One thing that television land has never been short on is gardening programmes. Fair enough, since after all gardening is a very popular past time and indeed one of my very own favorites. However, in recent years the influence of the dire reality and makeover shows has crept into this once staid and down to earth genre.
The point about “reality” TV of course is that it is artifice and contrivance of the first order and when put in the blender with the “makeover” format, the usual formula seems to involve the show’s merry band of bodgers fixing things up for some obviously misfortunate soul in need of a helping hand.
In the specific case of the gardening makeover this invariably entails identifying someone with both a reasonably plausible sob story and a truly awful (but relatively modest) garden. The show’s main presenter will quickly identify the main failings and sketch out a new design to address these and convert the weed infested, rubbish strewn patch into an area you might wish to spend some time in. The rest of the crew then set about the job at great speed, since there is always a time limit just to spice things up for the viewer, and a couple of days (or thirty minutes if you prefer) later… Ta Ra! It’s done.
Well, as entertainment there’s absolutely nothing wrong with it. Everyone enjoys themselves, the
hapless sap client usually seems very grateful that someone’s tidied up their yard for free, and it’s always fun to watch both the transformation and frayed tempers as the clock ticks down.
As a means of creating a garden though it leaves rather a lot to be desired. Unfortunately, all too many folk watch the programmes, buy the books and get it into their heads that this is what gardening is about. The one hit wonder. Blow a load of dosh down the local nursery, a couple of tons of gravel from the nearest aggregate supplier, get in a decking contractor and there you go. All gardened up, let’s pop the cork on the bubbly.
Does anyone bring their children up this way? Kid to adult in one weekend.
Right, get this suit on, yes we know it doesn’t fit, yet, oh and better get drunk and have sex as well, come on hurry up or you’ll miss the deadline, and don’t forget that from now on you’ll be holding down a full time job to support the mortgage we arranged for you. Old Ted your bedtime bear? In the builder’s skip by now I should imagine and no, grown ups are not allowed to cry, especially not when they’re as late as you are for the 06:30 train. Good bye darling!
Unless you opt for what is in effect an outdoor living area that is comprised entirely of structural features and furniture (which is absolutely fine, but not really a “garden”) then you have a bunch of living things to contend with that are called plants. And like children, plants grow and need to be nurtured and trained (or in the case of Fallopia Baldschuanica, severely disciplined).
Whatever you put in a pot or plant in the ground today will develop over the years and you need to account for this. But a TV garden makeover needs immediate visual impact, so they are almost always over planted. The real “reality” is that many of the shrubs will quite quickly get too big for their allotted positions and need to be removed or fiercely controlled in just a few years. Muggins here once planted a cute little conifer in a small bed without bothering to look up the name (Pinus Wallichiana) on its label. A couple of years later, suspicious that it may be a relative to the magic beanstalk, I checked it out – Himalayan Blue Pine. It had to go, which was a shame and a lesson learned.
A real garden, with living plants, is not a fix it and forget it deal. It’s an ongoing and ultimately never ending (there’s an oxymoron for you) process. Not only will your trees and bushes get bigger, change in character and now and again die on you, but your own requirements and tastes will alter too. Which means of course that you get to alter the layout of your garden as it develops.
Moving plants around isn’t actually the appalling crime that many professionals would have you believe. Done carefully, you can relocate just about anything, including large trees. You just need to ensure that you properly prepare both the specimen and it’s new setting in advance and cause as little disturbance as possible during the actual transportation.
If the plant goes thru a dormant period in the winter then that is obviously a good time to make the move, otherwise choose cooler days and aim for later in the day or early evening even. Also, take measures to reduce the stress on the plant well beforehand, such as pruning back foliage that would otherwise consume its energy. Cutting around the roots so as to sever them without yet moving the plant can also help as it encourages new fibrous root material to grow which can take over once the main roots are finally cut. And of course, don’t neglect to water well in advance and subsequently.
Many of the standard props that turn up in garden makeover shows, such as shingle and decking, seem these days to be somewhat looked down on by some, but in my view that’s just snobbery. Both can play a useful role in any garden and indeed the photo at the top is of one of my cats sat just beyond a section of deck in my own garden. The lawn slopes and gets slightly higher the further from the house you go. Since I had installed a set of folding patio doors so as to completely open up a living room, I particularly wanted a completely level walk onto the lawn and decking is ideal for exactly that kind of bridging job (and yes, that is gravel the stepping stones are set into).
Where the hardcore deck and gravel brigade go wrong however is in believing that burying the land in aggregate and dotting relatively good sized plants about the place is the be all and end all. Aside from the fact that the planting itself will quite quickly put paid to this delusion, it is also a rather expensive, inflexible and eventually more time consuming way of going about things.
The best way to get a good sized, healthy plant is to start with a small one and then… wait. I know it’s tempting to buy big so as to see immediate results, but you’re just paying over the odds and storing up trouble. Very often, larger plants take longer to adjust to their new situation and don’t adapt as well as younger, smaller specimens.
Also (for reasons I’m none to clear about, but experience does support it) whenever you opt for planting small and young, you will find it much easier down the line to rearrange things if needs be. You are also less likely to have to take remedial action anyway because you’re more inclined to give the plant the space it will eventually need (as per the information on the label), rather than be swayed by what looks good at that particular moment.
Like many things in life, the key to a great garden is patience. Design it and plant it up according to how you want it to turn out in the end then go do something else for a while. You’re playing the long game. This of course doesn’t make for especially captivating television, but no instant garden makeover can ever deliver the sort of luxuriant, dripping with foliage effect such as you see in the picture to the left (yep, another part of my garden).
Did it cost much? No, not really. The rose arch was ordered online as a kit and all the plants were bought in small pots; also quite a bit of what is there now came from dividing and spreading clumps each year. Was it difficult. Again, no. The planting was initially quite sparse to allow room for expansion. Did it take long? The initial layout and planting – no, an afternoon if that. Waiting for it to grow took a while though, but was it ever worth it.