South­land

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.

NZ Gardener - - Contents -

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.

Our teepee.

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