But as is almost invariably the case for me, simple steps lead to big questions.
For all sorts of reasons (septic tank placement/visual and physical linkage to other parts of the garden), this wall moved further from the house than was ideal, and the space at the bottom of the wall (hemmed in by the chook house) is smaller than I wanted and expected it to be.
That has forced a last-minute redesign, and a revisiting of the great dilemma – do I want a garden of one big idea – one that’d be exciting and impressive to visit, or do I want a garden to live with, and live in?
You turn up at gardens like Marqueyssac, and are so blown away by the extravagant outworking of one idea – so intoxicated that it can make you dizzy. You know the kind of thing..
Or to add a less-known angle..
While in the area, you’ll probably drop into Eyrignac and again find yourself totally destabilized by how overwhelmingly desirable pure geometry can be. This is particularly troubling to a plant lover. These gardens are emphatically not about plants, or at least not about plant variety. They’re more a celebration of pattern than a celebration of botany. It’s essential that they’re green and growing – the same forms made of concrete wouldn’t capture any of the charm. Maybe it all pivots on the tension of creating strong architectural pattern of live, growing organisms that don’t have any architectural quality in their own right. Dunno. But they’re fabulously desirable.
And you might find yourself, on a warm early summer afternoon after a couple of wines over lunch, faced with a large squarish bit of rough grass like that down the back of the Priory at Orsan.
It’s pretty much enclosed with chest-height hedging, and about four metres in from that, on all sides, it is arcaded, cloister-like, with a row of widely spaced lindens. You stand there, totally enchanted, transfixed, spell-bound, but are at a total loss to understand why anything so outrageously simple can be that powerful.
So you get what I mean. Every time I start thinking of an area like my newly walled zone, I can’t help but play with ideas like those I’ve found magical in gardens I’ve visited. But that always leads to the question “would I be happy with it in the long-term? Will it continue to engage and excite me after a few years?”
In the last hour I’ve arrived home from a plant-research trip to Melbourne Zoo (you should see it – seriously phenomenal planting design around the Elephant enclosure in particular), and in a few spare minutes between teen-taxi responsibilities, I set out eagerly, cup of tea in hand, to see if the Crocus pulcellus which showed its head yesterday has opened, to check if the dodgier bits of my stone wall annoy me as much today as they did yesterday, to see if the chervil seedlings that I’m hardening off are coping with the sun, and to check on the progress of the so-far ground-level flower-buds of the only autumn flowering form of true snowdrop (Galanthus reginae-olgae, above). I think that it’s this sort of detail that keeps me fully and immediately engaged in my own garden – that will make it worth the regular quick dash around, even when time’s limited.
Those other gardens are amazing to visit, and are undeniably astonishing and important creations. But I think what I need in a home garden could best be described as a plant playground. Given that such gardens are always best within a strong and disciplined structure, maybe there’s room for a bit of both.
The Chateau de Marqueyssac, Manoir D’Eryignac and the Prieure d’Orsan were all on the itinerary of a Ross Garden Tour to France in 2011. Check out their current France itinerary here