When I began working at The Farm in early January I was struck by the extent to which the gardens had been extensively planted, although the original schemes were not always clear a decade later. As I have been clearing ‘hedges’ which were obviously not originally intended to be hedges but shrub borders, I have discovered ‘remnant’ planting in unusual and unexpected places. Under the thicket of nettles which had erupted within a stand of hawthorn, Ceanothus and two rather lovely Ilex aquifolium, I found about a dozen Sedum spectabile. They had clearly flowered only last autumn, but their flower heads would have been lost amid the weeds and overgrown shrubs. Similarly, other shrub planting had clearly been underplanted with spring bulbs, some of which were still pushing bravely through – and can now, after my pruning of the shrubs, can see daylight. More importantly, the flowers stand a chance of being seen – and enjoyed – by my clients. The Sedums, I think, will be moved into the herbaceous borders where they will flourish more happily and give their customary late-summer boost.
In other cases the mixed deciduous shrub planting is extremely hard to identify, as all of them have been shaved-off at the same height and width for many years, so without leaves or form they become a homegeneous mass. Only a few snow-white berries still left after the autumn allowed me to positively name a couple of Symphoricarpos albus, for instance. Others will have to wait until leaves or blossom appear before I can properly christen them and determine their future. Some will have to go, as in many places there are simply too many plants. Those that remain will have old stems cut out over the next two or three years, and may achieve a new lease of life.
I have now been given a set of the original planting plans from almost 15 years ago. These tell a rather sorry story in the main, especially in the Walled Garden. Here there was extensive and varied planting, with herbaceous borders, wall-trained apple and pear trees, and large numbers of bulbs. Of 25 Santolina in one of the two main borders, only one remains; more than 20 Lavendula have also gone, and the remaining half dozen are woody, straggly specimens. Even allowing for natural wasteage, it is a shame to see so many plants (at today’s prices, by my reckoning, several thousand pounds’ worth) having been lost.
However, dispiriting as it is to see the losses, there is also pleasure to be had from being to able to see what was there, and how things might be replanted. Sadly a lot of the shrub borders are marked only as containing unspecified ‘shrub mixes’, so the plans don’t help much there.
And, again, there are survivors. Some – like the many scattered clusters of Galanthus nivalis – have been here as long as the garden itself (which dates to the 1860s).