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If you look carefully you can just about see a hippopotamus bathing in the mud behind the slabs 😂
Our dearest and closest friends Richard and Brian passed away in the February and July of 2017, within twenty two weeks of each other. After forty seven years together it seemed they were destined never to be apart. It doesn’t seem possible, and now, already months down the line, we struggle to come to terms with our loss. As executors, our responsibilities have been extensive, and at times difficult, of course. Clearing a house of so many memories is a challenge, both physically and mentally. And on top of this, the extensive garden surrounding the property needs to be maintained.
We started tending the garden in January 2017, just after Brian was diagnosed with multiple cancers. Richard had his work cut out looking after Brian, who wanted to be at home for his final days, so they asked us if we’d look after the garden. Four man-hours on a fortnightly basis seemed most appropriate. Initially we spent our time mowing, pruning and shaping shrubs and conifers in order to claw the garden back from Mother Nature, who had already made a tentative start to claim the garden back as her own.
Richard loved the garden, but by his own admission, the back garden, in particular, needed something doing to it. My offer to redesign the garden was accepted, without hesitation. It’s a largish garden that wraps itself around the back and the east side of the house. South facing with a sliver of a border around the perimeter. Conifers, a handful of overgrown Fuchsia magellanica shrubs, and a large collection of hebes form the mainstay. Adjacent to the property, and again abutting the back and side, a rather mean pathway, for the size of the garden, which widens outside the lounge and dining room patio doors, for seating and entertaining. A carpet of daisies masquerading as a lawn between pathway and borders. Along the east side of the house, a wooden, windowed potting shed. A plastic tool shed too, that should have been consigned to history a good few years ago.
a week I had measured, reviewed and designed Richard’s new garden. The existing pathway around the house to be widened to two metres and to be laid in grey, limestone paving. A six meter, circular, patio in the same limestone leading leading directly out of the dining room with a two and a half meter, circular hard standing for a summerhouse/office. Two circular lawns on either side of the patio interconnected with rectangular lawn ‘pathways’.
Around the side of the house a further circular lawn just in front of the wooden potting shed. Generous planting borders to surround the lawns around the garden, which due to the aspect will provide for both planting in full, glorious sunshine and shade, which I am well practised in planting for.
Richard loved the proposed design and within days of agreeing to proceed I arranged for quotes to build the garden. Unbeknownst to me, in sheer excitement, Richard arranged for a mutual friend to lift the existing patio. I was astounded to return a few days later to see the rubbled remains of the old patio. The garden was not due to be built for a further six to eight weeks. Sadly, Richard passed away a week or so before the scheduled start date, so we cancelled the build.
Summer burnt itself out and we found ourselves, unbelievably, in a cool and rather damp September. We continued to maintain the gardens both at home and High Haven. And the, in early August, we were summoned to Richard’s solicitor. We were told that we had been left Richard and Brian’s house. After much deliberation and soul searching, we sold our own little haven to a buyer keen to take on the bungalow and our beautiful gardens.
Follow the link below to see my new video. Enjoy.
MIKE THE GARDENER’S NEW BEGINNINGS
A Potted History
I’ve designed and planted numerous gardens for a variety of clients over the years. Slick, contemporary gardens, blowsy cottage gardens, practical, family gardens, the list goes on. But for myself, just four gardens. My first, when I was six, was a tiny corner of my parents’ garden, behind their 1970s rockery. One autumn, I planted a pretty, pink rhododendron, underplanted with crocus and daffodils. My excitement and anticipation after a long, hard winter finally passed and melted into a watery spring, was palpable. I rushed excitedly to the end of the garden each and every morning waiting for the pencil thin crocus blooms to pierce the frozen soil. And then it happened. A bright, cloudless, blue skied morning in late February saw the glorious blooms finally emerge and sparkle, jewel-like against the flat, cold soil. In my child-like excitement I made small umbrellas for the fairies I believed lived underneath the rhododendron from cocktail sticks with patterned, paper cake cases speared atop.
