Impressionist Painting versus Petit Point

Years ago, when I gardened professionally,  I use to work for someone whose attention to detail and fussiness was legendary. But while he huffed and puffed over the fineness of the tilth in certain areas of the garden, there would be towering mounds of seeding rosebay willowherb upwind elsewhere.

This for me was plainly a nonsense. There was after all no way that we could ever get control of the garden unless we prioritized.

We reached a kind of modus vivendi and would both fight and win some battles and not others. It was a ‘fun’  working relationship! In our better times we would joke that my approach to the garden was:

And his approach was:

Monet’s finest daub and squint stuff, versus spinsterish, nit pickingly fine embroidery with microscopically small stitches.

One of the great things about getting older is that you have the experience and the natural expectation to be able to make the decisions. You find your own power base and paint your own picture in your own style

Moving on further still from head gardener to garden designer, has meant that one can advise on laying out a landscape so that it is practical for the client to maintain both short and long term. We can also advise on maintenance schedules to ensure that our vision for the client and their own dreams become a conjoined reality. And frankly the realization of a landscape which is entirely appropriate to the clients and their pleasure is one of the great rewards of the job!

In private time, gardening purely and simply for my pleasure means that I now have the ultimate control of a substantial garden! I still maintain that the key to a large garden is the broad brush approach. But now I can practise what I preach without any compromises.

Of course this approach has implications for the garden. My standard is rougher. I don’t produce a fine tilth! Which of course is just a perfect seed bed for weeds.

I don’t even try to get rid of all the roots of perennial weeds. If I did that they would be seeding at the other end of the garden! I am apt to rip the tops of weeds to stop seeding. I mulch as though to save my life. Leaf mould is the purest mulch here and every shred of leaf is saved for this.

In borders, my drift sizes are larger than they use to be. The result is that the borders are less fussy. But, I do watch out for and preserve useful seedlings. Sometimes these spark a new idea for an area or grouping. One of something suggests: ‘Why not have seven’?

I am much more attuned to the weather. When it  changes tack, I change tack. I stop and start jobs as I choose. In 3 hours of gardening I might do three different jobs varying the effort and the muscles used. I may not finish any of them. They are still there the next day.

I also like those three jobs to be in three different areas of the garden so that all the time there is the feeling of the tone of the whole garden being raised. And my sense of winning increases each year. Each year several borders are also renovated. Therefore, there is always that sense of renewal which all good gardens need.

I give myself rewards. I have for example just conceived of a whole, north facing slope of lawn devoted to one type of snowdrop. And in a month or so my treat will be dividing existing Galanthus atkinsii clumps and dropping single bulbs into slits in the turf. Next autumn/winter I hope to move all the roses to new sites and also….etc etc

Above all, I go out in to the garden and do what priority wise, weather wise and calendar wise is the most ‘winning’ thing I can do that day. And those priorities need to be weighed up against all my objectives for the garden.

It is that simple.

I say simple, but of course it is the product of the years and the teaching I had.

So I awake knowing what to do if there is time to do it that day. But it is most definitely a big brush time. The needle and wools are reserved for darning my socks.

Move over Monet!