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Gardening: Time to move on

17 July 2020


IT IS ten years since I started build­ing a garden here, in Stafford­shire, and I am preparing to leave it be­­hind. Back in the late spring, when it dawned that my partner’s new job and the tied house that came with it were real, I experienced a moment of profound sadness. The space in which I had spent so many hours in physical labour, my mind sifting through the dross and debris of everyday life, looked just perfect. How could I bear to say goodbye?

Of course, in the bigger scheme of life’s losses, a garden is not a big deal, and, in any case, a prudent pro­tective mechanism seemed to kick in at that moment and the letting-go began. When a friend video-called me recently and wanted a virtual tour outside the cottage, I had to motiv­ate myself to oblige.

I have, inevitably, been busy with the practical side of preparing to move, and some of that has related to the garden. I have lavished more attention on container-grown plants that can make the move with us. Their portability in a peripatetic life is one of their chief advantages. I have largely resisted the urge to dig up plants from the borders. I don’t want to leave gaps for the next occu­pants, and what does well in one garden may not suit another.

Gardeners tend to have their fa­­vour­ite plants — what one open-day visitor here referred to as “signature plants”. I have factored in the much shadier aspect of the new garden, and taken cuttings of a lovely white fuchsia, “Hawkshead”; an excellent ground-covering white periwinkle, Vinca difformis; and a climbing rose that flourishes on a north wall, Rosa “Alberic Barbier”.

It will be a last-minute job to col­lect seed from my favourite um­­belli­fer, Peucedanum verticillare. Its flat discs of tiny flowers branch­ing from a seven-foot stem appear to scan the sky as I write.

However much attached I may be to the trees in my garden — the acacia grown from seed, my cork oak inspired by trips to the Med­iterranean, and the medlar only just getting into its stride and yet to fruit — they, of course, are staying put.

The Archbishop of York men­tions trees in his Twitter profile. I asked him if leaving his Essex garden was to be a wrench. He replied: “I have been working on a poem about trees for years whose opening line is: ‘You are extremely good at standing still.’ That root­ed­ness in time and space is one of the many things I love about trees. We are much more fidgety. They only move by going deeper and growing higher. But they don’t go somewhere else. Therefore, for me, whenever I move house and leave a garden behind, it is always the trees I miss the most.”

He is saying farewell to “a fabu­lous tulip tree . . . and a re­­splendent Indian bean tree with its vast canopy of heart-shaped leaves”. Fortunately, there are plenty of trees at Bishop­thorpe. As the Archbishop says, “They are patient as well as still.”

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