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Mount Stewart Flowers

Neil Porteous on attaining perfection in the garden

  • Feb 22, 2016

I'm working with some of my more talented gardeners to design the new planting at Mount Stewart. This is where, at least in theory, the garden could reach a level of perfection, hitherto unattained. It is an exciting exercise and gardeners, being Nature's natural optimists, combine the plants to compose a beautiful picture which develops over time. I love the expectant idealism of this state. Everything will grow in an egalitarian syncopation. One plant will not grow at the expense of its neighbour and next season, the garden will unfold to universal critical acclaim.

The first blow comes when specific plants cannot be sourced and substitutes must often be ordered in a rushed, impromptu manner and already, the thin illusion of control begins to diminish. Some plants will take to the newly manured borders too well in the course of the next season and obliterate their more retiring neighbours. Others sulk in the high nitrate soup, waiting for the stuff to break down into humic acid. Blue Hydrangeas or white Roses decide to turn out pink in the alkaline mix and by this time next year, the whole design will be unrecognisable from the initial plan. Being essentially an optimist, as I have already observed, the gardener will persevere, trying to recover the essential elements of the original design and this, to me, is the essence of good gardening; thinking on your feet, composing opportunistically. This is when the real magic occurs, because really divine combinations are rarely planned, they just sort of happen. 

Happy gardening!

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