by Steve

Close-up photo of heather

I’m learning a lot about gardening, and one of the most interesting things I’m picking up is how much any one garden can change.

This might be year on year, becoming more established, more substantial, more mature or more shabby, more wild, more tired. It might be down to a few bad winters, a few good summers, a change in circumstances, the passing of time.

There appears to be a number of heated debates around historical gardens, as essentially it is impossible to genuinely and accurately recreate the past. So, do you try anyway and do the best you can, or accept defeat and move the garden forward, but in the spirit of the old garden? And when you veer from a forensic recreation, how do you get that spirit right?

However, I’m a long way off maintaining a historic garden, so I don’t worry about such things. I’m still on the practicalities of gardens. I’m not ready for the philosophy just yet.

But how gardens change is still pertinent, and still fascinating. See, I’ve also learned about how much gardens can change across one year, from season to season to season. Obviously plants will blossom and bloom and fade and all that stuff. But, with a little planning, one garden can look completely different at different stages of the year. You can plant for a single crescendo of flowering in say, June or August, or you try to stagger those flowerings, so your garden in May takes on one look, then has another in July, another come September. Each flower, each plant, taking their turn and creating new shapes and colour combinations as the year develops.

My understanding is that a proper planting plan, with scribbled notebooks and frenzied diagrams on tracing paper, is the proper way forward. However, I also like Alan Titchmarsh’s advice to not buy everything in spring, but buy one flowering plant each month, so you’re guaranteed something blooming throughout the year. This way your garden never looks completely tired.

The garden may be full of colour now, but I’m already planning for those months when everything fades, and when it will be cold and gloomy and all that. I bought some heather, Calluna vulgaris ‘Bonita’. I’ve dotted them across the main bed, and if everything goes to plan they should flower well into winter, with the foliage hopefully doing some interesting things too.

While I doubt I’ll be sitting out in the garden much in November, it will be good to look out the window and see some colour and interest, to keep the garden ticking along until next spring. I’m also hoping it spreads enough to fight off some of those weeds.

I recently read about a young garden designer, and how he was making heather fashionable again. I was a little bemused. I didn’t think something like heather could fall out of favour. It is hardly an ostentatious or overbearing plant, the sort to fall in and out of fashion. It seems pretty classy to me, working well as a simple backdrop for brighter and bigger plants in the summer, then having its moment in the autumn and winter. I think heather is a pretty good foundation for a flowerbed. I can well see me getting a few more in before the end of the summer.

However, perhaps my love of heather is really rooted in my thing for old Gene Kelly movies, including Brigadoon. Who wouldn’t want to walk among some Heather on the Hill? Gardens and musicals, eh? I think I’ve reached a certain age.