The making of a woodland garden

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The other day when visiting friends at their new home, a cottage on the edge of the Ashdown forest, I was so overcome with the perfect rambling beauty of their woodland garden I had to shed a tear. It was a warm and sunny spring day.

On arrival, my wife and children instantly scattered, the kids whooping, the wife clutching cold white wine. Laden with bags and muttering, I forced my way through an old garden gate and found myself in a woodland paradise.

The garden surrounded an old cottage, once home to families who had worked the now ruined windmill up on ‘the clump’, a craggy hill above me.

This plot had been well planned but not with aesthetic principles in mind. Straightforward practical motives were behind the planning and planting of this garden. Absolutely no ‘shooshing’ had ever occurred here, yet through time and human neglect, nature had created the most beautiful garden I had seen in years.

Ancient, well-worn paths curved through the garden leading you exactly where you needed to go. The well. The woodpile. The vegetable garden.

To protect from the wind, Scotts Pine, Pinus sylvestris and silver Birch, Betula pendula, had been planted. The Pine were now old and twisted, the Birch, tall and majestic, brand-new vivid lime green leaves shimmering brightly.

A natural hedge around the property, created many years ago when the land was cleared for the house directly out of woodland, provided a boundary of native wild trees and shrubs…Crab Apple, Malus sylvestris, Hawthorn, Crateagus monogyna, Bird Cherry, Prunus padus, the common Holly Ilex aquifolium and Field Maple Acer campestre,

Rambling through the garden, wild dog-rose’s, Rosa canina and arvensis, grew amongst ferns, brambles, and nettles. Wood anemones, wild garlic, primroses and dog violet flowered wildly.

Standing there, I was reminded of the simple beauty and natural balance of nature, and how I strive to replicate that simplicity and balance in the gardens I design.

I considered the importance of selecting plants primarily for their sustainability to their local environment. When I plant native species I’m creating links to the surrounding landscape. This, I realised is the first step in creating a garden as perfectly balanced as the one before me.

I notice I’m not alone anymore. My family and friends have come to find me.

“Ben, I want to ask your professional advise about our garden. What, in your expert opinion, do you think we need to do to this garden?’.

Blinking tears from my eyes I reply ‘Nothing….do nothing. Its perfect’

As I walk towards the house I hear a child ask “Mummy, why is Daddy crying?’