It’s always fascinating (and either inspiring or dispiriting depending on one’s age and the current state of one’s garden) to see how an impressive garden developed from virgin territory. Mark Robson came to our Christmas meeting (on our only snowy day so far), and in a well-structured, helpfully illustrated and often humorous talk, revealed the development of Bide-a-Wee from a cottage on a bare, nettle- and whinbush-strewn site grazed by cattle in 1976 to the “proper garden” we now know by 1996. (Mark is of course one of the two Centaurea National Collection holders.)
Initially (when Mark was but a lad), their focus was the pond, and there was no particular plan for the site. As it evolved, a plan suggested itself; near the house is a formal, more geometric area of straight lines, mown grass, stone-work and easy-to-change planting. Further from the house a more informal approach developed, with curves, grass paths and drifts of perennials; some cultivation takes place here though: plants are monitored and lifted and divided as necessary. There’s then a gradual transition to a loosely cultivated area with naturalised plants. The meadow on the eastern edge is rich in wild flowers – orchids, yellow rattle that reduces the vigour of the grass, Centaurea and countless others. It’s at its best around the end of May, and is given an annual cut at the summer’s end.
The overall aim is to retain a sense of place; the garden is on the edge of rural upland, so mustn’t appear over-cultivated and urban where it joins countryside and agricultural land. The old quarry site is also used to advantage to give the garden its particular characteristics. The quarry soil, says Mark, is “hungry and diverse”, originally a mix of quarry spoil (sandstone waste), farm dumpings creating chalky areas from bones, some clay, and so on. So everything except diseased material gets shredded and composted to provide large quantities of organic matter to improve it.
After this introduction to the garden, Mark then described the maintenance of the garden month by month, season by season, and as there was lots of helpful information for us all in this, I’ll devote more space to this aspect of Mark’s talk in the Spring printed newsletter.
Thanks to Mark for coming to talk to us, to Lord Howick and the Howick Trustees for providing a season ticket to the Gardens & Arboretum as our top prize in the raffle, to Heighley Gate Garden Centre for their substantial voucher and Alnwick Garden for the Family Day Ticket, to all others who supplied prizes, bought raffle tickets, contributed lovely food for our festive meeting, made teas and coffees, and to all who attended. Happy New Year to everyone, and we look forward to seeing more and more of you at meetings and events in 2016.