Circles are big in my garden, and more of them appear as time goes by. From the air, they might look mysterious, like curious crop circles.
Going in circles is good for your garden, says Robert Guyton
However, mine are easily explained. I’m using the circle in a number of different situations, because I’ve become enthusiastic about the geometry and aesthetics of circular spaces, and the opportunities they provide for a new approach to cultivation, construction and contemplation.
Some of my circles are for crops.
Plants that grow best in a bunch – broad beans, Jerusalem artichokes and tree dahlias – might just as well, I figure, form a circle rather than a square.
Like penguins huddled against the Antarctic blasts, plants that are prone to falling over when blown upon by strong winds don’t want to be stuck out on the corners with no support from their friends. Circles, being corner-free, provide that “group hug” that gets the tall and susceptible through the blustery days.
My now-harvested broad bean crop also enjoyed the extra protection of a ring of willow – coppiced to remain leafy down to the ground and easy to manage – and flourished in their cosy round bed.
Other willow circles are filling out with withies in preparation for weaving into play domes for my rapidly growing grandchildren who will doubtless enjoy playing hobbits and elves inside the green hemispheres of living willow.
Circles work well for grapes too. Rather than growing mine against a flat wall, I’m training them up frames that have a circular base with their apex a point high above the ground; that is, a teepee.
My largest and most grape-draped is the enormous wigwam I made from the huge and heavy rhododendron branches sawn from the ancient ‘Robert Peel’ that was planted beside what is now my driveway many years before I moved here (it was in need of reducing in size in order not to be a menace).
Those tough branches placed in a circle, thick-end down with tips to the sky, are now covered in vines – not only grapes but also black passionfruit, hops and kiwifruit, all enjoying the light and height an inverted cone provides.
I’ve grown tree dahlia ( Dahlia imperialis) and high mallow ( Malva arborea) for years.
I enjoy their statuesque form and height but often bemoan their habit of lying down in the face of strong winds from the south. Well, no longer. I’m planting them in filled circles and they’re doing very well as a result.
If there are stronger-than-usual winds predicted, I run a cord around the peripheral stems and tie the whole bundle together to increase their chances of staying upright. It works a treat.
Another, bigger teepee, is covered in canvas – not vines. It provides friends and visitors a circular place to stay, where there are no corners for dust or shadows to gather. Sleeping ”in the round”, under the shelter of canvas, is a delightful experience for anyone who has only ever slept in a box-shaped space.
It can be a little disorienting perhaps, but that’s part of the magic of circles, and an encouragement to practice your awareness of the points of the compass and the relative position of the sun and moon – all extremely useful knowledge for a gardener.
I’ve circular areas too, formed by trees.
These were planted during the establishment stage of my forest garden and now tower overhead like parents at a primary school disco.
With their branches and foliage high above the ground, those trees form an ideal space for setting and enjoying fires; blazes of the sort that ask to be sat around and enjoyed into the early hours. They are conversation fires, not so big that they’ll spread into the forest but not so small that you can’t see the faces of your friends.
The ash and charcoal from those fires, cooled and broadcast out beyond the circle’s edge, have meant the berry bushes, flowering perennials and umbelliferous understorey that grow all around the fire circle are especially vigorous and healthy.
Even our clothes-drying area is circular in shape, a 10m diameter flat space carved by hand and hand tools down to the clay that underlies the soil at the crest of our land, and more exposed to sheet and towel-drying winds than anywhere else.
The roundness of the laundry circle provides the perfect play-space for my grandchildren to beetle about on while the washing gets pegged up. A pedal car, tricycle and pull-me-Granddad wooden train on wheels all sit out there waiting to distract the energetic young while the work is done. The circular shape makes getting trapped in a corner impossible.
Circles sit well in a garden, in my view, and bring a special quality that’s hard to define. It could be the lack of sharp corners or perhaps the naturalness of the circle as a shape – they make me think of fungal fairy rings, ripples from a raindrop falling onto a pool, the face of the moon.
Whatever the underlying appeal, I’m a circle fan and will keep thinking of ways to use them in my garden.