Got home from Dublin last night, a wonderful visit with Aideen and her new puppy. Today it was back to weeding and cutting back in the gravel garden.
At the end of the day we walked around identifying tasks for the next week, which include weeding and cutting back in the water garden and reservoir garden. 95%* of our time is weeding and cutting back. Very little time is planting or doing anything else really.
But it’s hard to fault this when the garden looks so good.
I know I’ll never be able to resist the allure of combining dahlias and other annuals with my perennial plantings, and won’t have the patience for leaving my borders alone for years on end. But being here teaches one the value of an almost pure perennial border, basically an exercise in restraint.
This is particularly true of the gravel garden. Plants interact with one another but are mostly given their own space to fill out naturally. Knowledge of their growth habits and careful positioning allows them to contribute to the implied pyramids and asymmetrical weighting that make the beds visually appealing, without much intervention from the gardener. Hardly anything gets moved or planted, the self-sowers are truly self-sown. All the gardening comes from dead-heading and cutting back at the right times, careful pruning, editing of self-sowers, and endless (endless) weeding. It’s dynamic through the seasons, yet essentially frozen in time (beds are occasionally renewed but are usually so in tune with existing plantings that the visitor would be hard pressed to notice). We are essentially conservators.
Gardening in this way requires a shift in mindset. At Dixter, it’s about dreaming and scheming for new combinations – how to push brighter and bigger and faster and weirder – while also spending an inordinate amount of time trying to make plants do what you want them to through massive amounts of staking, watering, replanting, etc. Here it’s about maintaining some of the most successful, stylish plantings you will ever see. Going over them again and again to get them looking better all the time, but essentially allowing the existing plants to grow naturally (until we cut them down…).
As we come out of the Dutch Wave, we take naturalistic planting for granted, but when Beth began gardening in this naturalistic but artful style it was brand new. Her Chelsea stands, her books and the garden itself provided inspiration to so many gardeners and designers looking for a more ecological approach. The gravel garden may no longer push boundaries, but it still looks damn good pretty much every day of the year. A living legend.
*I made this up. Maybe it’s slightly less. We also have the benefit of not having to do any mowing or hedge trimming and our time spent on watering/irrigation is minimal (right plant, right place!). Also no staking. Thank god.