THE TRUTH ABOUT . . . DESIGNING YOUR OWN GARDEN

...and out by Hester Lacey
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Indy Lifestyle Online
CALLING in a professional garden designer, with rolls of graph paper, specially sharp pencils, soil testers, compasses and catalogues of obscure hybrids is a costly business. And why bother? In the wild, which is, after all, where plants come from, climbers don't ramble up carefully selected solid-wood handcrafted trellises and shrubs aren't potted-on with loving care; they seed where they seed and nature takes care of it. Surely anyone can improve on that, even without a ritzy qualification in horticulture.

So: the first thing is to take stock of the dilapidated patch that is under renovation, tut-tut sagely over the pathetic efforts of the previous cultivator, and mentally plot the positions of the rose arch, the laburnum walk, the water garden, etc etc. Then ruthlessly yank out anything that is in the wrong place (shame if some anonymous green thing turns out to have been a prize magnolia or the like) and start ferociously stamping a new personality on the plot. A dedicated colour scheme is nice. Gertrude Jekyll went for white, but clashing reds and oranges are much more de nos jours (forget the country cottage garden look - it may look delightful and be relatively easy to achieve, but is considered rather passe among the cognoscenti).

Gorgeous glossy gardening books and magazines make it very easy to draw up a list of magnificent specimens that will be the envy of the neighbours, but disillusionment rapidly sets in at the local garden centre where there is a choice of bog-standard roses, shrivelled wisteria or drooping clematis, plus a few withered petunias, take it or leave it. Meconopsis? Sorry, love, even if it is featured in the latest issue of The Garden, we've never heard of it.

In the end, the desire to stick something - anything - into all the spaces leads to forking out an inordinate amount of money. Something leafless in a pot, with only a plastic label to indicate potential glories to come, costs pounds 14 and fills up approximately six square inches of ground. Until the summer, that is, when suddenly the new garden erupts into a great seething, writhing mass, as all the new acquisitions start sprouting frantically, clambering over, under and through each other as they chase the sunlight. The only exception is bound to be the prize specimen shrub, purchased at enormous cost from a specialist firm based in Fort William, which only likes being grown against a south-facing wall and hence is behaving like a Victorian consumptive and languishing pathetically, dropping its leaves and coughing.

Eventually, face it, come the first autumn, half the garden will have to be thinned out, shoved back into pots, and passed on to friends who are, erm, attempting to design their own garden.

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