It’s miserable to step out of a house onto a transverse slope, you’re at odds with the world before you even start, watching your feet and leaning against the sideways fall like a biker on a bend in the road. You can’t set a table out and you can’t think straight. So the eternal answer to this sort of problem is always, and will ever be, to terrace the land and create flatter areas joined by steps. That's what we've done.
The idea was that you would set off from the house, along the paths between the sun-drenched flowery terraces and, because of the longer wall on your left you would find yourself drawn to exit right, down onto the grassy slopes, ready to explore the lower areas and thence the farther reaches of our land. Which by then, would be gaily and productively planted with humming, buzzing meadows and beautifully shaped trees. There is to be a pond, just below the terraces, glinting in the sunlight and bursting with wild-life. You would not resist, you would be at one with nature, loving the garden, embracing the view, at ease in the space.
The tragedy is pointless, but not meaningless, the characters enmeshed and intertwined beyond untangling. The song is a mythic, fairytale puzzle seen from the other end.
Even as he sets off to leave his desolate home he’s filling the world with wrong thinking, alienating his assistants and threatening everyone on his path. By the time he gets to his destination he’s in a terrible state of insomniac self-focused horror, in a trap of his own making. He sees everything very clearly, but he’s got it all wrong, for he thinks force and mastery will work. Implacability breeds implacability, everyone dies and his marriage, the village that he wanted to save, is burned to the ground and irrelevant.
|The walls built and the flattening done|
Between the two of them helpful suggestions were made, and we drew it all out again with sticks and string. Diplomacy and subtle pressure prevailed, along with support and encouragement. I finally stepped out of my dilemma like a person slithering out of a straightjacket – clear-headed again, light and free.
I am disgustingly pleased with myself, despite the humble pie. We govern better when we do what’s right. Brutalism has been vanquished. I'm not saying it wasn't completely obvious all along, which you may find yourself thinking. Banish that thought.
Here's the first path and the top steps. The second one on the second level, unbuilt in this photograph, curves the opposite way, taking you out onto the land, as I had hoped.
Russell Page wrote The Education Of A Gardener, a dense and delightful read. It's a joy to read in conjunction with a beautifully photographed, amplifying review of his achievements in The Gardens Of Russell Page by Marina Schinz and Gabrielle Van Zuylen. Some of his more complex descriptions of his own gardens fall into place - you see the reasoning, the problems and the solution more clearly.
Russell Page says many a sensitive and interesting thing, despite his grandness. He talked of a sixth sense which can “see” the design solution in a flash of intuition. But you must first open your mind and closely observe all the details of the situation. Let them seep into your mind, which will sort them out as you relax. The trick is to recognise the moment, when it comes, of that flash of intuition and hold onto it, with awareness and recall. Some people, real designers, good designers, do that automatically. Equally some people lead lives illuminated with grace, elan and a natural talent for the sure touch. The rest of us have to think hard and sometimes take advice.
Bereft of wormy workforce as I am, I have been driven to the forking in of large quantities of sand and horse manure. You can see piles of both things strewn about in the photograph above. The alternative was the rotavating in of “ terricio”, which seems to be a heavily fertilised compost on which the so-called English lawn is sown. Now I didn’t want that, indeed I set my face against it, although I realise, a little wanly, that there may not be that much difference in the end result. I wanted my gritty sand, and I didn’t want the lawn. I’ve used less of the manure wherever high fertility would be counterproductive. The sand, and probably I myself, seem eccentric beyond imagining to the digger people. And I see my plan to take advice is not working all that well.
The plants I have used are mainly flattish, alpiny, herby, hardy types. This garden is not supposed to hit you in the eye, it's more about not interfering with the view and surviving on this baking, broiling south-west exposure. All the obvious stuff - lavender, thymes, phlox subulata, gypsophila, hardy geraniums, sedums. Some other slightly more adventurous items, mostly on the beds under the walls. As people say when they really don't want to commit themselves, we'll see.
We will breed mosquitos on our pond, we won’t be able to prevent ourselves, wanting wildlife as we do. We have created many other new problems. Most people round here fill standing water in. Now there’s a riddle, we can’t all be in our right minds and think opposite things. There are truths and there are ways to work with the truth, however bleak in prospect.
I don't pretend that this process of losing sight of what you really wish to achieve in a garden is comparable to doing the same in domestic or international relations, but that sensation of freezing, going rigid, knowing something’s wrong with what you are doing but hardening into it anyway – I cannot believe that isn’t a true description of many a disastrous decision. The protagonist of Tin Angel needed to hear the truth, think it through and turn back before he set off on his doomed and pointless mission. But he ploughed on, despite his own discomfort and misery and ended up in a welter of corpses.
I see now, now I've been released, that this garden is all about openness, the opposite of enclosure. I can't think why it was not clear to me before. There are no fences and everything is open-ended, we lie stretched out and open to the sky and the view. The huge rock I had placed as a seat near the pond works both ways, with land undulating steeply away below it. It's exhilarating, I had not expected to be so exhilarated.
This is not a windy site, so we can enjoy the exposure and the expansion. A massive pergola will however provide shade at the currently unfinished and unlevelled top level. Then I can do the advertising pasta cliche - large table in dappled shade, bottles and gender roles all over the place. Imagine the pleasure.