A Yen For Zen

No Japanese gardener considers himself the owner or creator, but rather a curator, for his generation.

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There is a long view taken with the understanding that one is making choices that may not see fruition for decades, if not centuries. The act of gardening is considered as contemplative and meditative as enjoying it. The most infinite consideration is given to placement of trees, plants and particularly stones and how everything relates to each other, not just from the aspects of the garden, but to the scenery and landscape beyond it and from any vista created to look out onto it from.

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The placement of stones in the most harmonious configuration can take a lifetime of training. Pathways are designed to be storied journeys, often zig zagging in order to impel the walker to stop and consider the view from one standpoint to another. You do not march down a Japanese garden path, you are mindful of each view bestowed for it was created intentionally. Similarly, no true Japanese garden will have a gate that opens directly onto it from outside. A wall will be present to block it that must be navigated around to enter in order to baffle evil spirits.

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Water is a frequent component, added not just to bring a flow of direction to the eye but to create reflection, both visually and mentally. Drum or ‘moon’ bridges not only give the visitor access, but further focal points to view various scenes from another place. It doesn’t hurt that they are also incredible when doubled by water.

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I first fell in love with the art of a Japanese garden when visiting the temples of Kyoto, famous for their ancient and beautiful gardens.

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The most famous of all Zen Gardens is the Ryoan-Ji. To sit and partake of the tranquility it invokes is a true pleasure. The rock placement can be anything an individual wishes it to be; mountains rising from the mist, islands in the sea. Curating the gravel around them, a task of endless maintenance, is an exercise in patience and serenity. It is an exacting task.

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Many years later I have been lucky enough to enjoy wonderful Japanese gardens in America, notably San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park and The Huntington Gardens

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in Pasadena, California. They are fine examples. Go check out some for yourselves and be a part of the tranquility. Sayonara!

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Let There Be Fairy Light!

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A lighting extravaganza this week, while we still have some Autumnal warm-ish nights to enjoy the last of the garden in the evenings. My motto has always been More Is More, and I’m a firm believer in using proper electric lights, and masses of them, if you’re going to light a garden or outdoor space. It doesn’t matter if you have a step ladder sized area, a balcony or a vast expanse, as we shall see. There’s nothing you can’t improve by adding fantastic lighting. At the very least you’ll get a usable outdoor place to relax in or throw a party. At most, you’ll have a magical wonderland that will be a thing of beauty and envy. Let’s start small, with a ladder and balconies. Cats are not obligatory but they do add a seal of approval.

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Patios and porches:

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Creative beauty:

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Remember the more is more? Here it comes.

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Nothing a person couldn’t do for themselves, with the will and imagination, but if you wanted to go the professional route, take a look at this inventive paving slab insert: How cool is this?

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Lighting the pro way:

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Get busy!

It’s Your Round

While we can still just about enjoy the last dregs of summer, take advantage of some of the splendid and marvelous pub gardens to be found in these sceptered isles. I’ve been gathering a few for you, some I’ve even been in!

Gardens can be spectacular, but the pub really excels at hanging baskets. They’re just amazing. Luckily for us city folk, many of the best are right here in London, but you can bet on a country pub to be resplendent at this time of year. The winner might just be The Churchill Arms in Notting Hill.

notting hill churchill arms notting hill gate churchillHowever, Covent Garden gives it a run for the money:

covent gardenAnd the Faltering Fullback in Finsbury Park:

faltering fullback finsburyI do love though, this pub The Cloch Ban, Clonroche, County Wexford, Ireland. The actual building is a mystery.

cloch Ban clonroche irelandBrockenhurst, New Forest, Hampshire:

brokenhurst, new forestAnd Padstow in Cornwall:

padstow cornwallSo much for the battle of the baskets. What about the gardens? Actually, the best I have ever been to is The Harrow Inn, Steep, Hampshire. I cannot even find a picture that begins to do their garden justice, but only hints at it. The garden is packed with color and goes on for days. You can even buy plants in the forecourt.

harrow inn steeppetersfield-cottage-english-rentals-the-harrow-inn-330-1057964An honorable mention to The Albion in London for the joy of its Wisteria:

albion londonIn Pembrokeshire, Wales, delight of a different kind – an open door to the sea at The Druidstone, Haverfordwest.

druidstone haverfordwest walesIn South Devon, Dartington, the quintessential English pub the Cott Inn has been licensed since 1320. Beat that, any bar in the world.

dartington south devonLastly…the most perfect English pub garden. It’s real. It exists. It’s insanely gorgeous. The Chelsea Pensioner.

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Beautifying in Battersea

It’s not often I get the chance to completely transform a garden from scratch and I find it a two-fold process; first the vision of what is needed and where, then the serendipitous process of adding and amending along the way. Fortunately I had the help of my talented and grafting wonderwoman friend Celia and also the expert gardening advice of the esteemed nature documentary maker and naturalist Cindy Buxton, who happened to live next door.

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Cindy is a national treasure, and also a bit of a Lord Kitchener – if something needs doing she’ll take command and marshal troops where needed, such as purloining teenage muscles from the opposite neighbors to shift 300lb planters,earning her the nickname The General for the week. She is marvelous.

So what we started with was a bit of a no-hoper which had been more or less a student hang out, knee deep in butts and bottle caps. Job one was to power wash every inch – walls, flagstones, canopies; everything needed bringing back to life and rescuing. That took a whole day. The patio was unloved and uninviting, mostly housing spare floor tiles. Tiles were loaded and dumped. After washing, the next step was to populate it with plants and color, box woods and bay trees. At a local auction we bid on a giant fruitwood mirror and antique wrought iron garden furniture, I sprayed the bench white to match. The Barbeque was unearthed and cleaned up, resplendent in its new prominent position. Finally, the kitchen was given a behind the sink display that adds much to the patio when the windows are thrown open. I give you the before and after…

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We created three distinct spaces for entertaining – the patio for morning coffee and barbeques, the dining table in the middle and properly spiffed up the end section as a party space, after dinner lounge and sun trap. The middle was looking a bit sad, so it got cleaned and dressed. Apologies for the fuzzy picture, it’s a long story. I was particularly pleased to bring out the blue in the garden’s eyes with this ensemble of hydrangeas and fern in coordinating pots:

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Next was the dreaded bottom of the garden, with a crumbling Victorian wall that said slum dwelling and all manner of hidden, dark creatures lurking in corners. Canopy and chair pads power washed, chairs painted, a bamboo backdrop, dressed sun loungers, pots heaved into place and some planters. Base boards of the wrought iron canopy painted to blend into the grey. Weeding all round!

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Lastly, the front had to be brought up to scratch…wish I had before pictures, still waiting! A broken brick driveway was removed and overhauled (girl power!) and we laid 30 bags of fresh gravel. Porch washed and painted, dressed with box wood planter. Windows cleaned, balcony dressed with potted box woods. Front door now a nice glossy black but you get the idea here. A full front and back sweep:

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Total time to transform: 4 days. The doctor has ordered 7 days in a hot bath to recover. Phew!