“I build this garden for us,” sang Lenny Kravitz back in 1990; not the usual rock song lyric but all the more memorable for that. This track from his fine album “Let love rule” particularly struck a chord with me as I was in the process of garden creation at the time. It got me thinking. I asked myself “who was I building for?” Well my wife loved cooking so a garden would provide produce for her to use, my daughter needed a home and run for her guinea pigs so that would need to be made and sited and when all the family were together we could all relax and hang out there when the time was right. All pretty straight forward really. Yet somehow I knew there was to be more to my building, further reasons for my affinity with the song. It dawned on me. I would also be building for buttercups. “What”, I hear some of you exclaim, “not that pernicious invasive weed?”
“Yes,” would be my reply, “ and I’ll give you three reasons why. For a start its enamelled, shiny gold petals make it a beautiful flower. Secondly, for me it recalls happy childhood days playing beside the Evenlode river :
“where the meadows seemed to crowd down towards the brook in summer to reach out and stretch towards the life giving water. There the buttercups were taller and closer together, nails of gold driven so thickly that the true surface was not visible. Countless rootlets drew up the richness of the earth like miners in the darkness, throwing their petals of yellow ore broadcast above them”.
These words by Richard Jefferies explain all. Buttercups are special. Sadly, he would be hard put to find such scenes today; meadows and wetlands have been drained to the verge of oblivion over the past thirty years. My third and most important reason for garden making, then,is to create haven for buttercups and for those forms of life associated with them. Of course this intention did not just spring from Lenny’s lyrics. My new gardening focus was rooted in ground well prepared long before. In the late 1950’s early 60’s children attending Combe primary school were privileged to have a broad education. Each ten and eleven year old spent an afternoon a week on their own plot on the neighbouring village allotments. Radish, potatoes, nasturtiums and, yes, buttercups were familiar from early on. It was a familiarity strengthened at home . Mum and Dad had been ahead of their time, gardening mavericks, having grown mulleins, thistles and teasels all around their small garden pond. So by the time I heard ‘Let love rule’ with Lenny extolling garden making, I was already well disposed towards it.
The wildness potential for my effort here at Innisfree gathered further impetus when I came across an old book first published in 1883. It was written by William Robinson and entitled ‘English Flower Garden’. It had belonged to an elderly aunt who had enjoyed gardening in the Vale of Evesham and came into my possession in 1994. The third edition is a beautiful book illustrated with black and white engravings. Moreover it is full of talking points. Railing against the practice of formal flower bedding, Robinson devotes an entire chapter to “the Wild Garden or The Naturalisation of Hardy Exotic Flowers”. In it he chides over tidy gardeners, particularly those with a penchant for close cropped, verdant lawns. He asks:
“Who would not rather see the waving grass with countless flowers than a close shaven surface without blossom…….let the grass grow till fit to cut for hay and we may enjoy in it a world of lovely flowers that will blossom and perfect their growth before the grass has to be mown (so) we may enjoy such sweet beauty as has hitherto only gladdened the wanderers on the high mountain lawns and copses in early summer when the hill flowers bloom in multitudes in the Alpine grass.”
Uplifting words, and though we are not quite at Alpine altitude here I was sufficiently stirred by them . A year later in 1995 I read “Derek Jarman’s Garden”. As far removed from an Alpine meadow though he was, Derek Jarman fully adhered to Robinson’s ideas. On an expanse of coastal shingle he encouraged plants natural to the habitat and complemented them with structures made from the flotsam and jetsam of the shore. “Paradises haunts gardens and some gardens are paradises”. Now what could be more inspirational? He goes on though and offers a precise caveat. “To be truly paradisal (a garden) must be “shaggy.” His mixture of wild and introduced plants all left to self seed, delighting in their freedom, pay him back handsomely. Valerian, opium poppy, honesty and wild roses, “picture it if you can. “You see,” exclaims Jarman, “it is rather a wild garden. I really recommend this. It will bring you much happiness”. “If a garden isn’t shaggy then forget it!”
Well with these words fresh in my mind and a family legacy to build on, my own bit of wild buttercup gardening was set in motion.What has been the result and how it is progressing will be the subject of my forthcoming regular accounts. In order to set the scene, as Jarman says, “picture this”. The garden around our Innisfree’ bungalow has been divided into distinct zones . On one side, facing north west, we have two hedges, one beech, the other mixed. It encloses two flower beds. A large creeper clad pergola separates this from a large pond and bog. This in turn merges into a mini orchard of apple and pear trees meadow area. Turn left and once through a willow arbour, the south east facing garden is oval shaped with rough meadow flanked by shrubs and herbaceous borders. Three flowering cherries stand at the gardens perimeters along with a hornbeam and koreana pine. Bringing this rough outline of a picture to life will be the ongoing challenge. Alongside will be tales from our allotment, just fifteen yards down the road, complete with soft fruit, a green house home to a grape vine and runs for four hybrid hens.
Postscript and References
- The Royal Horticultural Society magazine “The Garden” (August 2015) contains an article on William Robinson. It is complete with pictures of his home, Gravetye Manor in West Sussex “where borders still resonate with his ideals… a dazzling palette the great plantsman would likely have applauded.”
- Robinson. W. 1883. English Flower Garden. London. John Murray.
- Jarman. D. 1995 derek jarman’s garden. Thames and Hudson.
- Kravitz. L. 1990. Let Love Rule.
- Jefferies. R. 1908. The Life of the Fields. London. Chatto and Windus.
Chapter three A Roman Brook page 52