October 2017: Relocating … and Back to Work

After eight years of living in relative isolation
at the foot of a mountain,
we are in the process of selling home and property,
and relocating to a more urban locale.

Beginning the task of preparing the approximately
100 pots of select ferns, hostas,
and other perennials that will be joining us
in relocating to a new house and garden …

Having been obliged (due to distance)
to turn down offers to work and consult
on private gardens; or offer lectures and courses
in old world gardening principles and practice,

I am now able to once again provide
thoughts, practical help, or advice should
previous clients be inclined to call again;
or anyone having an interest in “old fashioned”
gardening techniques wish to make use of same.

My specialisation is the Woodland, or Shade, Garden.
and, of course, the techniques of “old world” gardening
that were taught to me in the 1960’s.

Friend, Mentor, grandpa: John Hall
at work in the Botanic Gardens, Belfast, c.1960.

A kind and gentle man,
I never once saw him leave the house
without his pocket watch in his waistcoat,
and New Testament in his jacket pocket.

He impressed upon me the importance of knowing
more about soil, than specific plants;
was a friend to every animal in the garden;
and limited his services to people
who wanted to spend time in their garden,
rather than staring into a television set.

I miss him very much and think of him
every time I feel and smell the rich aroma
of soft, friable garden soil.

The house that we have purchased
is a 1920 ‘British Colonial’ house –
now re-roofed and with new siding,
and situated at the centre of an ‘over 55’
private development –
Like-Minded folk desiring Peace and Quiet !

Internet satellite view:

The garden of the Old House (centre left)
lies in the centre of the photo;
the seniors’ homes backing on to it
provide complete shelter from winter winds;
whilst the canopy of trees screens the heat of the sun …

The garden is essentially of Japanese-style,
fully enclosed by sturdy steel-link fencing
and covered by a virtual umbrella of Acer trees.

It has, however, been clearly left to fend for itself
over the last year, at least, judging by what we have seen:
the soil is very dry … cedar hedging trees
next to the perimeter fencing, turning brown
from lack of sufficient water …
and the plants desperately in need of moisture
and organic nutrients –

I cannot wait to start at the rearmost corner,
and bring the whole thing to life once again.

If any visitor to this site would like to join me,
I shall do my best over the subsequent few months,
(we are due to get the keys to the property
on the 10th of November)
to feature a series of pictorials
featuring the effort that will (all being well)
made to transform this garden.

Soil will have to be double-dug;
well-rotted horse manure forked in;
trees and shrubs gently cut back as appropriate
in order to take strain off the root systems
in springtime 2018.

Those who appreciated a similar series
back in 2012 will, I hope,
be interested in this upcoming challenge.

Having been taught by a gardener who, in turn,
learned his skills from Edwardian gardeners,
my methods of gardening
are decidedly contrary to what has been
presented in gardening television and magazines
over the past thirty years or so.

I should not want anyone to be disappointed,
and offer no “easy gardening” articles:
experience and physical effort make a garden.

There has, most noticeably, been a tremendous push
to have gardens turned into dumping grounds for chemicals
as a way to facilitate laziness and a ‘quick fix’.

Since the 1990’s for instance, the advice dispensed
from countless television gardening programmes
and garden centre ‘experts’ has been –

When planting a shrub or tree,
place a handful of Bone Meal to the planting hole.

It is advice that I have never been able to fathom.

Bone Meal destroys Mycorrhizal fungi –
the bacteria which encourages a plant’s roots
to take in water from the soil.

Certainly, the Bone Meal may provide
a steroid-like ‘boost’ … in the beginning,

But by destroying , the long term, natural benefits
which produce a robust plant are effectively hindered,
if not destroyed for the long term

I do not own a television and, indeed,
have not so much as seen one in over a decade;
however, I am have been assured
by several viewers of British
and European gardening programmes,

that the current advice on the BBC
is to no longer to buy Bone Meal,
but to … buy (!!!) … Mycorrhizal Fungi …
and sprinkle that in the planting hole !

From twenty years of telling people
to spend money
buying a commercial powder
which destroys essential bacteria in soil,

to another twenty years of telling people
to spend money
buying a commercial powder
to add to the natural bacteria
that are already in the soil.

And because it is “on the TV”, people do it,
and repeat the ‘advice’ to others.

Since about 2000, much of my garden work for people
has been to remove and repair the work of TV garden gurus
and local landscapers. It is very great shame indeed
because gardening – true gardening – is simply
understanding what a specific plant requires;
and then giving it a good home in your garden.

The foundation of gardening is Empathy –
to recognise what a plant needs to be happy;
and Propensity – desire to actually be IN the garden,
working amongst the plants, birds, and animals
that abound there.

Gardening is Not about spending money.

Now, of course you pay the nurseryman
for providing you with a beautiful addition
to your garden: that is only fair and proper,

but after the initial expense
of procuring … A Few … needful tools,
your biggest acquisition should be
well-rotted horse manure from a friendly stable,
or compost from your own compost bins.

Even failing an ability to acquire
either of the above for free,
the application of commercially bought ‘organic matter’
is a once-a-year event.

With one exception (mentioned below),
there is No need to buy chemicals.

Adding anything manufactured by man to a garden,
is not only (ultimately) detrimental to the garden,
it is an utter waste of money.

A bit of energetic work and the garden
will more than take care of itself
as far as the growth of flowers and shrubs
is concerned.

You Do NOT need to spend money.
You DO need to expend Energy and Interest:
an ‘old fashioned’ concept
once known as “physical exercise”.

Gardening will shape your body;
sharpen your mind;
and stimulate both empathy and patience.

It WILL make you a better, more caring,
and tender-hearted human being.

P Livingstone

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