroses. The wild lesser celandine combine with a handsome white periwinkle to make a little spot of semi-wildness.

Purple windflowers (Anemone blanda) hide shyly away alongside the dense conifers at the end of the garden, which are alive with wrens and goldcrests.

The rookery on the other side of the field is in full swing, with rooks croaking and conversing.

A sparrowhawk flies in over my head, long and low, for the second time in two days. She catches nothing, and swerves away, but the sparrows set up an anxious chirruping, as if discussing what has happened. In a few minutes, one is back on the roof of the old garage, which itself has a fine patina of age. The variety of lichens and mosses, here in this area of clean air, is impressive.

I wander over to the vegetable garden, and notice these two sparrows huddled against one another. I know we’re not supposed to anthropomorphise, but they look like friends to me. Could they be recently fledged nest-mates, I wonder? Surely it’s too early? But then, Broadway has a lot of long-established hedgerows which provide just the conditions that these birds need – food, shelter, and lots of thorns to keep the sparrowhawks out.

When I look at a garden like this, it makes me wonder how many iterations it has gone through, how many plants have been tried and rejected because they aren’t happy in the conditions. There’s a lesson here about when to give up and try something new, when to persevere, when to intervene and when to let well enough alone. A garden can teach us many things, if we let it, and if we recognise that, in the end, we can either work with nature or against her. After almost fifty years this garden is still evolving, but is full of ‘happy accidents’ that have been allowed to multiply. Imagine how much poorer the garden would be if the first errant primrose had been dug out, instead of appreciated.

Nature touches the most unlikely things with beauty, like the roof of this bird table. I love the different textures and colours of the lichens, the way the one on the right looks as if some sea monsters are rising up and wading through the shallows. The one in the middle is as crumbly as birch bark. The lichen towards the top of the roof reminds me of the surface of a sphagnum bog. All of this is happening here on this few square inches of wood. There is so much abundance here, so much possibility. It’s hard to spend time in nature without being touched by joy.




9 thoughts on “A Garden of Character

  1. Rachael

    After a magical day in my (unkempt :-)) garden, your piece lifted my spirits even more!
    PS. There seems to be so many sparrow hawks in my neck of the woods in Norfolk this spring…

  2. tonytomeo

    That is precisely what all those fancier big box ready to go gardens lack. I just tried but failed to politely explain to someone else why I am not impressed with the new plant trials. They are so disposable. they can be purchased while in flashy bloom, but are not expected to do much more afterward. I happen to grow iris that my great grandmoter got from her other, and my great grandfather’s rhubarb, as well as geraniums that I have grown since I was in junior high. They are not as flashy as new introductions, but they have character.

    1. Bug Woman

      Bravo!I am standing up and applauding. Some people want everything right now, but plants need time to settle and multiply and gardens need time and patience. And you’re right, so many of the fancy new cultivars look great for ten minutes, but don’t thrive. And you’ve reminded me about rhubarb….i feel a post coming on.

      1. tonytomeo

        I said that because someone else brought up a plant trial earlier. I really dread those. Those who develop the new cultivars really like to show them off to sell them, but I am never impressed. If their plants really were as sustainable as they are supposed to be, they would survive, and then no one would want to buy new plants. Sustainability has become such a joke.

  3. Liz Norbury

    It’s always a joy to return to a much-loved garden, and I can see why you love this one. It’s also a delight to discover a garden you’ve never visited before. As you say, gardens can teach us so much – and so can the people who create them and look after them. Gardeners always seem to me to be the most contented, calm and enthusiastic of people. From what you’ve said about your Aunt Hilary, I think she may be one of these gardeners!

    1. Bug Woman

      I think that gardening is the most excellent cure for whatever ails us, I must say, though it can be hard on the body as we get older. Still, there’s a lot to be said for a random potter with a pair of secateurs 🙂

  4. Toffeeapple

    Just the sight of a clump of pale Primroses makes me smile and feel happy, so thank you for showing us your pictures.
    My garden, too, is unkempt but at least I can usually count on Hellebore, Honesty, Wild Garlic and Aquilegia to come up despite anything else that happens.


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