“A garden is not a place it’s a journey”

There is nothing like needing space to put plants in to make one get cracking on challenging tasks and with cooler mornings of late, I’ve made slight inroads into restoring the garden after summer. My strategy has been to tackle the garden accompanied by a range of plants ready to go in the ground. The new plants act as an incentive, and as I clear the weeds, add compost and make room I can simultaneously plant the new season perennials.

A new landscape is appearing little by little, and after a lull of no colour, more rose blooms are coming out this week, especially where I managed to deadhead the spent flowers. It is inspiring and brings a sense of accomplishment when the tired landscape is renewed by attention. The blooms pictured are some out this week, and generally, in the garden, the roses will continue to bloom until May. Unfortunately, after the humid season blackspot is an issue as one can see in the photos. Nevertheless, the blooms are still enjoyable and both weeds and blackspot are being worked on as much as possible.

Once Spring comes with the changes made recently; new archways, a gazebo and the mass planting of salvias and other perennials, I’m hopeful and anticipating a wonderful season after the winter rest. One of the fortunate aspects of rural living is enjoying the diversity of four distinct seasons.  Winter in a rural garden away from the temperate coastal climate is entirely different and provides a fantastic opportunity to set things right in the garden. So many plants especially roses, are dormant and can be reshaped during pruning, repositioned or moved entirely as you wish. It’s a second chance to do it over again like an artist’s eraser and I can hardly wait for the cooler weather to get started. 

One of the most delightful things about a garden is the anticipation it provides.

W E Johns

Plenty of time has now passed in the garden to have a fair idea of what works well and what doesn’t. Although, during that time the climate has given us a few extremes. From the dust storms and hot winds of the drought to floods, from a severely cold winter to high summer temperatures and the year just past; excessive rainfall. So, any plants that are still flourishing are the survivors and have stood the test of time in my opinion. When I go back over my initial plans, I’m reminded of what was first planted and sadly many plants for one reason or another have not survived. It is all a learning curve.

A new addition for the front path is Salvia Azurea with beautiful ethereal powder sky blue flowers from Lambley Nursery. It will grow to 120 cm in full sun.

Autumn is the best time to plant perennials, and this season I’ve gone all out. Salvia Azurea, Artemisias for the beautiful silver foliage and two types of grasses: Stipa Gigantea tall evergreen grass and Purple Fountain grass. Mass planting of salvias and grasses can transform a garden and create movement, form and texture.

My vision remains as; a garden of traditional perennial borders predominately full of roses, architectural foliage, grasses to add a soft feathery look, and various plants combining to create different colour schemes. Silver-grey foliage and seasonal perennials to add contrast, colour and different textures. The rust-coloured obelisks sit like miniature towers with climbing roses, Shropshire Lad, Penelope, and Sally Holmes with occasional pots of daisies or ivy geraniums. Always, there are lavenders, thymes and rosemary. The new gazebo appears as if it has sat in pride of place for decades with Pierre de Ronsard potted roses growing up on two sides.

Billy Goodnick is an American Landscape architect in the Santa Barbara area of California. He is well known for working in creating beautiful, enjoyable, water-wise outdoor spaces. His quote above got me thinking of exactly what it is I am trying to accomplish in the garden now that several seasons have come and gone with some errors and a few success stories. The simple quote encapsulates very sound advice in growing a garden and the steps needed to get started. 

“As overwhelming as your garden might seem, it boils down to three questions: What do you have to work with, what are you hoping to accomplish, and how do you make it happen?” 

Billy Goodnick

What do you have to work with is a simple question to resolve in a new garden?  It is essential for success to know the climate, soil type and soil ph. The acidity of the soil for most plants should be between 6.1 and 7.0. It is also important to know what grows well in one’s area. This is easily done by simply looking around at other gardens in one’s town, suburb or region, chatting to others who have lived there for a long time.

The ideal soil for gardening is a good loam made of a mixture of sand, clay and silt. A quick soil quality test can be done with just a handful of soil, adding water and mixing it with your fingers to feel the texture. Clay will be slippery; the sand will be gritty, silt will feel moist and smoother. 

Having some clay in the soil is good because it holds the nutrients, but you don’t want too much as the soil may not drain well. Another good test for drainage quality is to dig a hole and fill it with water and if it doesn’t drain away in an hour or so the soil will need extra drainage consideration.

It is good to be aware of any restrictions on where you can dig and what areas have more shade or are in full sun exposure. Everyone has limitations in the garden and aspects they would like to be different, and it is essential to know and work within what one has and what can’t be changed such as structures, water tanks, fences, trees or pipes and cables.


What are you hoping to accomplish?  This is something that is easily forgotten and changes over time. Landscapes develop, and as the title above says; a garden is a journey, not a place. All gardens take time, trial and error, and seasons to pass to come to fruition. The ability to not be hard on oneself if it all does not work out as planned is helpful. The garden journey provides a creative way to develop an artistic vision. No wonder so many great artists were also gardeners who loved the play of plants, texture and colour like the art of painting.

Deciding on a garden style and exactly what plants to grow takes some serious mulling over; native, cottage, sleek and elegant, Japanese, formal, eco- dry garden, a child’s play garden, cactus or Mexican garden, Tropical, English countryside style, French potager, or Tuscan Mediterranean Garden. The ideas are endless. 

How do you make it happen? Planning is the key here and taking advantage of resources that may have been overlooked previously. Huge tasks are often accomplished by breaking them into smaller-scaled jobs and so bit by bit they get done and the challenges met. Being aware of one’s own limitations is important and it is well worth seeking help from the experts for tasks one cannot achieve alone or they simply do not happen.

“The best purpose of a garden, is to give delight and to give refreshment of mind, to soothe, to refine, and to life up the heart in a spirit of praise and thankfulness.” 

Gertrude Jekyll

The famous gardener Gertrude Jekyll is inspirational in her writings when she insists that all gardeners endure a range of successes and losses before arriving at a balance. After my exuberant start to the garden and passion for roses, I’m now trying to be more balanced in my approach and to use more plants that are less high maintenance. Mind you, roses still dominate and, fortunately for me, grow very well in this climate.

any plant is worth having as long as it is in the right place and with the right company.”

Gertrude Jekyll

The small changes taking shape in my own garden recently have inspired me and given me a glimpse of a new landscape where I’ve attempted to create a more harmonious composition. The area that roses struggle in will be replaced with perennials and other spots where roses thrive will have some exciting additions. So, with renewed enthusiasm, I’m preparing for the rose grower’s winter-bare root rose delivery, reclaiming small sections to make room and deciding on pot positions plus removing any roses with major issues that need transplanting to a better position.

Autumn truly is the best season of the year to work in the garden where the memory of Spring and Summer blooms are still fresh in one’s mind. And as one works, the resolve to stick more precisely to the rose management plan next season comes close to mind. New ideas and goals are set in place, like New Year’s resolutions, albeit in March.

As a garden gets larger it’s not possible to inspect every spot or plant on a daily or even weekly basis. I uncovered from my weeding a rose that from a distance I had thought was four different plants. It was just one and the growth habit was such that it spread like crazy across the entire garden bed after only one season. Clearly, this one will need to be contained in a pot once winter arrives before it takes over.  I also uncovered struggling roses hidden under massive salvias that despite being cut to the ground before Spring had engulfed them. It is hard not to feel guilty of neglecting the garden recently but sometimes life doesn’t allow enough time to potter in the garden.

Title quote by Monty Don

The title image is ‘Show Off’, 2021 new release rose growing in a pot at the back door

Content and all images Di Baker 2022

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