Before you go. . .
Tony Redman is at peace in the garden
It is high summer. All those anxious times sowing seed in spring and that impulse buying in the garden centres has suddenly born fruit. The garden is awash with colour and contrast, fruitfulness and all the smells and sights and delights of summer.
I love my garden. Sometimes after a fraught time battling with slugs and snails, whitefly, blackfly and greenfly, none of whom seem to be working to my agenda, I feel that I have earned the right to just sit and enjoy it. Just for a moment, the ground elder, goose grass and bindweed that threaten to take over are given a short reprieve. I try to be organic, and over the years we have succeeded in the veg garden, but I have to admit to reverting to chemical weed killers when things threaten to get on top of me in the flower garden. We are big recyclers and chippers. We last had a bonfire three years ago, and we have never emptied that nice brown bin the council gave us years ago. To me, it is no surprise at all that the Bible sets creation within a garden. In my garden, when I do manage to stop doing things, I can feel completely at peace, and at one with creation. It is a place to regroup and recuperate.
Gardens are very personal spaces. Mine is a wilderness. There are bits I have modelled on gardens I have enjoyed visiting, such as Beth Chatto’s gravel garden, Helmingham Hall, and Alan Gray’s Old Vicarage garden at East Ruston. Whenever I go past these pocket souvenirs, I smile to myself as I remember the far bigger spaces they represent.
Other places in the garden are planted with garden worthy versions of wild flowers which reflect the countryside, the meadows and ditches. Some have been planted in honour of a family member, so my daughters each have a tree named for them, as do my parents and my wife. Special friends are also represented by a plant, some of which were given for special occasions. I also grow plants which thrive in the gravelly sandy lands of the Breckland edge, together with other plants which have a special affinity to where we live, such as the yellow flag iris and the oriental poppy named after our village.
In the vegetable garden we proudly grow virtually all our own veg, which in reality means we survive off what we grow, rather than eat what we fancy, planting especially those things which are tastier fresh from the soil. But some things defeat me. I cannot grow onions despite flowing all the rules. Any tips, anyone? Each year I challenge a friend in the village to see who can grow the largest celeriac. One Christmas he gave me a really heavy gift. Neatly wrapped in seasonal wrappings. Excited at the prospect of something useful, I opened it with a child’s glee, only to discover it was the biggest celeriac root you have ever seen, grown, apparently, in his own garden. He wins ever year, hands down. What’s more, his biggest onion last year weighed in at more than my entire crop.
The year before last I was so proud of the garden that I thought about opening it for charity, under the National Gardens Scheme. I made enquiries, spent a week weeding and tweaking and sprucing it up. Two discerning ladies came and spent a morning strolling round. After a consultation on the patio, they agreed. It is a wilderness.
“You’ll get a lot of criticism about all those weeds,” they said. “What weeds? Every plant in my garden has my permission to be where it is,” I replied. With feint words of encouragement, they left me brochures and application forms. “We could call it a natural garden,” I heard them mutter on the way out, “but he would have to do a lot to encourage people to come all this way.”
I have to confess, the idea of doing teas and cakes and plant stalls filled me with a certain horror, so we decided to abandon the idea and retain our sanity. We do occasionally offer the garden to people who need some space to reflect. Graced with an outside toilet, a tea point and places to sit in the dry, they come and just ‘be’ for an hour or two.
As I sit watching the sun go down at the end of the day, shining through the leaves, and hear the birds tripping through the trees, I don’t care what anybody else thinks of my wilderness. It’s my mess, I know every square centimetre, and I rather like it the way it is!
‘We do occasionally offer the garden to people who need some space to reflect’
ABOVE: Gardens are very personal spaces