Do you enjoy a vista of some sort as you’re weeding your carrots or pruning the roses? Rolling farmland, perhaps, or snow-capped mountains in the misty distance?
Robert Guyton’s garden with a view
Gardens are beautiful places, with their leafy glades, vibrant flowerbeds as well as orderly rows of vegetables and herb-fringed paths. However, every garden is improved by having a backdrop towards which the eye and mind of the gardener can wander when tools are downed and focus shifted from the near to the far.
I’m very fortunate in having a romantic outlook, both figuratively and literally. From my garden, I look out upon a sparkling body of water and a mystical mountain. The glistening waters of the Jacob’s River Estuary and the two rivers that feed her, Pourakino and Aparima, and the maunga tapu, sacred mountain of this part of the world, Taˉkitimu, weren’t put there, I know, for my viewing pleasure, but enjoy them I do for their beauty and the contrast they provide to my own simple efforts at creating a landscape.
The sky too, I count as a distant foil to my plantings of trees and shrubs, but like the mountain and the estuary, it has the habit of disappearing.
So thickly have I planted the orchard, swathes of native shelter trees, fruiting and flowering shrubs, and scrambling vines, that before I know it and with relentless regularity, the curtain of green of my forest garden that closes over the view can’t be drawn back without a good deal of work.
It’s not a problem for my wife and I, occupying as we do, the bedroom at the top and front of our two-storey house. From our window we can look out over the trees and enjoy a view of 100km and not have to peer past anything to see whether there’s snow on the mountaintop or dolphins heading up the river.
The curved belts of natives – shaggy cabbage trees, dense broadleaf and even the dark-bladed flaxes – are the real challenge in keeping the view clear. They all grow so quickly and thickly, ignoring their progress leads to closure of all the sight lines and complete loss of outlook.
It’s true, I could climb a tree to spy the scene, but my parents-in-law won’t and I owe them the pleasure of a lovely view whenever they visit, so I prune and clear every year – just avenues, mind you, not clear-felling. I love the “foresty” feel too much to lay everything flat for the sake of an outlook. It’s enough to keep the apple trees pruned in an open style. I also keep
the flaxes light rather than dense. I occasionally fell a too-dense tree for no reason other than to let in the light.
It would seem a heavy chore if trees had to be removed entirely from the garden, but I’ve learned the value of leaving as much of the wood as possible, on site, cut into smallish pieces to cover the ground off the pathways, where they can eventually return to the soil.
Some of those branch segments I assemble to make small fires for my grandchildren and me to enjoy in the evenings; perhaps blackening a sausage or carbonising a marshmallow, but more often for poking fennel stalks and lengths of bamboo into, to create cascades of sparks that swarm up the column of hot air the fire creates. Those fires, when transformed to ash, cooled and spread throughout the garden, then add to the health of every plant that receives them.
So the management of the garden with the vista in mind is no hardship for me and has many benefits.
Letting sights from the natural world into the garden is a pleasure and a privilege.
I know not every garden enjoys a spectacular outlook or even one that’s tolerable. Yours may open out onto a building site or a block of apartments, so your needs will be different and you’ll choose screening rather than vista-revealing as a way to get the maximum enjoyment from your garden.
Where a screen is needed and a wall isn’t already in place, fast-growing plants can create a living barrier between you and the scene you want to forget.
Depending upon the scale of the cover-up required, long-lived perennials, those that disappear back into the soil over winter, biennials or annual plants can be used to make a green screen.
Built structures too, such as a trellis or light netted fence, can provide a lattice upon which rapidly growing climbing plants – anything from the nasturtium or the pea family – can be encouraged to clamber, and unattractive sights be made to disappear as those vigorous plants gain height.
Sunflowers and Jerusalem artichokes rocket skyward when given the chance and a rich soil, and can quickly form a wall of big leaves behind which industrial vistas can be hidden.
Toetoe is a marvellous grass for screening scenes that don’t make your heart flutter with delight, and have the bonus of more than doubling in height just when you need them, with the eventual eruption of their tall and attractive plumes.
Bamboo, or at least varieties of bamboo chosen for their manageable growth habits – the clumpers, not the runners – make resilient and attractive curtains through which you might still get the occasional glimpse of the outside world when the wind is swaying the canes and that might be just the reminder you need of how lucky you are to have a garden at all into which you can escape from the harsh outside world.
Whether you are trying to get a look at the landscapes beyond your garden fence or keep the sight of them from your eyes, plants are the key to success and are the tools we gardeners best understand.
Robert looks out to the Jacob’s River Estuary and, back amongst the clouds, the Takitimu mountains.