And on the third day, God made three gardeners travel diagonally across Britain from East to West and banished them back to whence they came, a land void of snakes, weasels, woodpeckers and tawny owls.
The night before they had created the ‘Gravity Pout’, failed at social etiquette on an epically autistic level, fed on whitebait, squid and liver and bacon, confused the fat off of the top of pheasant pate as cheese, played pool very badly and were finally driven off to their rooms by the pub landlord. In the morning, they masticated on a massive cooked breakfast before hitting the road.
It was to be a glorious day, most of which was spent jammed into a van, save the few hours we took to explore the life’s work of Harold Hillier, that is, his arboretum. An expansive terrain of world arboriculture. Everything from splendidly mature natives, to beautifully elaborate blow ins. I was impressed by the Hillier Arboretum, it isn’t pretending to be anything but a top class information centre and display for trees, so it’s a nice surprise to see that quite a lot of ‘gardening’ is going on, with real thought happening about under-plantings and the overall design of the spaces to help show the specimens off to their full potential. I’m not a tree person really, don’t get me wrong, I love them and truly admire their aesthetic and presence, but so far as actually knowing trees? I fail very badly. I seem to have absorbed myself fully into all things herbaceous and only have enough life left to fully know about 0.1% of that! So, yet again, I ended up mostly looking at the understory and the massively long double borders. I could name some of the content, but I can’t quite remember precise details. Think Salvias, Ratibida, Stipa, Inula, Verbena etc, it’s enough to say the planting style all around the garden is quite contemporary and user friendly, with lots of grasses. Like I say, it’s not a garden that is pretending to be a cutting edge bastion of herbaceous mindfuckery, but it does create a very pleasant atmosphere for everyone in the family, Nan will coo, Aunty will snort, Grandad will squint, Mum will sigh, dad will envy, and the kids will run about at a billion miles an hour shouting loudly ignoring everything apart from the tree house and each other’s waffling.
It is a useful exercise to visit Hillier’s, if only to see first hand the eventual proportions the little whippy things will get to that we’re currently planting. One of the beautiful things about being a gardener is that we’re planting for the future. As custodians of a garden, we can influence its future vibe. What at the moment is a sunny open piece of ground, may one day become a cool and imposing cathedral of nature, only existing because generations of gardeners collaborated without even knowing each other by agreeing with past generations that they would not cut down the planting. It is a beautiful thing that Harold Hillier’s legacy is still being added to and nurtured. By planting trees, we’re ensuring we’ll be remembered, even if it’s only because some of our energy got absorbed by the young tree roots as we nestled it into the planting hole. I like to think that plants have memories and that all the trees we plant recall us with fondness if we handle them gently and with respect.
This is some of what I thought deeply about on the epic drive home, in between doing more bad map reading, dozing off, eating petrol station pork pies, and indulging in window tourism in every town on the B-Roads between here and Kent.