Hello, my name is Whitney Hedges and I am the new Head gardener at Fairlight Hall. This first post is by way of an introduction to me, my approach to gardening, to life and all the rest!
People have been making gardens since the time of the ancient Egyptians. From then, through the Roman Empire, the Italian Renaissance, and as seen in the formality of the Palace of Versailles, gardens have represented our struggles and achievements. But in a considerable way they express our power to manipulate and control nature: plants arranged and clipped into tight geometry have often resembled the architecture of our built world.
During the 1700’s Charles Bridgeman, and William Kent pioneered a shift in ethos. At Stowe and Rousham they laid out landscapes that represented nature and its serpentine forms, with views that included lakes and natural outcrops of trees. Capability Brown, who learned from them, used this Landscape Garden style to design at least 170 gardens.
This revolution in garden styles transformed our relationship with our gardens and nature. It may at first seem that we finally learned to sit beside nature in complete humility. This, however, is not the full story. Although appreciative of nature’s inherent beauty, the English gentlemen of the time also sought to improve upon it. They faithfully sought to embellish our landscapes with the additions of lakes, valleys and trees in an effort to idealise what would have either been complete wilderness or pastoral farmland.
In the 17th century, England’s expansion of its world Empire, coupled with an expansion of the middle classes brought the world in to the English garden. Gardens became recreations of exotic lands or fantasies of lost times. In the 19th century the bright coloured bedding schemes in public gardens revealed a nation enjoying the prosperity of the industrial revolution, spending liberally on the horticultural enjoyment of the masses.
During the arts and craft era, a new style emerged from the likes of Gertrude Jekyll and William Robinson. They used herbaceous perennials in a particularly painterly style and arranged in a more natural arrangement: plants were blended together and jostled for space much as they do in nature.
These days I have noticed a new shift in that we are awakening to a realisation of what ‘Natural’ really signifies. It appears to be more about asking our environment to show us what it needs before we endeavour to improve upon it. It is about what nature needs to truly thrive. We are more appreciative of how when gardening, we enter Nature’s domain.
This is seen most clearly in the rise in popularity of the wildflower meadow as a garden feature in its own right. The wildflower meadows and naturalistic creations of the Olympic Park site showcase this contemporary fashion for designed ‘naturalism’ of our public spaces giving us beauty as well as benefiting nature.
Every good gardener is observant and in my observations I have always found that to fight Nature is to lose. ‘Feel’ the soil at all times of year; watch how your plants grow; find out where they like to grow in nature, and emulate that. Not everything will work but observe and take lessons from what happens in the garden. Above all else consult nature and never give up! Nature doesn’t and nor should we!
As I anticipate beginning my new post at Fairlight Hall I am excited to learn this new garden and all it and nature can teach me. I only hope to do it justice.
So, enough of gardening philosophy; let’s move on to more practical applications. We are now approaching late autumn and are on the way to Christmas, so many of us will have locked our tools away for the winter. But I feel the garden still has much to offer, from watching the last of autumn’s berries being picked off by hungry birds or simply taking stock and a deep breath as you walk around a winter landscape after a hectic summer of weeding, sowing, mowing and harvesting vegetables.
At this time of year I really enjoy making neat piles of leaf mould; this can provide a valuable resource for the garden and it’s so easy to do. All you need do is construct a bay of some sort. This can be made using galvanised weld mesh attached to vertical supports made from anything from split chestnut to steel scaffold poles. You can be rammed into place using a post rammer or sledge hammer. Once these four vertical supports have been firmly rammed into the earth all that’s needed is to secure the mesh to the posts. The leaf litter should be piled into the new bay and packed in tightly. After a year, the fungus that will have broken down the leaves, turning them into crumbly sweet leaf mould.
If you are already on the leaf mould bandwagon then now is a good time to use some of it.
I also like to grow pea shoots in the Autumn as they are a tasty addition to meals and are little to no cost or effort to produce. You can use a greenhouse/cold frame or windowsill. Simply find a pot or other suitable container. I often use an old Champagne box: after drilling holes into the base I fill it with crumbly leaf mould and then pour in some dried peas… the ones from the supermarket in a blue box will do, -no point in using your precious F1 hybrid or Heritage pea seeds as you will only want the emerging shoots. Just before the tendrils are about to unfurl, simply snip them off with scissors and toss into a salad, or garnish fish or another dish. Please don’t let me stop you there, I’m sure there is one hundred and one good uses for them! What’s even better is that if you use the leaf mould it will be enriched by the nitrogen fixing root nodules of the pea plants, so will add even more goodness to your compost heap.
Well that probably enough for my first post, but I will be updating this blog regularly to let you share my discoveries of this wonderful garden and grounds.