Relocating … and Back to Work


After eight years of living in relative isolation
at the foot of a mountain,
we have sold home and property,
to relocate to a more urban locale.

No longer isolated by distance,
it is a pleasure indeed to not only
once again serve as a working gardener
to folk having an interest in “old fashioned” gardening.

Beginning the task of preparing the approximately 200 pots of select ferns, hostas, and other perennials that will be joining us in relocating to a new house and garden …

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 caring for their garden,
rather than sitting 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
(what we would regard where I was raised as)
a 1920 British Colonial House –
now re-roofed and with new siding,
and situated at the centre of an ‘over 55’ private development.

Internet satellite view:

The garden of the Old House (centre left)
lies in the middle of the photograph;
the seniors’ homes backing on to it
provide shelter from winter winds;
whilst the canopy of trees screen the heat of the sun.

The garden had clearly been laid to a Japanese-style,
fully enclosed by sturdy steel-link fencing
and covered by a virtual umbrella of Acer trees

however – with a very disparate range of shrubs
punctuated by the odd fern, it shows signs
of having been left to fend for itself
over the last few years:

the soil is very dry and lacking in nutrients;
cedar hedging trees next to the perimeter fencing
have turned brown from lack of sufficient water;
and the plants desperately in need of moisture,
pruning, and organic nutrients.

I look forward to starting at one corner,
placing 4″x6″ garden ties to establish clear planting beds;
digging up the few ferns, hosts, and shrubs,
and bringing the whole thing to life once again.

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 system
in springtime 2018.

For the few visitors who appreciated
the progress of our previous garden in 2012,
the intention is to present a ‘pictorial diary’
in the following months which will highlight
the effort of transforming this garden,.

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

… which seems to make for a lack of congeniality
from folk who adopt the modern mindset
of ‘fast and easy’, “low maintenance” laziness.

Still, there may be one or two folk
who find their way here,
who would appreciate joining me
for this particular garden project.


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

I still cannot fathom the advice dispensed
from countless television gardening programmes
and garden centre ‘experts’ since the early 1990’s –

– when planting a shrub or tree,
place a handful of Bone Meal in the planting hole.

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

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

By destroying the naturally-occurring bacteria,
the 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 have been assured
by several viewers of British gardening programmes,
that the current advice on the BBC
is to no longer to buy Bone Meal,

but to … buy (!!!)
COMMERCIAL 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.

Gardening – is understanding
what a specific plant requires,
and then providing it
with a good home in your garden.

And when your garden is healthy,
animals will show their appreciation
by offering you their company …

The foundation of gardening is Empathy –
the capacity to recognise what a plant needs to be happy;

and Propensity – the Desire to actually be IN the garden,
and working amongst the plants, birds, and animals
that abound there.


Can I encourage people to leave staring into a screen,
and immerse themselves, instead,
in the sights and scents of the garden?

Perhaps not. But conscience – from having been alive
long enough to see the state to which humanity has fallen –
obliges me to try.

People spend thousands of pounds, euros, dollars,
on mind-dissolving DVD’s, television, and computers,
yet view the garden as an ‘expense’.
Gardening is Not about spending money.

Yes, 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 an amenable stable-owner
or compost from your own compost bins.

Even the application of commercially bought
mushroom manure or other ‘organic matter’
is a once-a-year event.

With the extreme exception of Equisetum
or Convolvulus (pernicious weeds invading usually
from neighbouring pasture or wasteland),
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 develop Interest
in an ‘old fashioned’ concept once known as
“physical exercise”.

Cultivating Interest … ?
Choose a theme for the garden:

an herbal garden of ‘old world’ medicines;
a shade garden;
a rose garden;
a garden built around a pond –

imagine a theme; cultivate an interest;
and enjoy the pleasure of seeing the garden
respond to your care and attention.

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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