‘Do what you like!’

When I went ‘up-town’ for pre-Christmas drinks the other night, I was introduced early on in the evening to a fearsome grande dame with enough pure carbon on just one of her fingers to satisfy my modest lifestyle requirements for a couple of years.

‘This is Robert – he’s a garden designer.’

She fixed me with a beady eye, and as I opened my mouth to utter the initial conversational gambit she nodded curtly and passed on behind our hostess in pursuit of rather more prestigious fare.

But later in the evening, she found herself close to me and socially in rather an awkward hiatus. Changing tack, she decided to bother, and shoving her way into the conversation, demanded:

 ‘So tell me what I ought to be doing in my garden now, then?’ It was a challenge, but it was also time for her to harvest the evening’s ‘information-bite’.

‘Do what you like.’ I replied.

She drew her chin in and her eyes took on the glassy look of boiled sweets. Oh dear, was I going to be ‘difficult’? But actually having naughtily derived some private pleasure at her expense, I could afford to change tack too.

So I smiled sweetly, spread my hands wide and said ‘What do you feel like doing?’

Her face cleared. ‘Oh!’ she said. You mean I could just …..?’

‘Do what you want to do. What irritates you most about your garden now?’

‘Well, the clematis looks really ragged and the clumps of grasses have started to blow apart….’ and she was off.

December, for all the false lure of fairy lights and tinsel can be a grim time.  Sure I have Viburnums in flower, in quantity, and the ethereal beauty of Prunus subhirtella ‘Autumnalis’ is a constant delight, but it is a dull and dank month to actually work in the garden. So it makes sense to work when it is most pleasant, and to do that which pleases us most

What have I chosen to do today?

I finished putting in place the winter protection over anything tender and inclined to rot. Late to do this? Not really. I like to expose plants to a little cold in order to toughen them up. But we have had the first tentative fingers of frost so enough is enough. Seeing them all snug behind frame lights propped against the wall is a positive feel good factor.

I carried on with proactive cutting down of any clumps of decaying perennials which are beginning to disintegrate before they start to blow round the garden in the wind. The very thought of avoiding more mess to clear up is heart warming in itself.

But most pleasing of all was to sharpen the look of the garden. Removing the odd branch here and there, filching leaves from the gully by the grass edge to show off the line of the border and a teeny trim to hummocks of Hebe rakaiensis or whatever it is now called. Yes, I know you don’t trim hebes in December, but I have got away with it before and their globular tautness really gives winter structure to the garden.

But was all this an ‘ought’? No, it was a ‘want’! And this is the great sadness of the grande dame’s attitude to her garden. It is the ‘shoulds’ and the ‘have tos’ which are the killer for joy in any activity. It should be love and hanker, should it not?

I sometimes meet people who have gardens, hate gardening and if we are honest don’t actually much like plants either. What should they do? Invest in good quality garden staff and leave them to it. Employ me to redesign a stimulating space! Or, move to an apartment overlooking some communal gardens!

Happy Christmas and especially to the grande dame!