Friday, June 9, 2017

Moving on?



“You should have seen the garden last week” is a comment often heard from the lips of gardeners. In fact it has become something of a joke, about nature's unwillingness to perform on cue, or the inevitable tendency of gardeners to express dissatisfaction with their creations. How much sadder however is “you should have seen the garden last year” or worse still, “... several years ago”.

I have, in my time, been to more than a few gardens which are past their best, and not in a good way. Certain gardens just seem to decay gracefully and still maintain their dignity. Others though decay badly, and sadly. I particularly notice this with gardens which are the result of their owners overextending themselves and being unable to keep up with the maintenance of their own creations. Or being unable to downsize and adjust to changing circumstances.

So, this is one reason, amongst many, that we are planning to move on from Montpelier Cottage. We have been there for twelve years and achieved a lot, and I have certainly learnt a lot. But it is time to move on. I have always seen my personal garden making as much as a process of learning and experimentation as anything else, and I now rather feel that the learning process is plateauing out. There is so much else to be gained from being somewhere else, with different potentials and challenges of soil and climate.

Herefordshire is pretty wet, has very fertile soils and an increasingly we are all having a longer growing season. Stuff grows furiously well, and it has been a great place to grow perennials and learn about their habits and cycles of growth. Unfortunately the weeds benefit too, and I now feel that I spend so much time weeding, or paying others to weed, that it is becoming rather counter-productive. Part of what I have done here however, has been to set up some trial plots looking at low-maintenance weed-resistant planting. They have been very successful and I can confidently say I can now design and recommend plant combinations that will do this. However I am also looking for people who might be able to take on some of the plot combinations for further evaluation. Any volunteers?



The proviso with the weed-resistant perennial combinations is that they are rather restricted in the number of species they use: so these combinations are great for clients such as landscape designers but unsatisfying for the gardener who wants to grow lots of different plants. A few ornamental perennials really do work together to suppress the incredibly effective unwanted plants we have to cope with: mostly pasture grasses, creeping buttercup, nettles etc. However, like many gardeners I want to grow stuff I can't at the moment, or cannot, without a great deal of (mostly weeding) effort.

Now, Jo's daughter and family are decamping/emigrating to Portugal. Total disgust with Brexit, fears for the future of our country, realising that the open society we all fondly thought we were in is in fact something else. A chance for the children to learn another language and get European passports. We think we might join them, and are provisionally thinking of renting a property somewhere most probably in central/northern Portugal next year, as a first step. Maybe a garden there? The sunnier climate is an attraction, but one without a severe water shortage. The country feels like a backwater which is beginning to go good places, whereas I fear Britain is at the top of a long slippery slope towards becoming a backwater. Interesting things are beginning to happen in garden and landscape design both there and in Spain. Some of the new landscaping one can see in Portuguese towns and cities is amazingly good and cutting edge.

I went through several months of feeling very sad about leaving where we are, but the frustrations of trying to keep the garden at an acceptable level with my limited (physical and financial) resources have driven me more and more towards thinking positive about leaving. One pull factor is the very rich flora of Iberia. Yes, I know I complain endlessly about eucalyptus in Portugal, but having just come back from two weeks travelling around (Picos de Europa down to Beixa Alta) I can only look forward to being somewhere much more botanically exciting than Britain: there are c. 7500 flowering plant species here, compared to Britain's 1500. There is a great deal of stuff there which could be good garden and landscape plants. I've always been attracted to the trialling of new plants for cultivation. Not the old-fashioned 'plant hunting' but something much more systematic – looking for species to fill particular functional or aesthetic niches, particularly those which might perform well in drought-stressed or dry summer climates.

For now, this year will be the last one to be able to see the garden. Let me know if you want to come and visit, remember we do B&B. Also, come the autumn there may be plants to dig up if you want to give them a new home. Or indeed a property to buy if anyone is interested!

I shall be very interested in hearing from people already garden making in Portugal or Spain.

15 comments:

Trudy Harpham said...

Totally understand your feelings. As a Brit living in Switzerland and gardening a 3 hectare abandoned French Jura vineyard (with brambles, oak and box forest) I also feel the excitement of a challenge in different terroir. Wishing you luck and happiness.

April said...

Well, the very best of luck with your courageous challenge. I attended your talks at west Dean, through being on Annie,s course at the palace and one of your workshops at wisley. I have benefited from your books and articles. Thankyou for your analytical inspiration. April Spencer.

Rosie@thebtf.net said...

With understanding for your very Portuguese 'saudades' or yearnings for the loss of your current garden, I can only confirm that there is exciting and challenging gardening to be had in Portugal. Not only do we have the fabulously diverse native flora, we mercilessly exploit the flora of other mediterranean zones around the world - welcome to the wonderful possibilities of Mediterranean gardening ! Come and see us again soon.

Laurin Lindsey said...

Hard decision but totally understandable. We have British friends that retired in Spain on the Med side and love it! Wishing you safe joyrney and all the best in your next chapter!

Anonymous said...

The best of luck with all the decissions you're going to make. Please keep writing about them!

welsh garden corner said...

Oh Noel, I'm sorry to see you leave for other shores. When you kindly asked me to lunch a couple of years back with some of your other friends, I was absolutely mesmerised by your garden.

I can understand your reasons and, of course, wish both you and Jo the very best looking forward.

I hope I shall be able to visit before you leave, and wander through its beauty one more time.

Chuck Gleaves said...

Interesting post. You struck home on a few levels with me and on entirely differents levels with my son who is currently living in Spain, but is planning on returning to the U.S. in October. He doesn't have the advantage that Brits will presumably eventually lose of being "European" from work permit and visa perspectives.
My garden is definately one of those that is always extended beyond what I can properly maintain. I am always trying new techniques, new plants, creating new growing conditions, and etc. The shaggy and neglected aspects of the garden haunt me, but I don't want to stop getting into new adventures. At 68 my physical abilities in the garden are not yet a limiting factor, but those days can't be far away.

skykomie said...

How exciting for you, new beginnings! I'm going to Portugal in just a few weeks and planning trip at this very moment. Any must see locales for intriguing garden design that you recommend?

LZA said...

Welcome in mainland and good luck for your new garden. I hope you'll soon give your precious contribution to Mediterranean gardening literature!

Ellen said...

Young people leaving Britain because of Brexit. I do understand, elderly folowing their sprouts. So sad that an older generation could decide for the youngsters. Wish you all the luck in Portugal, and beautiful new garden dreams.

Messie Essie said...

Hi Noel, when you say," However I am also looking for people who might be able to take on some of the plot combinations for further evaluation. Any volunteers?." If you mean for volunteers to grow your plant combos in their own gardens, I'm interested. I love growing plants and have a small garden in London. Let me know. Sarah

Ed Morrow said...

Leaving a home is always a mixture of heartache and hope. I wish you good luck. Living in a mediterranean climate (Carmel,California), I look forward to your adventures in a new land. Ever since reading your books with Piet Oudolf (I've got them all) I've been trying to figure out what a new perennialst garden in a mediterranean climate would look like. Now, maybe we'll get to see one.
Boa sorte.

Noel Kingsbury said...

In response to Sarah (Messie Essie) and anyone else, If interested in taking on research plots at home, then please email me on: noelk57@gmail.com

Ange S said...

HI Noel,

Do you have any blogs with further information on what cutting edge and interesting things are happening in Portugal and Spain? I'd love to know more!

Ange

Daisy Debs said...

Sad that you are leaving ...maybe you will change your mind and stay ...you are allowed to change your mind ! :)