Now, one of the many great things about loving gardens is that January is never a depressing month. No matter what the weather is doing the New Year is always exciting as it means the growing season is only weeks away from kicking off – and things need planning and doing. So – on the first saturday of this new year I got up bright and early, pulled on my boots (well slipper socks actually…), stepped outside…… picked up the Telegraph from my front door step and went back to bed to read the gardening section. My eye fell immediately on an article on gardening trends for 2013 and I was delighted to see that a key theme for 2013 is the return to vogue of the flowering shrub!!! Ok – it’s taken these leading lights a while to come round to my point of view on this one but thank goodness they have – and please could they now spread the word that good shrubs are actually really cool. For many years the flowering shrub has been a much neglected candidate for space in the modern garden. At The English Gardening School all our wonderful tutors and guest speakers painted a glorious picture of the modern garden filled with gorgeous grasses and herbaceous perennials, skilfully planted in a perfect blend of colour and seasonal succession. How we all dreamed of creating wide expanses of grassy, herbaceous gorgeousity like Piet Oudolf.
Now don’t get me wrong – I still dream of creating those spaces, but in the mean time I am designing London gardens with sub optimal light, pretty narrow borders and lovely but very busy clients who do not have the time to be deadheading, dividing and moving things every weekend of their lives – no matter how much they want their garden to look like the ones at Chelsea. My own garden is a case in point. Over the years I have reluctantly pulled out the lovely Stipa tenuissima that looked, for most of the year, like a worn old shaving brush, the Verbena bonariensis that grew diagonally across the garden in an attempt to escape the fence and find the better light of the centre, the Perovskia atriplicifolia that flopped everywhere and the Calamagrostis brachytrica that I loved but that my husband cursed every time he tried to mow the lawn as it billowed over the mowing edge, entangling the cylinder of our mower into a splutter of submission. I – like many other London gardeners – have had to accept that I just don’t have the space or the light for those lovely things. And so it came to pass that this autumn I had many of the remaining grasses and perennials in my garden dug out and vowed to take a different tack. As someone who sells garden design I was slightly nervous to admit that I wanted to fill my newly created gaps with shrubs!! So suburban. So uncool. So – imagine my relief to see the likes of Sarah Raven, Steven Lacey and Anne Wareham all calling for a change of focus and for the rediscovery of shrubs. Hoorah. At last – I can sell the benefits of shrubs to clients without feeling like some dodgy, local landscaper who’s idea of design is to pack every garden full of as many Fatsias and Aucuba japonicas as they can cram in the back of their van. I can tell them that not only will some good flowering shrubs give them some low maintenance and much needed structure in their garden but that it will do so in a way that is really pretty AND that it is cool again!!!
Emboldened by this knowledge I spent Sunday dragging some lovely big shrubs out of my side alley and into my garden, filling the spaces recently vacated by my sorry old grasses and perennials. Instantly the garden looks better, fuller and greener. Once spring has sprung I will interplant them with some lower level perennials that will provide clumps of colour. My sole surviving grasses are now Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Overdam’ which, five years on, retain their slim and upright profile and gorgeous autumn colour – a perfect grass for the small London garden. My alliums I am leaving (squirrel permitting…) even though they lean to the centre I still love them and wouldn’t be without them. I’ve also left aquilegias and japanese anenomes at the back of my borders knowing that they’ll look better now that their less than gorgeous leaves will be disguised be my new wonder shrubs, leaving just their lovely flowers to peek out at the world. So – New Year, new tack. What a great start to 2013. And with fewer perennials to worry about I can spend more of my time at home fiddling with my vegetable patch and trying to be a better home grower – also a key trend for 2013. I’m so on it!!! Happy New Year to all!!!