A gardener's job is never done and, as Stephen Anderton reveals, each new year brings a new set of resolutions...
Gardeners tend to be the kind of people who just get on with life quietly. They have to be, when things are always dying, or being attacked by insects and mould. And then there’s the weather. No, gardeners have to have thick skins.
But still it is good now and then to stop and think, and to make a few active resolutions about what you will do in the next 12 months. It feels rather good having the imaginary upper hand over life and death and the weather for once, even though secretly you know the season’s success will depend on you making all the usual compromises with the enemy.
So. What to resolve? What will I try to do this year?
I am going to give things up. Certain plants in particular. It is not easy getting rid of plants that have been with you for years. It’s like giving up smoking. You almost do it. You get rid of most of it, but keep just one little bit, and in a couple of years you and your golden rod are back at 40 a day.
About to make their exit from my garden this year are Shasta daisies and the little golden rod ‘Lemore’. I love them both dearly, but life moves on. The daisies in this garden are always riddled with pollen beetles, which come in from the fields. The golden rod is over in a flash in this light dry soil. So out they go.
The great point about getting rid of things – and you must always remember this – is that it makes room for new things. Again, like life. How many people do you get to know really well in a lifetime? Ten? Fifty? A hundred? Not enough, must surely be everyone’s answer. And so it is with plants. By getting rid of something in your garden, you make space to get to know something new. You will always keep the things that you love and give their all for you, but the less-than-perfects – the 90-percenters – will be let go. Life has to move on.
I further resolve, when filling those new spaces, always to buy enough plants to make a small group. With trees and shrubs, one is usually enough, but with perennials one is rarely enough. I shall try to make myself buy in threes, so there is none of this “split it to make a group next year but surround it with annuals this year” nonsense. I shall garden as if this year is to be my last, and try to get everything looking exactly as I want it. (That’s not a bad resolution too, though it sounds a bit grim. Must be a reaction to last year’s lousy summer!)
I also resolve to see more gardens. There is nothing like looking at other people’s gardens for making you learn what you like and dislike. I shall try to get hold of the National Garden Scheme’s Yellow Book, and the local Red Cross listings, and the Good Gardens Guide, and the English Heritage and National Trust handbooks, and make sure I see enough new gardens in 2001.
Don’t ask me what is enough. Sometimes you visit a garden and think, I hate that! Enough is enough! Sometimes you visit a garden and come away with a list of plants to look up, and things you want to introduce into your garden. Enough can be seeing just that number of other people’s gardens to keep you constantly fresh in your attitude to your own, constantly reappraising and able to develop and move on.
The best kind of enough (and this happens to me sometimes) is when you go to a garden and see something so clever and exciting, in planting or design, that you want to leave then and there, not stay to the bitter end, and see every last corner, and have tea, and look in the shop. You want to just go away, and treasure the memory, and think about how that particular trick is pulled off, and whether you could use it at home. That is true inspiration, and it is invaluable.