Larghissimo Posted on November 18, 2008

It’s worth taking a good long look, now that the leaves have fallen, at the bare outlines of the garden their absence reveals. The opportunity for a fresh look doesn’t last long: the scene will soon be too familiar to take in as a fresh sensation. Familiarity is always a gardener’s problem; any chance to break the spell and see what a stranger would see is worth taking. There are always surprises, I find, always anomalies and frequently eyesores.

The evergreens, for example, are bigger than when you last saw them clearly, in full profile. I am amazed at how a fir has spired up above one skyline since last year to become the winter eye-catcher. Laurels are invading a vista I expected to see clear; a holly clearly dominates a group where it was balanced in autumn by deciduous domes; a live oak, twice as big, it seems, as it was last winter, hogs the scene completely on a bank dedicated in theory to a group of pines.

The garden macrocosm has changed: I need a ladder to recuperate a glimpse of church tower that focussed one view I enjoy. But so has the microcosm; I hadn’t noticed how periwinkle has been smothering a bed until a veil of leaves fell, revealing the spread of the dark stain on the ground.

Nobody talks about Sarcococca in summer. Just to say that tells you why: what a name (it is Greek for ‘fleshy berry’). Christmas box sounds friendlier, and gives a good idea of a plant you only see in long-established gardens, or the gardens of serious grown-ups. It is also a plant you didn’t notice until autumn, when its polished leaves strike you as particularly well-designed; miniature Porsche bodies, almost. A happy clump gives satisfaction out of proportion to its size, and sweet scent on damp or frosty air.

Over the years we have collected the set, as it were: from the snail-slow S. humilis to the perky slender-leaved S. hookeriana var. digyna and one that Roy Lancaster strongly recommends: S. ruscifolia ‘Dragon Gate’. It’s no good drumming your fingers for them to reveal their qualities. Their miniature charms and positively stately pace are their counter-intuitive attractions.

Unlike history, the garden slows down progressively, from the frantic presto of spring to the andante of autumn and the larghissimo of winter. Then, of course, da capo.

Hugh’s Gardening Books

Sitting in the Shade

This is the third anthology of Trad’s Diary, cherry-picking the past ten years. The previous two covered the years 1975…

Hugh’s Wine Books

World Atlas of Wine 8th edition

I started work on The World Atlas of Wine almost 50 years ago, in 1970. After four editions, at six-year…

Friends of Trad

John Grimshaw’s Garden Diary