Think Garden, Think Richard: Outdoors is the Place to… Make Small Changes to Make Big Differences
In this series of articles, I look at things to be doing in the garden during these changing times and reflect on how important our outside time is to nourish ourselves. Keeping physically and mentally fit should be high on our list of priorities. In my lifetime, being outside has never been as important to my health and wellbeing and that of my young family. Despite the pace of life rapidly quickening again it is important to take time to appreciate the changing of the seasons and the effect it has on our plants in our outside spaces and beyond. Being good at observation is a skill we often neglect as we enter adult life, but I think is the key to being a good gardener. It is also important not to neglect the other senses which can be overwhelmed my our very visual culture. Gardens have a certain atmosphere or ambience that has the power to make us feel different emotions when we spend time in them. As we enter the winter months our gardens go into hibernation so it is a good time to reflect and review. It maybe that you want to prioritise creating a more contemplative space that places nourishment first, you want to bring additional light and warmth from the sun into your space to generate a happier mood or you want more enclosure to provide privacy. It is certainly true that small changes can make big differences, so why not give it some of your time.
Structural changes to the layout of the garden can seem a daunting prospect, but small layout changes can make a big difference to how you use the garden. Simply removing an overgrown tree or shrub can allow more sunlight into the space and make it more inviting to want to spend time. I often look to make sense of a garden when I enter it for the first time to understand ‘what’ it is offering and ‘why’ it is somewhere I should want to spend time. If it is hard to understand the ‘what’ with too many things happening, I will look to simplify the structure to make it more calming, straight forward and a space ‘where’ you want to spend time. How to achieve this could be by manipulating the journey into a space. Many gardens are open plan but this leaves no sense of drama or discovery to the space, however if open plan is important, perhaps you have young children, and you want to see them easily then you can manipulate the path ways through the garden with planting such as Lavender lined paths or the tactile grass Anemanthele lessoniana. It seems as we get older, we want more drama and I often recommend customers with larger gardens to develop the idea of garden rooms to perpetuate the sense of movement between spaces. Focal points are a great way to add structure and draw the eye through a space. I love using Liquidambarr styraciflua ‘Worplesdon’ as a picture of autumn glory if space allows or if you want a smaller specimen why not choose a multi stemmed Amelanchier lamarckii with its pretty white spring blossom, glorious autumn changes and moody winter silhouettes.
Creating more enclosure can be a very simple small change that in the long term can bring big difference to the atmosphere in a space. Planting to delineate space goes right back into the history of how we relate to the land. Separating fields with boundary hedges is delineation of space. In the garden context enclosure can come in many shapes and forms but is a great way to visually mark out shape on the ground. Tall hedges such as hornbeam Carpinus betulus will be appropriate in some contexts whereas lower delineation of space perhaps with a Lavender hedge could be enough to add shape in a Mediterranean themed space. Enclosure does not necessarily need to be metres long. It might be that you simply want a specimen evergreen shrub such as Prunus lusitanica, Photinia fraseri ‘Red Robin’ or Ilex aquifolium ‘Handsworth New Silver’ to block an unsightly view. One of my favourite forms of enclosure is with naturalistic, transparent planting using blends of grasses and perennials. If you chose your perennials carefully, they can retain their structure at this time of year too. As mentioned last month Phlomis, Agastache, Verbena, Veronicastrum, Salvia, Foeniculum, and Lythrum to name just a few have good winter structure especially when mixed with grasses such as Miscanthus, Calamagrostis and Stipa.
Places to sit and contemplate are so good for us in the garden. We all seem to be back to our busy lives but we need to remember to make the time to engage with nature in our outside spaces and continue some of the mindful practices perhaps we began in lockdown of being present and soaking in our environment with all our senses. Having designated places in the garden to go and sit to pause and contemplate are very important for our sense of wellbeing. If your own space does not offer this then make time to find a space in a park or woodland to sit and contemplate.
The festive period is with us so why not make a resolution to be more observant and receptive to how the outside world makes you feel, tune in with all your senses when out on your festive walks and bring a little inspiration back to your own garden.
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