I started digging at Fairlight End in spring 2005 and started making mistakes. I began by getting the orientation of the greenhouse wrong. I was in a hurry. Here I was in my own country garden for the first time in my life. I wanted the greenhouse delivered and erected so I could start sowing seeds. I looked at where it might fit into the space available and arranged for the concrete base to be put in on a north-south axis. Wrong choice. Light and warmth levels are better for longer if an east-west axis is chosen.
I decided to enclose the kitchen garden to provide a much needed windbreak. It faces into the prevailing southwesterly wind and we are on high ground a mile from the sea. Years later, when the yew hedge had grown to over two metres, I began to resent it. I might be working in the kitchen garden on a summer evening, and I could hear voices, the chinking of glasses, children laughing. I could hear the sound of bat on ball, but I couldn’t see the batsman or the bowler. So, in a couple of places I cut the yew hedge down to a metre and accepted more wind on the sweet peas and runner beans in exchange for views of family life and the countryside beyond.
I made another mistake with yew. It looks fine here where it divides sections of the garden from each other, but I planted it also to mark the boundary of the garden from the countryside beyond, a panorama of rolling hills, windswept trees, wild hedges. It just never looked right, so a few years later I pulled out the yews and planted a hedge of mixed native plants instead. The replacement hedge cost a tiny fraction of the original and looks far more natural and relaxed. Why couldn’t I see that straight away and save myself cost, time and heartache?
I wanted to plant an orchard and ordered thirty trees-apples, pears, plums, cherries. I planted them in three rows of ten, in a position where a local farmer told me they would never thrive-site too windy, soil too poor. Here I made two mistakes for the price of one. The geometrical planting looked wrong in a landscape of billowing shapes and curves. And the farmer was right.
There are mistakes and mistakes in developing a garden. Some you have to live with (too expensive to move the greenhouse), some are expensive to put right but you bite the bullet anyway (swapping the yew hedge for mixed native). Some mistakes (the solid yew hedge making the kitchen garden a lonely place) only become apparent with the passage of time and there is a compromise to be made.
I have shelves full of gardening books. They are full of the triumphs of one author, the successes of another. I wonder what they do with their mistakes. Do they bury them in the garden?