It’s time to say goodbye...

Deborah Catchpole's cottage garden

Deborah Catchpole's cottage garden - Credit: Archant

I’ve only left one garden before. I’ve moved house lots of times, but only left one garden. My parents have lived in the same house since they got married, and my aunt lives in the house once owned by my grandparents, and their parents before them... so the gardens of my childhood memory are still there – they still look virtually exactly as they did then – or as I remember them to have looked.

The garden I left behind was the first garden I made. It had been a completely blank canvas, and I had been really proud of what I achieved there.

It was a tiny postage stamp-sized garden, with no structure, no shrubs and no really special or interesting plants in it, but a lot of daffodils. I remember having raw knees and frozen fingers from a particularly punishing day spent putting the dafffodil bulbs in. I planted over 500 bulbs that day, and by the time the spring came, I had moved house. I never got to see the results of what I had done.

I moved away, started again, and started my first real garden.

It’s not that a small, or unestablished, garden isn’t a “real” garden, it’s just that the way I felt about my next (current) garden, was very different. For me, a garden is any space of earth which captures your heart, and when I moved to Heather Cottage, my heart was truly captured. The garden that was here was pretty overgrown and there was a lot of long grass which needed dealing with, but there was a huge amount of promise. Lilac is one of my favourite smells in the world, so when I spotted the lilac, and the huge laburnum tree – which has provided me with spring after spring of happy yellow – my heart leapt a little.

There was work to do – plenty of work. I moved borders around, I dug in flower beds, and cut shrubs back – taking some out altogether, and nursing the wounds in my arms from the multiple fights with thorny shrubs and rose bushes, but the garden soon started to take shape.

As any gardener will tell you, the work didn’t stop there – it was just beginning. No gardener will sit back and look at the garden and think “I’ve finished”, there is always something else that needs to be done – always another idea, another plant which is growing in slightly the wrong place.

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With the garden at Heather Cottage it was always a very organic style of planting – I never worried about whether things were growing in the wrong place.

The cottage was a 16th Century timber-framed building, so the garden reflected that and was a true cottage garden in every sense.

At present, I can see a white foxglove drooping over the pathway – looking for all the world like an elderly man, stooping to pick something up. There are rose petals littering the edges of the lawn, lying exactly where they fell the last time the rain made them too heavy to hold onto their own heads any longer. I don’t need to pick them up to know exactly how they will smell. It is a smell that I have indulged in hundreds of times over the last five years. The smell of a rain drenched rose petal – incomparable to anything else.

The last big project I completed in the garden was the addition of a lavender pathway. The stepping stones which had led from front to back were taken up and replaced with a thin snaking gravel pathway, which I lined on both sides with lavender plants. The plants were tiny when they went in – I couldn’t afford to buy larger ones, so I had to be patient for the results – something that I’m not very good at but I’m learning. Gardening is a great teacher of patience.

The lavender grew, as I walk down the pathway now, it brushes my waist, and at the moment it’s so dense I can barely see my feet as the plants on both side struggle to meet each other halfway. I hadn’t known I would barely be there to enjoy it, but life changes.

It is time for me to move somewhere else. My love for my garden at Heather Cottage has been surpassed by the love I have for the people who are most important in my life and the time has come to move closer to them and spend less of my life sitting on the motorway!

I will think of this garden often. There will no doubt be times when I go to walk outside in the new garden to look for a plant which I have left behind, or days when I look forward to seeing a particular flower which I haven’t brought with me.

There is no way you can work so hard on something, and put so much of your heart into it, without feeling a pang of regret and perhaps guilt, at leaving it all behind. I worry that the person who is moving in won’t look after it, or perhaps will pave over the whole lot... but there is more to it that I must remember.

Gardening is the love and although I love the garden itself very much, it is the time spent there I will remember so fondly.

I will remember the happy hours with the sun on my face with nobody for company but the birds, and the way that I have completely lost myself while working away for hours – forgetting everything else but the task in hand.

I will think of the way the wisteria has fooled me every year that it will finally put on a growth spurt – the way that I have waited hopefully for it to flower, and then the bittersweet excitement when it gives just a few flowers of heavenly scent.

I will think of the hydrangea which I have been so disappointed by – which has given excellent foliage every year, but which has never flowered until this year! I promised myself last year that I would take it out if it didn’t perform, and finally, this year, as the sale board went up outside the house, the buds of promise unfurled, and I have the most perfectly coloured pink hydrangea in flower.

Gardening, and gardens, no matter what you do to them will, essentially, do what they want to do. You can work with them – you can help them along, but at the end of the day, they will always do what they want to do.

So a new project awaits me. I don’t yet know what the new garden will hold in store for me. I don’t know how fertile the soil is, or whether there will be particularly dry spots but I know that whatever there is ahead, it is a new adventure, a new start.

Walking around St Albans market this morning, I have already started to think about the new styles that I might adopt, and although I am sad to be leaving one very special place behind, I know that the new garden has got hidden secrets of its own.

There is a eucalyptus tree, with leaves which can be gathered from the floor and used to scent a fire on a winter’s day. There is a strong tree branch which overhangs the garden, which is just waiting for a beautiful wooden swing to be slung over it, and I am writing lists of roses to buy, and preparing my knees and fingers for a few long, cold, bulb planting sessions that won’t be far off...