Think Garden, Think Richard: Outdoors is the place to tune in & embrace the changing seasons …

Outdoors is the place to tune in & embrace the changing seasons … by Melbourn garden designer, Richard Arnott

In this new series of articles, I look at things to be doing in the garden during these uncertain 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. I have spent all of my working life outdoors and really value being able to take time to appreciate the changing of the seasons and the effect it has on my sense of wellbeing. 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 and really helps to ground us in the moment. As the seasons change it is a great opportunity for reflection, gardens are often treated as places to spend time in the spring and summer months but the colder seasons are just as important too. In a time when our perception of normal is being challenged, why not try challenging yourself to engage with your garden and outdoor space in the colder wetter months. And remember “There is no such thing as bad weather just the wrong clothing”!

Taking stock of how your garden has grown this year is a good way to reflect on how successful it has been. I am a strong believer in being ruthless in the garden when something is obviously not working then it is time to make a change. We all have plants that we inherit in our gardens that would not necessarily be our choice but feel obliged to persevere with. If nothing else this pandemic has taught me not to put things off, get on with making decisions and creating new opportunities. Remove the unwanted, unsuccessful plants to make way for new and exciting planting that will bring pleasure and help you look forward. By the same token, feel proud of your gardening successes too. Many of us have spent more time than ever before in our gardens this year embracing the growing bug. I really hope that this has inspired a new generation of gardeners. So often, making a start is a barrier to trying new things but the pandemic has been a catalyst to having a go.

Being observant of nature helps you to appreciate the subtleties of the changing seasons. I was on a recent walk with the family and we enjoyed observing the catkins forming on the native hedgerow Hazels / Corylus avellana. As the winter progresses these will grow longer and produce pollen that catches on the wind. My wife enjoyed sharing with our young children how her grandmother called them lamb’s tails. This is a nice story wrapped around learning to appreciate nature on a windy winter walk. I have been enjoying the winter colour in the leaves during the last few weeks and was especially pleased to see a stunning Liquidamber in one of the gardens I recently had a consultation in. We are heading into the dogwood / Cornus season as the remaining leaves disappear from the trees and shrubs. Being able to observe a group of dogwoods catching low winter light, on a cold day is a fantastic winter treat. If restrictions allow, a walk around a winter garden such as the Cambridge University Botanic Garden or Anglesey Abbey would be well worth a look, especially on a bright, cold day!

Allowing new ideas to germinate is part of the process of good gardening. I always have lists going in my phone and physical notebooks of ideas I have had and plants that I have seen. Not only does this help me to keep creative but it keeps me focused on plants and nature. It can be a thought or feeling that I have had whilst enjoying a particular outdoor space or plant grouping. We can so often get caught up in the hurry to make decisions and move from one thing to the next, but the ebb and flow of the changing seasons should remind us that the gentle drift from one season to the next is gradual. Take a little time to slow down and think through changes, decide on the style of planting you want or the atmosphere you want to create. Take inspiration from nature and other gardens and outdoor spaces. Give your thoughts time to evolve. The journey of creating a good garden should be enjoyable and the obsession should not be the final destination!

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