My second, proper, garden was a small garden at the rear of our end of terraced property in Christchurch, Dorset. Largely laid to lawn with narrow flower borders either side it was a simple garden. Schoolboy errors were made here as I learnt the basics of gardening. Most notably, trying to understand the importance and benefits of feeding plants, I took to sprinkling blood, fish and bone over a selection of small heathers and shrubs, ahead of a forecasted day of rainfall. On cue, the heavens opened, showering the blood, fish and bone over the unsuspecting plants. A mere three days later, with a selection of sorry looking, singed, brown plants drooping forlornly in the border, I phoned the local garden centre for advice on what they thought might have happened. It seemed the application of blood, fish and bone would have been better placed on the soil, rather than on top of the poor plants. A stupid, costly and never to be repeated mistake!
My third and fourth gardens (my current front and back gardens), have been a real labour of love. The front, bright, open and sunny and on general view to our neighbours and passers by. The back, in contrast, a private, compact, woodland garden.
The front garden was easily designed and planted. A small rectangular lawn (which gets smaller with each passing year) and borders crammed with grasses, heleniums, rudbeckias, dahlias, phlox, asters and much (too much) more. Being almost completely perennial, and with our warm, wet, south coast winters, the hoare frost-ridden plant skeletons so often exalted across the gardening media, just don’t happen; instead a soggy mush if the plants aren’t cut to ground level in late October. As such, from November to March, the front garden is razed to the ground. From March onwards, without fail, it’s emerges Phoenix-like from the ashes, burgeoning spectacularly from June onwards.
The back garden comprises a small circular lawn, surrounded with generous borders laying quietly under the leafy shade of two magnificent oak trees. Or at least it did until June 2017 when one of them was felled, having been deemed unsafe just three days earlier. Gardening in shade, dry shade in some areas, has provided me with the steepest of learning curves. Our free-draining, acidic, sandy soil has pushed my knowledge of plants and plant husbandry to the brink. And yet I will be eternally grateful for that. After years of trial and error, I have made a garden of which I am so proud. Colour and interest year-round, structure, textural interest and an oasis of calm. A mix of small trees and shrubs including a variety of Acers, Cornus kousa ‘China Girl’, Camellias, Skimmia and box balls provide the garden its backbone. Softened and coloured with a palette of beautiful ferns, grasses and perennials. A host of Hellebores offer late winter to early spring colour alongside drifts of snowdrops, miniature daffodils and dwarf Iris. As spring passes inexorably into summer, roses, geraniums, lilies, clematis, phlox and astilbes take centre stage. A tapestry of greens, dark green, light green, olive and many, many more interwoven with the burgundy foliage of Persicaria ‘Red Dragon’ and Acer palmatum ‘Bloodgood’ provide a secluded and hushed woodland backdrop. And then, as September rolls lazily into October, a final hurrah as tired leaves shimmer in the autumn sun. Burnished golds, sizzling scarlet, amber and butter yellow. Leaves flutter aimlessly on the tired winds, bedecking the borders with drifts of autumnal hues. And then, finally, in mid-December the garden slumbers.
And now, we’re walking away from these gardens, after twenty glorious years. Walking away with sadness, but with each footstep, anticipation and excitement building and gradually replacing the loss as a new garden, larger than ours, and a new house beckon.
In my time, I’m now 55, I’ve designed dozens of gardens for clients. Small gardens, big gardens, contemporary gardens, cottage gardens, traditional gardens; the list goes on. For ourselves, I’ve designed and built just three. In all honesty, my first garden, when I was six, was a small patch of ground at the end of my parents garden, where I planted a beautiful rhododendron and made small umbrellas from cocktail sticks abs paper cup cake holders for the pixies and fairies I was convinced lived at the end of the garden.
The garden here in Broadstone, however, is the most beautiful (to me at least) garden I have ever made. And after 25 years of working to build the garden, in sun, rain, and snow (!), the end of this chapter is fast approaching, as we have put our house on the market to move into a property, which we have inherited, sadly through the loss of our closest friends.