The Simple Things
SHOOTS AND LEAVES
PHOTOGRAPHING YOUR GARDEN THROUGHOUT THE YEAR CAN HELP YOU UNDERSTAND WHAT WORKS AND WHAT DOESN’T. CINEAD McTERNAN SHARES HER BACKYARD’S YEAR IN SNAPS
Aphotograph is hard to beat when it comes to recording small- and large-scale changes in your garden. Whether it’s to monitor the seasons and the changing light and shade throughout the year, or to keep track of planting combinations and container displays, a picture makes a quick and detailed record. Photographing your garden is also a useful tool to hone your design or make significant changes.
I’m lucky, because my husband, Jason, is a garden photographer, so we aren’t short of a picture or two of our patch. However, I still rely on my own shots to keep a more regular record. Photographs don’t need to be beautifully framed or technically perfect to tell the story of what happens in your garden – think of them more as notes, jottings and aide memoires.
This year, more than most, I’m glad to have a selection of images of our small (12x8m) garden to look at. Last spring, we planted a more ornamental, late-flowering garden in place of the productive plot we had previously, so it’s useful to remember how it looked. The summer is an exceptionally busy time of year for Jason and he’s rarely at home, so it seemed a shame to create a high-summer garden that he’d never get to appreciate. Unfortunately, our aspect is north-west facing and half the garden skulks in the shade for most of the day, so I was interested to see how this part of the plot coped at different times of the year and where, if any, problems arose.
A cold, wet spring delayed planting, so the first pictures were taken at the end of the season, to chart the early progress of the lush, young plants. September was another significant time to record the garden, because it peaks then. We were also keen to record it in late October, as some of the garden puts on a good show while others parts die back and we wanted to make sure we achieved a good balance in each bed.
The new year is a good time to start your photographic chronicle – it’s an opportunity to reassess those dreary areas of your plot that could be brightened with some winter-flowering plants, and then to record what happens next. Here are the most recent instalments from my photographic scrapbook, which shows how helpful it is to compare a few snaps taken in different seasons.
“Whether it’s to monitor the changing light and shade or keep track of planting, a picture makes a quick and detailed record”
Watching the garden grow: borders and boundaries
One of the most noticeable things about the garden now is the boundary. As with many city gardens, creating some privacy is a priority. This shot (above) shows that in early summer, the wisteria on the right is doing a super job of masking the fence, whereas our back wall and the fence on the left, is still fairly exposed. This year, I want to consider ways to improve these areas, perhaps planting a climbing rose, such as ‘ Rambling Rector’, which copes on a north-facing wall, or I might try taller, structural grasses to break up the hard lines. The espalier apple trees, containers and herb pots are all looking as they should, with plenty of healthy fresh growth. They also provide a balance to the burgeoning beds opposite, so I shall leave them alone. The borders on the left are new and beginning to take shape. The one directly in front of the greenhouse is a combination of old and new plants. The catmint is well established and has flourished in that spot for three years, but by midsummer it’s unruly and overshadows the rest of the border. In an attempt to keep it at a manageable size and in proportion with the rest of the planting, I cut it back to about 70cm three times throughout the year.
The border in front looks in proportion, with a combination of a Mexican giant hyssop ( Agastache ‘ Blue Fortune’), a globe thistle ( Echinops ritro ‘ Veitch’s Blue’) and a couple of Mexican feather grasses ( Stipa tenuissima), which soften the edges and provide some frothy filling. Self-seeding marigolds (not yet in flower) will create a gloriously colourful edging that remains a constant feature throughout the growing season. In the foreground, the spiky green foliage of the self-seeded poppies is a great foil for the frothy grasses and helps unite the three beds, so I shall keep that as it is.
“The wisteria in June is doing a super job of masking the fence. Mexican giant hyssop, globe thistle and Mexican feather grasses soften the border edges and provide frothy filling”