The first winter here I extended the farmer’s vegetable garden and the only square of cultivated ground in the lee of the milking barn. The following summer, our first summer of new wonder, we began the great experiment to see what the land was made of. We planted a kitchen garden, as there is nothing like vegetables and annual flowers to tell you what does well within a growing season. With space on my hands for the first time and not the vicarious space of a client’s garden, I dissected the new plot into additional rectangles to begin a trial of plants for the garden, which was then in my mind’s eye but now, ten years later, overwrites these first cultivations.
Whilst I was gathering my thoughts and with ground to spare, four areas were sown with Pictorial Meadow mixes so that I could test them for myself and witness their day to day evolution. I’d used them before to provide a show where we were staggering the development of a garden or for a fast and easy fix in an area where we needed an economical solution. But there is nothing like growing at close quarters and witnessing the evolution of a garden on a daily basis and under your own control. Developed originally by Nigel Dunnett who this year sowed the Superbloom at the Tower of London, the panels were each different in mood and their raipid development taught me a lot in that first summer of discovery. The red orach toppling in one mix showed us the heartiness of the soil and the need to keep it lean in our blustery exposed position. The Shirley poppies, that still come up in the garden today are the offspring of these early years of pioneering and live on as a memory.
The garden here is in constant evolution, one move precipitating another like a dance in motion and always moving forwards. Digging the pond at the bottom of the slopes was last summer’s project and the hole we made with the excavations displaced enough soil to extend the plateau beyond the barns.
It was a slow process tracking the excavations steeply uphill in a relay of dumper trucks last August. The valuable topsoil was stacked carefully at the top of the slope so that it could be dragged back down once the levels were made as the plateau emerged below it. The heavy yellow subsoil was layered and compacted as we went and a geotextile incorporated between layers in the steepest parts to prevent the new level slumping down the hill. The emerging landform presented an arcing bank to the front side which I retained as subsoil and, when we were about 40 cm below the level of the existing plateau, the topsoil was dragged back to make the final grade of ground for a garden.
Last September I set about healing the scars. With a long term head on I sowed the ground around the pond with a native seed mix for damp ground and the exposed banks to the new landform with a limestone mix containing wild oregano, bedstraws and knapweeds. With a short-term eye, whilst my ideas were still forming for the new garden, the topsoil of the new garden was put down to a cover crop of green manure to protect the soil, begin the process of settling it back down and reinstating the soil ecology over the winter. Winter rye, vetch and clovers were broadcast and raked lightly in whilst there was still heat in the soil for germination. By the time the heat had gone out of the sun, the plateau was green and ready for winter.
It is a deliberate move on my part not to rush the process of gardening this place and the time spent getting to know what feels right and doing the research to establish a palette that sits well in each area is good rumination. I see a new woodland garden in the upper parts of this new space where we have left the old hedge above it to grow out as a bat corridor. On the new west-facing plateau I see a garden backlit by evening sunshine. Silvery against the plum orchard and the distant view of Freezing Hill. A palette of drought tolerant plants is emerging for this area so that we will not have to water, but in the meantime our stop gap has been a delightful diversion.
After rotovating the winter cover crop in at the end of March the new ground was sown on the 9th April with the Pastel Mix from the Pictorial Meadows collection. The annual mixes combine garden annuals that in combination emulate an ephemeral meadow. The Pastel mix was my favourite from the original trial, but I deliberately left the whisps of Winter Rye that were not completely turned in by the cultivation to add a grassy component. After sowing and long enough after germination to be able to identify the seedlings, I made a solitary pass over the ground to pull out fat hen and a few groundsel, but the mix has had no more maintenance since then. It has sailed through the recent heat with no additional water and looks set to continue on into August.
I mowed a path into it to trace the line of an acting path I plan for the new garden to test how it feels and from here you feel like you are floating in flowers. We lead friends and visitors down the path and repeatedly the heightened experience has been likened to walking through a scene from Disney movie. The rye rose up early and swayed in another layer above first wave of Shirley poppies and gypsophila. Then came the mixed viscaria in candy coloursmand cornflowers blue, white, purple, black and pink. Soon they were joined by a floating layer of Ammi majus and, with the warmth of summer, the cosmos. The whole display cost about £200 to sow and has taken almost no time to maintain. If you were to keep the meadow for another year, Pictorial Meadows recommend starting again to avoid the build-up of perennial weeds, cultivating and sowing afresh. We will say thank you for the joy and the profusion whilst waiting for the ideas to emerge and cut the meadow once it fades later in August and begin the process of making the new garden. Somewhere that now has this summer’s otherworldly riot burned into our memories as the first step on the journey.
Words: Dan Pearson | Photographs: Huw Morgan
Published 30 July 2022