Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Christmas restoration

Today it’s Christmas Eve: as usual chaos reigns everywhere. The roads are choked with traffic, airports are frantic, the towns are packed with shoppers and people throughout the land are wondering if they will get everything done in time for Christmas morning. Then, in a flash, it’s all over.

It’s at times like these when a break outside - a breath of fresh air - is a restorative exercise. Go out and look at our beautiful countryside, soak up that superlative view or study a perfect flower: the simplicity of nature does help us get things into perspective. Christmas will be here tomorrow, gone the day after. The landscape is here to stay.

Yes, how I should hate to be without my own garden: my very own green space, even in winter. It is escape. But it needs to be nurtured to provide what I want from it. I like informal planting held in check with a firm structure: there must be plenty of food for wild life, mature trees and scented shrubs. I like the odd sculpture to juxtapose with the living landscape and strong axes.

I don’t need flowers every month of the year but I do like contrasts in foliage, both in colour and form. And I hate a sparse winter garden and bare earth. Evergreens are feature I think it essential to include in the English garden. It would be very bare without. Clipped shrubs are a particular favourite. They give a crisp outline, a foil for lush, overblown perennials. And in winter they really come into their own, strong geometric shapes in the cold winter light. Snow sprinkled sculptures in the bitterest weather.

Berries and winter flowering shrubs can also make a dramatic statement in these cold winter days. The bright yellow and architectural form of the mahonia is one of my favourite winter shrubs: the vivid berries of the pyracantha a cheerful addition. And one of the most attractive at the moment is the strawberry tree – Arbutus unedo – with its pretty little fruits hanging off the branches.

And I’m feeling as pressured as everyone else so I’m off out into the garden to chop down some ivy. Nothing quite like a little controlled destruction. If I can find some ivy with fruiting bodies that will be perfect for my mantelpiece. Long strands will look pretty draped over picture frames and a big bunch looks great just stuffed in an old bucket. And if I’m very lucky I might find some holly with berries that the birds have missed.

Hopefully, when I’ve had time to slow down, when I’ve brought a little green inside, I shall feel better. Not quite at one with nature, not quite divorced from the crazy tasks we set ourselves at times like these, but definitely a little restored. Ready to enjoy a very merry Christmas.


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