Garden Styles at West Dean Gardens

Garden Styles

My first "proper" gardening job was on Haringey Council in North London and the supervisor of the park that I worked in was a retired Regimental Sergeant Major who used to parade his staff each morning before battle/work commenced and issue the orders of the day.

His approach to horticulture was equally regimented and all plants had to be carefully separated from their comrades by a clear fire zone of bare earth so that they remained as discrete individuals in a halo of carefully hoed soil. He was a man of his background but also of his time because my memory of gardens as a child was of the border as show bench and the plant as prize specimen.

For both reasons of fashion and finance that style of gardening has pretty well disappeared from the public realm but looking over garden fences it still seems to be a common approach in the domestic domain. I'm a great believer in "an Englishman's home is his castle" so I have no desire to proscribe gardening style. Equally I look to nature for inspiration and guidance in how I garden and the first comment in relation to the regimental approach above is that nature doesn't "do" bare soil. If the soil surface is exposed by some intervention, natural or man-made, she very quickly clothes it in vegetation. Initially with opportunistic annual species that take the chance to bang out a couple of generations of their progeny before they are crowded out by more dominant perennial herbaceous plants. These in turn, in the absence of grazing animals, ultimately become scrub and over decades, woodland.

Thus having bare areas of soil is an open invitation for those vegetative colonists we generally call weeds to fill that spatial vacuum. That's fine if you like weeding but disastrous if you don't. Equally my personal aesthetic is not for the plant as specimen but rather as a thread in a richly woven tapestry echoing, although not necessarily copying, some of the more attractive plant communities to be found in nature. Thus we should diverse, multi-layered and attractive garden plantings that reduce continuous inputs, such as weeding, and allow us to spend our gardening hours more creatively.

Jim Buckland
West Dean Gardens Manager