In praise of Genius

Although it probably goes against convention, today I want to talk about a genius far better than I could hope to equal. When I first visited East Lambrook Manor, I was bemused by their proclamation that ELM was the birthplace of the cottage garden. Certainly not true because this iconic garden was created back in the 1930s by this countries best self-taught plantswoman, artist, visionary.

But lets start at the beginning. Cottage gardening has been a feature of the English countryside for centuries, but Margery Fish, when she started work on the gardens at East Lambrook Manor, did something no one else had done before. This was the woman who saw beyond the beauty of our flowers and with her skills as a gardener, plant hunter, plantswoman and artist, was able to create a work of art that surpassed anything done up to that date. Using her plants and flowers as her palette, and the bare ground around the manor as her canvas, she created a work of art never before seen. Was it art? If sculpture is art in 3D, was it sculpture? Certainly a masterpiece? Whatever you call it, her garden grew into a work that is as good as the best anywhere. So ‘birthplace of the cottage garden? No, but the ‘Coming of Age’ of gardening as we know it? Without a doubt.

If I hold any artist in highest praise, it would be Margery Fish. If I hold anyone in highest praise for courage, resilience and faith, it would be the current owners of East Lambrook Manor, Mike and Gail have had the strength to save and restore the gardens around their home back to the work of art that Margery left behind. Without Mike and Gail, we could have lost this masterpiece, but today, if you visit ELM, especially in the next couple of months, when the spring flowers are at their very best, you will be in for a real treat. Margery strived to achieve her goal of flowers every day of the year. East Lambrook Manor still achieves that today. 4 Minutes from the A303 at South Petherton, Somerset TA13 5HH

Now back to the real world of Picket Lane Nursery. Finally, we are seeing more sunlight and suddenly the gardens are bursting in to life. After so many months of dull, damp, cold days, it is really encouraging to see so much new growth everywhere. But there is still much to do before the start of March when we open for the season. Visitors who have been turning up over the last week or two will have seen empty sales tables as all our nursery plants are grown on away from the sales area. We have just 6 days to move 800 varieties not to mention everything else that needs doing, but with the promise of dry days and yes, frosty nights, the next week will see the nursery coming to life. But is this doom and gloom about the weather something to fear, or is it just the Met. Office and the BBC once again, putting us in fear and trepidation for no reason. They have done it so often that I think (and hope) they are just calling ‘Wolf’. We will see.

Hundreds of surplus plants are now being planted in the gardens, and I can’t wait to see the results, especially in the orange and hot gardens. Last year was the first full year for this area, so we supplemented lots of colour by using annuals. This will be the year that the perennials take over. Even now, with basal clumps just showing through the mulch, we can see how much better it will be. With a mass of Kniphofia, Heleniums, Crocosmia and Dahlias as the backbone, it should be a real picture. The new white garden will go through the same process, and as I write this, my greenhouse is full of new seedlings that will give the white garden its colour for this first season. At over 1000 square yards, it’s quite a big lump of wild grassland that is now under our control.

Earlier this year I said that I would be waiting a while before cleaning away last year’s vegetation from the beds. This has a number of benefits, protecting the crowns with a natural layer of mulch, giving habitat to beneficial insects, providing seed for our wild birds, and protecting the soil from erosion caused by heavy winter rain, and all that mud hidden from view, I can put up with the slightly less than tidy beds for the winter. As we move into early Spring, I’ll start the clear up. Plants like Crocosmia are producing their new shoots through the dead foliage. It’s so easy now to simply pull away the dead material. The late summer flowering perennials like Asters, and Phlox have produced their new growth from the basal nodes of last year’s growth, so safe to cut back to the new shoots. Penstemons that were reduced in height by a half last Autumn are starting to produce new basal growth. These can be cut back to the new material. And of course, all this dead material forms the basis of next Autumn’s garden compost, so nothing wasted.

Gardeners are, and have to be eternal optimists. We buy packets containing just 4 or 5 seeds in the expectation that they will supply every tomato we will need. We buy tiny plug plants expecting them to produce 8 months of colour. Even when we have a poor year, we live in the expectation that next year will be better, well, I have some good news. This is going to be a great year. Happy Gardening.

March Diary Dates: (All talks at village halls starting at 7:30pm unless otherwise detailed)

Corscombe 2:00pm 6th March – The Bee-friendly Garden

Newton Poppleford 8th March – Herbs

Uffculme 12th March – Wildlife

Lydford 13th March – Year at Picket Lane

North Perrott 20th March – The Bee-friendly Garden

New Milton 21 March – Why did it Die

Bovey Tracey 22 March – Why did it Die

East Lambrook Manor 24th March Plant fair with 20 nurseries taking part

Fordingbridge 26 March – Why did it Die

Merriott 28th March – 12 Months of Colour

 

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