What Do You See In A Garden?

Another one of my occasional guest blogs – this time from Susie White, a gardener and writer friend, with thoughts on people’s different perspectives on a garden.  This is a theme I am particularly interested in – what gardens mean to us,  the place they occupy in our personal mythologies.

The photo is one of Susie’s own – of a Summer Snowflake, Leucojum Aestivum.

Leucojum aestivum (1)

I’m often surprised by the different ways that people look at my garden and how that contrasts with how I see it. I want symmetry, order and tidiness, yet I want these controls to be mixed with exuberance and something verging on chaos; it’s a fine line to tread. But when it is all in full flow in summer most people don’t analyse it at all but just revel in the abundance of planting. No, it’s the responses out of summer that vary so much.

The other day a passerby said ‘This must be the low point in the year, not many flowers’ as he stood by the shady border. Behind him were snowflakes, lungworts, epimediums, oxlips, crocuses and other subtle March delights enticing early bumblebees. Today I have an email from a sculptor who I tried to put off coming to visit till later by saying there was not much out yet. He wrote back saying ‘I like to see gardens in the early part of the year, full of potential. I am often more excited by buds than flowers.’

When I ran Chesters Walled Garden, artists often enjoyed the elements that I was keen to hide: decaying wood in an old greenhouse, dead foliage, weeds infiltrating flagstones. Through their photographs or paintings I got a fresh view of these things. In spring I would sometimes get complaints from paying visitors that there was ‘nothing to see’.

Now that I no longer open a garden to the public, I can do what I like but I am still very self critical. With a private garden I have freedom but old habits die hard and I still pick up hosepipes in case someone trips over them. The hardest thing is sitting still and not jumping up to pull out a weed. I have to deliberately choose to do nothing some days but to simply be.


Having spent 23 years running Chesters Walled Garden on Hadrian’s Wall, Susie White now divides her time between garden, wildlife & travel writing, lecturing and experimenting with plant combinations in her private garden. She writes a Country Diary for the Guardian and is also a member of the Garden Media Guild & the Outdoor Writers and Photographers Guild, as well as being a RHS Listed Speaker.

You can see Susie’s beautiful garden on ‘Gardeners’ World’, available on BBC iPlayer until 27th June 2014. 


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