Buying on impulse

2008-02-29 00:00

A well-stocked garden centre is for a gardener much like a library is to an avid reader. One can browse, forgetting for a time the world's woes. The difference is that one cannot borrow a plant. So perhaps a book shop would be a better analogy. There is the satisfaction of carrying home a purchase or three or even 100 or so plants (but surely never a whole library).

The joy of planting is perhaps more intense for the small purchaser than the customer buying by the hundres who could end up with lumbago unless he or she is prepared to employ an army of helpers. Some of us know that the actual planting involves a lot of enjoyable anticipation - could that be as much as 90% of what gardening is all about?

Advice routinely given to aspirant gardeners is: plan first, make a list and buy according to that list (sounds a lot like economy buying of groceries). But I know of no gardener who doesn't occasionally buy on impulse. And that's how we came to buy the white rose Tineke when we had every intention of coming away with Summersnow. We are still casting about for Summersnow which is a new(ish) floribunda with all the iceberg traits, plus being scented, and which keeps its feet on the ground, whereas our icebergs tend to aspire to climbing status.

While we await Summersnow, Tineke is the first rose to go into the white box in our new rose garden. There is also to be a scarlet box, a pink, a carmine-to-crimson, a yellow and an apricot-to-orange box. Each square(ish) 'box' is to be edged with box (Buxus sempervirens) or lonicera; and all will comprise a rectangular space fenced round with climbing clematis. It's all coming about very slowly and being furnished with whatever comes to hand and at the moment features as many daisies as roses (after some impulse buying of marguerites in pink, yellow and white that have grown into giants. Have other gardeners found it's been a good year for daisies?).

Our garden is not a trendy one. It does not lend itself (or we don't) to parterres, potagers or even water gardens. It is difficult to make an authentic water garden within a grassveld biome. I confess I do hanker after a rill and fountain. But not a knot, which should be a true knot, or not at all. One has to be careful, in following trends, not to end up with clichŽs or just plain fakes. I tell myself that imitation doesn't work without that spark of personal innovation.

In retrospect, I suspect our modest rose plan derives from two illustrious sources: Monet's garden at Givenchy where his plantings had the practical purpose of inspiring his paintings and each geometric space was filled with a massed planting of a special flower. And Sissinghurst White Garden where each 'box' accommodates one dominant shrub or small tree. Our intention was never to imitate these two fabulous show-pieces (what a hope). But it is intriguing how ideas can be absorbed and then pop up all unawares in a very different guise.

* Phyl Palframan is a retired farmer's wife, living on the home farm, a mother, grandmother, gardener and freelance journalist.

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