Saturday, 5 August 2017


The forecast (with seventy per cent probability) thunderstorms did not materialize.  There was a torrential downpour at around three, and by half past four it was dry enough to change back into our gardening clothes and go back outside into what turned into a beautiful evening, bathed in golden light.  I was relieved the thunder missed us, because I hate thunder, or more accurately I hate lightning.  The Systems Administrator said I was more scared of thunder than the cats, and I pointed out that that was entirely reasonable since the cats did not know they were living in a house with a roof made out of compressed straw.

I am glad it is a nice evening, since the grandson of the neighbour who lives in the further of the cottages in the lane called round a month ago to warn us that he would be having a party.  By this morning they had got two portaloos in their field, and a pair of gazebos, and it would have been a pity if it had rained.  He plays in a band, or used to a couple of years ago when he warned us he was having another party, at which his band would be playing.  They weren't bad, from what I could hear of them across the field, and then the music switched to something else with a female vocalist and I thought Blimey, she is really good, and then realized it was Debbie Harry in one of the tracks from Parallel Lines.

In between the spells of rain the Systems Administrator had time to finish fitting the bamboo screen across the back of the sloping bed just inside the entrance.  We will see how it stands up to the gales.  I am reasonably optimistic, barring a full blown top end Force Ten*, since it is permeable and flexible, but I think the SA had visions of the top breaking and disintegrating in the wind.  As long as it lasts for a few years it won't matter so much, since that will give time for plant cover in the border to grow.  The immediate effect is to make the back garden appear more enclosed, and is a great improvement.

The sense of enclosure is one of those design effects that's important but difficult to pin down. You don't need a full blown system of garden rooms with hedges and walls above head height.  A waist high barrier can do it, or a strip of tall but see-through planting.  You can feel enclosed but still be able to see out.  But to have something around the edge that's substantial enough to prevent people passing over or through it, at least assuming they are following norms of behaviour and not chasing around like Bodie and Doyle, makes an area feel more secure, and more like a distinct place.  And blocking views of the more mundane or unattractive surroundings helps build the illusion of the garden being its own contained world.  The top of the sloping bed was in practical terms already fairly well enclosed, having a rabbit fence along the back of it, and behind the rabbit fence a pile of grass clippings, and beyond the grass clippings a patch of brambles.  But it was not an attractive little corner, and as your eye passed over the rabbit fence you mentally left the garden.  From all the rest of the back garden once you are in it you could see nothing except the garden, the wood, and the sky.

The turning circle is an area where the sense of enclosure gradually built up, and was all the better for it.  First of all it was just a scruffy lawn.  Nobody would ever have wanted to sit there. We dug a pond, replaced the grass with gravel, and laid a path across it and a square of paving next to the pond.  It was still not a place to linger, even when the first planting of bulbs and low growing plants started to take shape.  Now there are banks of lavender, a bulky Phlomis italica, a semi-prostrate rosemary, an olive tree, a young Persian silk tree, a sprawling Teucrium fruticans, myrtles, and other shrubs that thrive on sun and sharp drainage.  The little metal cafe table and two chairs at the heart of it feel like a real place to sit, though it is still overlooked by the house and you can eyeball the postman and the Amazon delivery drivers from your chair.

In contrast, the field hedge around the front garden doesn't feel quite as enclosing as I should like, especially in winter when the leaves have fallen.  It is a good practical barrier, with rabbit fencing on both sides and quite bushy, and in most places you'd be hard pushed to climb through it, but there is something distracting and exposed about being able to see the field so clearly.  I realized that in the odd places where we'd planted a dwarf pine or box close to it the effect was much better, even though you could still see through the hedge above the line of the evergreen shrubs, and so planted more box in front of the hedge with the aim of keeping them clipped to about four feet as they grew.  Distant views of the far side of the field and the trees are fine, it is just something about having the field margin in the foreground that feels wrong.  As I said, the sense of enclosure is tricky, important, mutable and hard to define.  Cats notice it too.  Why else would they be so keen on sitting in cardboard boxes, even tiny low sided ones?

*Which is a Storm, not a Gale.  On the Beaufort Scale Storms are stronger than Gales, contrary to much popular usage.  There used to be an advertisement for, of all people, the RNLI, appealing for us to support them when their crews would go out in Force Ten Gales for us, and it irritated me every time I saw it.  I have no idea why the RNLI let their advertising agency run with it, except that most people probably think a Gale sounds the baddest thing there is, except for a Hurricane and we very rarely get those in the UK.  It isn't.  A Storm is bigger.

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