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  • Writer's pictureAnne Jennings

Return to the Garden

Updated: Jun 19, 2020

I wish it need not have happened in my time' said Frodo. 'So do I' said Gandalf, 'and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to do is decide what to do with the time that is given to us.'

J.R.R. Tolkein - The Fellowship of The Ring

Who could have predicted that come the onset of spring we would find ourselves locked down in our homes, with more time available to us than we could ever have imagined? For the lucky ones – and we are so fortunate - this could in many ways be a positive interlude in life, with time to re-focus, re-balance and re-energise.

Many are relying on different forms of creativity to help cope with Coronavirus restrictions and, thanks to social media, we are able to share activities, musing and ambitions with others who might have passing interest.

So, I thought I’d follow the pack – at least through the lockdown period, if not beyond, assuming I still have something to say…….

My own particular creative streak lies in gardening, and as a professional landscape designer, this extends across planting, construction, design and maintenance (a much-undervalued craft). It's not only the physical and tactile elements I find stimulating, but am also intrigued by the emotional and psychological impact of gardens and green space on our sense of wellbeing and happiness, in the holistic health benefits that can be experienced through working in or simply spending time in these spaces.

Working outside on day 6 of lockdown, it dawned on me how much of the simple joy of gardening I had lost, in part due to the day-to-day, relentless focus on work and travelling that leaves little time or energy for much else. Also, for a number of years, for reasons not to be aired via this medium, being out in the garden was at times more stressful than staying indoors.

We are privileged to own what is for London a large garden. Huge physical effort (mostly mine) had been invested in its original layout and planting when we moved in almost 21 years ago. This included adjusting cross falls, building ‘dry stone’ retaining walls from old concrete crazy paving, and planting – lots of it.

The garden looked pretty good in the

early years and provided family and friends with a lovely space for play, relaxation and socialising. As time went by however, the issues already inferred resulted in less time outdoors, and the lack of attention took its toll (though there was a certain beauty about the garden in a rather Hodgson Burnett way).

And there it was left for quite some years, allowing wildlife to forage and nest-build while we looked out on our own humble Ninfa (minus the medieval ruins, aged cypress and tumbling watercourses).

A turning point came around a year ago when box caterpillar hit us hard. 200m of box hedging in the rear garden was more or less annihilated in one growing season and whilst treatments are available our problems were extensive. We did not want to commit to regular spraying that would at best hold the blighters at bay.

Buxus sempervirens has been an essential part of my plant palette for over 30 years and accepting I cannot use it, at least for the time being, has been a blow. Losing the plants here forced a massive re-think about our own plot – replacing that amount of hedging with any alternative species was and is way beyond budget (and apart from tight clipped yew I’m not convinced about other promoted alternatives). The garden in its hedge-stripped state then forced an audit of the entire layout and planting, resulting in the decision to undertake a huge regeneration project.

Originally planned to start last autumn, the process was delayed when I broke my wrist and couldn’t work for a few months while it repaired and strengthened. As work was starting this spring, Coronavirus arrived and, lo and behold, I was furloughed and found myself with ‘spare time’ - the first  in many years.

So, you are welcome to take this gardening journey with me while I mumble, muse and meander through the horticulture that makes up my own garden and head space.


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