We are very positive people, us gardeners. We visit impressive gardens of great age and size, with expensive planting and surrounded by rich architecture. However, instead of losing heart, and believing that our gardens are worthless in comparison, we return home inspired and reinvigorated to our own little patches, often with a newly purchased favourite plant of the said garden in hand.
I recently visited the Lost Gardens of Heligan in Cornwall, and was presented with a map by which I could find everything. In fact most open gardens supply a small map, to highlight the various landmarks, and the styles of planting areas. So I was thinking, what would a map of my garden look like? It may be an interesting exercise for us gardeners to draw such a map for our own reference, and to help us plan out our planting and ornamental features.
Despite the difference in scale (and in my case quality) between most residential gardens and those we usually visit, introducing named themes to various areas can make our gardens sound much more glamorous.
I have dug over some of my lawn in favour of vegetable beds, and this is now known as The Potager. I have an area planted with a few shrubs and a tree, and this of course is now The Shrubbery. A small area beneath the trees has become The Woodland Garden, and a corner where I have planted Japanese Acers is now The Oriental Garden.
One could call a group of two or three fruit trees The Orchard, similarly a group of trees of interest becomes The Arboretum. A pond area could become The Ornamental Lake, a boggy area being The Sunken Garden. Of course, my ten foot by six foot greenhouse is now The Orangery.
With a little creativity, my garden sounds much more impressive. Dividing the various areas into rooms using hedges, trellises and archways, can replace the open spaces between the features of larger gardens, and still allows us to mentally compartmentalise.
While quietly feeding delusions of grandeur, this slightly imaginative labelling system may also help us to place plants in the most appropriate areas. For example, now anything with ‘japonica’ after its name can be considered for the oriental garden. A ‘blue garden’ or a ‘white garden’ makes choosing plants easier. Planting can be better organised, and random purchases may be avoided, especially where garden centres label according to conditions.
Helen, another member of the Garden Club, is hoping to open her garden to the public next year and she has recently dressed her small courtyard with Italian paving and a circular pond. Although it is on quite a small scale, she has copied the Italian style with such quality and detail, that she can now justifiably call it the Italian Garden. It doesn’t have to rival a piazza in size to earn that title.
The stone paving should turn the area into a little sun trap, and now that she identifies that space with a warm climate, she can search for plants which will grow in both Tuscany and the west of Ireland. At present, she has a collection of ornate pots of various styles, and the right plants, even something as simple as box hedges and roses, will complete the design.
If like me, you come home inspired to have a garden like those in the big houses of old, and dreaming of your own walled garden, you can copy some of the planting used, albeit on a smaller scale.
A south-facing wall can shelter an espalier fruit tree. Using galvanised wire to train a small apple or pear tree along a wall can be a very productive way to grow fruit, whilst requiring only limited space. A flower bed, or better still two parallel beds, can become an herbaceous border. Even a tea rose or two, surrounded by a small box hedge conjures up a rose terrace.
I just so wish I had some of those wonderful high walls, and preferably, some help from 14 gardeners like those who once worked in the gardens of Heligan. For now, I’ll just keep on dreaming.
Margaret Sheehan is a member of Ballinrobe Garden Club, which meets on the first Tuesday of the month at 7.30pm in Tacú Resource Centre, Ballinrobe.