We work really hard to deliver the best in renovation. From time to time though, we need a rest. Is renovating the garden a good way to dispel the stresses and strains of a long term renovation project? Read this article in the Telegraph by Francine Raymond from 2015 to find out….
Are you fed up with your garden? Or maybe you’ve bought a plot that has seen better days? Rather than bulldoze and start again from scratch, consider renovating your plot with guidance of someone like Posy Gentles. As she explains: “Sorting your garden is rather like sorting your wardrobe: hidden among the piles of clothes you no longer wear will be garments that can be resuscitated. Often all you need is another eye to reappraise your assets.”
Clients such as Bob Geldof and architect Thomas Croft are having their gardens rejuvenated, without diluting their atmosphere, upsetting their wildlife or altering their history. Where a designer might prefer a blank canvas, Posy explores what’s there with a fresh eye, and advises what to keep, what to move and what to renovate. She will rescue shrubs, trees and plants that you love, recycle materials and restore garden features.
We walked Croft’s garden on the outskirts of Whitstable, where the bungalows peter off into woods and farmland.
The Arts and Crafts garden, once much-loved by his mother, had fallen into disrepair, its low walls crumbling, topiary overgrown, roses rocketing sky high, and the remains of a small box knot garden smothered with brambles, ivy, hawthorn and sycamore seedlings.
The fashion of the time would have dictated a formal structure with blowsy planting, and that’s what Posy and her team are uncovering. Her first visits may be almost archaeological, depending on the depths of your garden’s decline, but then – armed with trusty Felco secateurs, Swedish Bahco pruning saw and telescopic loppers, with a light Stihl multi-tool chainsaw in reserve – Posy gets to work on trees and shrubs that need lightening and lifting.
She uses a technique known as French or transparent pruning, and is influenced by Russell Page’s thoughts on pruning in his book The Education of a Gardener: “Working with space, carving the empty air into volumes caught in the angles of branch crossing branch: and here in the circumference of a small tree, lies the meaning of a whole relationship between art and nature.”
Posy learnt her technique at Le Vasterival garden in Normandy where scattered light is created through the lifted canopies of trees and shrubs. This works well in smaller gardens where every inch matters. It means privacy and light can live together. “When you take stuff out, you see the rest of the garden differently,” she says.
Managing the restoration of Geldof’s three-acre, 12th-century priory garden, Posy has juggled his love of Gothic atmosphere with the need to remove ivy, redefine overgrown yews and free throttled roses. A lime tree felled by the storms of 1987 had been left to shoot out stems and epicormic growth. Now the best have been chosen and the rest thinned to create a veil of lime leaves that moves and whispers in the wind. An elderly cotoneaster has been pruned to shed dappled light over a parterre, and woodland plants are appearing in its shade for the first time.
When discovering a new garden, Gentles recommends that you spend a season of growth getting to know it. Treasures may appear in the undergrowth: bulbs, corms and perennials may pop up, and these can be protected.
Principles of pruning
• Aim to create balance and improve plant health.
• Cut out dead and crossing branches.
• Stand back and review.
• Remove anything ugly.
• Don’t go too far or plants will put on too much regrowth.
• Wait for a season, reassess, then carefully lift the canopy, removing small branches from lower trunks, or go for a multi-stemmed effect.
• Aim to replace congestion with movement.