Moving on to new pastures
In her final column, JANE POWERSsays thank you to the readers with whom she has shared this space
TODAY’S COLUMN IS one of the most difficult I’ve ever written. I’ve started it so many times, looked at the inadequate words on the screen, and then clacked them away with the delete key. So, I’ll just come out and give you my news. After writing more than 700 gardening columns for this publication during a period of nearly 15 years, I’m now offering you my last one.
I’m sorry to say goodbye, but it is time for another person to take guardianship of this space. (And that person is a fine writer and a deeply knowledgable gardener.)
Writing a weekly column is a strange thing. The immovable deadline generates a discipline that throbs with a rhythm of anxiety and relief. For me, those feelings are not just because there’s a time limit to submit a number of words and pictures, but also because, simply, I’ve always wanted to give you a good read. This column has been like a great gardening adventure that I’ve been on with a whole bunch of disparate, but like-minded people.
When I started writing it at the beginning of 1997 in the Weekend Supplement, this column’s readers were mostly unknown to me: an amorphous and interesting portion of the population. But as the years went by, and as many of you wrote to me, and as we met in gardens or at horticultural events, you acquired names, addresses, email addresses, Twitter handles and Facebook personas.
Some of you have country patches of a hectare or more, some of you have town gardens (as I do), and some of you garden on balconies and windowboxes. Many of you don’t garden at all, but still like to read about plants, the soil, and the creatures that live around us. Of course, most of you still remain completely unknown to me, but I do, nonetheless, feel we are connected. We’re connected by our common interest – and that is a lovely thing.
In the past 15 years, we’ve watched gardening change immensely. We’ve seen its popularity rise and fall like a yo-yo. In the late 1990s it was, you may remember, being dubbed “the sex of the nineties”, thanks to the many makeover programmes on television.
A while later, “organic” went from being a slightly embarrassing, over-wholesome adjective to being the ideal that most gardeners aspire to. The word “biodiversity”, which we used to utter a little apologetically, and often with an explanation, now trips off our tongues. It is the same with “climate change” – that perfidious phenomenon which caused the average air temperature to rise by nearly half a degree in the past 30 years, and then turned around to give us two bone-chilling winters in a row.
Before the weather turned traitor many of us were spurred on by the warming climate (and that natural one-upmanship among gardeners) to grow exotic plants from milder places: Japanese bananas and Madeiran echiums, Australian tree ferns and Mexican palms, big-leaved and tropical Alocasia and Calocasia. And then, together we watched them melt into mush at the end of last winter. A few survived (oh, yes!) in more clement corners, but we’ll think carefully before entering into that kind of experiment again.
We’ve felt dismay as our new climate and a global market brought us unwelcome pests and plagues. New Zealand flatworm chomped our earthworms, Mediterranean horse chestnut scale dusted our trees with floury explosions, and various blights burned the leaves off our escallonia, griselinia and box hedges. At one point we thought that vine weevils would take over the world, but we’re happily co-existing with them – albeit with less heucheras and primulas.
We’ve seen planting schemes become looser and airier in many gardens, tousled together by the winds of naturalism blowing in from northern Europe and America. We plant communities of grasses, robust perennials and congenial woody plants, and we rejoice in their exhilarating energy as they are swayed by the breeze and tipped by the sun. We’ve learned to love them when they have finished flowering, to let their seedheads and gaunt skeletons decorate the winter garden and feed our avian visitors.
We’ve sown vegetables with the rest of Ireland, growing our own with a fierce devotion and a righteous feeling of self-sufficiency. We’ve watched great gardens open and great gardens close, and some, such as Lissadell (what a shame) do both.
We’ve mourned the passing of many of Ireland’s greatest gardeners: Rosemary Brown, Ambrose Congreve, John Cushnie, Cicely Hall, Anna Nolan, Corona North, David Robinson, Sally Walker, Edna White. I’ve interviewed them all, and brought you their thoughts as best I could.
Thanks to you, I wrote my first book, The Living Garden: a place that works with nature, which expands on the ideas we’ve investigated together here. The same publisher, Frances Lincoln, has asked me to write a second book, and I’m working on that now. When I hand over this column I’ll be plunging headlong into it. It won’t be the same as communicating with all of you every week, though. So, if you feel like stopping by, I’m always at my blog, One Bean Row (onebeanrow.wordpress.com), where I’d be thrilled to see you. In the meantime, I hate to say good bye. So, I’ll just say thank you, I’ve had such a good time being here with you.