As gardeners, we are manipulating nature to a greater or lesser degree, creating our perfect space to live and play in. Some do this with a plan on paper others do it as they go along. But once created, no garden is static - it changes from month to month, season to season, year on year. We are working with living organisms that grow, reproduce, and die.
And with these changes we see seedlings appear, self seeded from one parent or another, borders fill out and dappled shade cast as the canopies of shrubs and trees grow.
For some, this creates a plethora of interest and opportunity. Unexpected, but pleasant planting combinations may arise from self-seeders moving into a gap in a border or existing plants vegetatively moving around the garden; new planting conditions may arise that allow for different plants to thrive; and spaces may open up for the inclusion of yet more plants!
For others, this change creates a mountain of stress because the garden is changing beyond the original plan. Of course, no amount of planning and designing will halt the tide of change, and trying to keep it to plan will result in a lot of work.
Nevertheless, we should, no need, to delicately tweak our gardens through seasonal maintenance to prevent our gardens returning to their native form - in this country it would be woodland, to increase vigour of the plants in our care, and to keep with some kind of plan, even if it is a naturalistic one.
I feel we should embrace the expected as well as unexpected changes in our garden and see them as opportunities to create new experiences rather than hindrances to our original ideas. By doing this, we will feel more connected to our gardens and to nature around us.
Although this year is far from over, now is a good time to assess your garden, while it is still in growth (and it still warm enough) to spend time pondering it’s successes as well as it’s failures.
First, decide what you like about your garden, then consider where you feel it could be improved. To help with this, you could ask yourself the following questions whilst perusing your garden:
(1) Does the garden entice you outside, even on an inclement day?
(2) Do you use all of the garden or are there areas that you do not spend time in?
(3) Do you have all the features and functions you need from your garden, such as a watering system, lighting, vegetable beds, somewhere to raise young or tender plants, such as a greenhouse, etc.?
(4) Are your borders full of plants that provide colour and interest year round?
(5) Are all your plants growing happy and healthily in their current location?
If the answer is no to any of these questions, think about why you do not spend time in your garden, or visit particular areas, what features you would like, and consider the times of the year that your garden does not seem to sing with floral and foliage displays.
After answering these questions, you can formulate a plan to help improve your garden for next year, however, the dormant season is a good time to make some of these changes!
Autumn is the perfect time to plant bulbs, such daffodils, snowdrops, and crocuses, for early colour and interest, and other plants so that the roots have a chance to grow before winter giving them a better start next year. Any plants that are not doing so well could be moved at this time of the year to a new location or removed entirely if they are diseased. And any gaps in the planting could be marked with a stick - if only small areas - so that new plants whether bought or home-raised can fill the space when you get them.
Over winter is also a great time to make structural changes to the garden, build new features, prepare plants and borders for spring (more on this later) and to have a general clear up (though leave some shelter for hibernating wildlife).
So I leave with some parting words: enjoy your planning but do not leave all the work until the spring - some of the improvements will be best done before the new growth starts!
Rachel Bailey, a garden designer and gardener in Scotland.