You Would Cry, Dave

It wasn’t my garden, of course. I didn’t own it, I didn’t pay for it – at least not with money. And when I left The Priory, my responsibility for the garden ended.  I stopped being its gardener in August 2018 but my love for the place didn’t end then, nor my fascination.  It’s been a rare day since if I haven’t thought of the house, crouched down in that green valley, tight behind its beech hedge surrounded by striped lawns, trees and fields.

Since I moved to Gloucestershire last summer, I haven’t visited the gardens but I’ve had nuggets of news from time to time. And today I had a message from my friend, Nick. You possibly know of him.  He’s featured on the blog several times over the years: helping me with hedge cutting, mowing the meadow or else I’ve watched him at work in the lambing sheds on Margaret’s farm.

Jasminum nudiflorum

This morning he told me how those now responsible for the house have cut down all of the winter flowering jasmines on the east side of the house.

Hydrangea petiolaris

How they have removed the gorgeous Hydrangea petiolaris on the west wall – a plant I’d encouraged, pruned and trained for ten years.

Fruit trees

I haven’t heard all of the latest and tragic news from The Priory.  I know that one of the fruit trees on the north lawn has been felled but I don’t know yet which one.  Possibly one of the two apple trees, my two apple trees.

Apple tree

Obviously, they weren’t ‘my’ apple trees but after pruning them for ten winters, I allowed myself to call them that.  In my final post from The Priory, I wrote, “Removing the sprouts and forming a frame of branches over the years has been bloody satisfying. I hope somebody, anybody, will continue to tend these two old dames.”  Perhaps my hope for the trees, for the gardens was misplaced.

Honeysuckle

Have the honeysuckles gone too? The clipped cotoneasters, the roses, the espaliered-by-me pyracanthus?  All the other plants up against the house? I daren’t ask.  I’ve heard enough for now.*  Maybe the plants came down because renovation work is imminent but I doubt it was necessary to be so very heavy-handed.

I didn’t need reminding that all of us are only short-term guardians of the land we own or tend because … well, because it is so obvious.  If we’re lucky, we have a garden to work in and then it passes to someone else to do with as they see fit. And yet this brutal reminder has fallen heavy on me.  Nick wrote that were I to see what’s happened to the garden since I left, “You would cry, Dave.”

The gardens aren’t mine, they never were but I think he’s right.

 

* As I reach for the publish button on this post, I get another message from Nick.  The honeysuckles are no more.

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81 thoughts on “You Would Cry, Dave

  1. Oh Dave, this is such tragic news, I am so sorry – you must be devastated. I can’t believe these beauties have gone. Plant something beautiful in their memory that you can love, nurture and protect so they may live on through you. Sending you big hugs xx

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  2. Oh Dave, this is truly heartbreaking news for you – I can’t believe such beautiful, flourishing plants have been so thoughtlessly destroyed. I was devastated to read this post and feel your pain. Plant something beautiful in their memory that you can nurture, love and protect. Sending a great big hug xx

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  3. Oh, crikey. That hydrangea was a thing of beauty. It is heartbreaking when plants that you’ve tended for years are consigned to the compost by others. Philistines.

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    • What I particularly liked about the hydrangea, Sam, was its non-reliability. For most of my time there, late frosts would strip out the flower bud but occasionally there would be no frosts and it would put on a such a show, as in the photo. Not knowing if it would flower made it all the more special when it did. Poor old thing. D

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  4. Just wanted to add another commiseration to the heap, it’s tough after you’ve invested years of your life and labor. When my grandmother gave up her house and moved near my aunt, we never told her the new owners cut down a concolor fir she’d planted twenty five years ago, dug out a barberry hedge, and her apothecary roses she’d used to make potpourri, etc. We basically just fibbed and told her, they’ve repaved the drive and everything looks great. I’m sure the herb garden is gone, too. It’s tough.

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    • Good call by you, Robert. We couldn’t miss the devastation wreaked on one of our old gardens. We are still friends with neighbours there and their bathroom window looks directly on to our old garden. Oh, the pain. Five years in the making by us, a few months to rip it all out and replace with lawn. Yeah, it’s tough. D

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  5. Hi David, I’ve always felt that most grounds belong to the wrong people. And it’s with a rebellious rather than a religious spirit that I think …”and the gentle should really inherit the earth”…
    I’m not sure, whether you should keep looking for another specific topic for blogging. You are really good and I’m pretty sure you could write a hilarious post about a rotten bar – if only it triggers your imagination or emotions. Be whatever you like: an anxious gardener, a guerilla gardener, a raging prophet, Slartibartfast….. but write!!

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    • ‘Slartibartfast Writes’ is genius, Marcie. Genius.

      I added ‘Mostly’ to my blog’s tagline a while ago because I didn’t want to write about just gardening. I ‘do’ the odd post about travel but I should write more non-gardening posts. I want to write more non-gardening posts. You’re very perceptive.

      I have a very exciting project underway at the moment but I’m finding self-doubt a crippling bedfellow. Your comment has pushed Mr Self-Doubt back under the stairs, switched off the light and slammed the door. For now. Thank you.

      David

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  6. We move on; others assume the stewardship. Things change. I’ve always made a point of never going back because I would expect “the newbies” to have changed things to suit them and ripped out plants that I’d lovingly grown from seeds or cuttings and tended for years. Though I must admit that what seems to have happened is a little on the drastic side. But, then, consider the feelings of your hairstyling consultant back in Sussex when he sees your latest likeness 😉 Must look for your post about Heligan!

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    • Oh, cripes. Don’t tell Gary the best barber in Sussex about my new barnet. He’ll have my guts for … well, I don’t quite know but he’d find a use. If you find my Heligan post, do say. I’d be fascinated to read it. D p.s. I haven’t written a post about Heligan?

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  7. Teary eyed with you. That is criminal- lopping off that hydrangea. Also the jasmine and the honeysuckle of course..but i have never seen a better-tended hydrangea. Phooey to them!
    Lots of hugs

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  8. Hi Dave, They could have at least given them a full year to really know what works. When we moved here you cannot know what delights await so you need to take your time. Lets hope they have a big scheme in mind but it does not look promising! Who could not enjoy a Hydrangea petiolaris!

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    • Hi Steve, without going into too much detail about what’s going on now with the management of The Priory, I think your very sensible suggestion isn’t something that would occur to them or if it did, they wouldn’t bother. No big scheme for the garden either, I’m afraid. I’m going to continue hoping that the house will one day pass on to someone who will nurture it. All I can do really, D

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  9. I’ll cry with you. Our first garden was converted to pool and paving – but they did leave the trees around the edges. The second I am sure the pond is dry after the drought, It’s hard to ‘go back’.

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  10. So sorry to hear this. I really enjoyed your blog about “your” garden so this is really sad. I am growing a hydrangea peteolaris against a fence; it’s only in its 3rd year so just a baby but I would be upset if I nurtured it for years and it was destroyed. Could you do a new blog about your current garden?

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    • Hi Anne, I’m wondering whether I’ve got space for a climbing hydrangea in my new garden but I fear not. Good luck with yours – they can take a while to get going in my experience. There isn’t much to relate about my new garden at the moment but I’ll see what I can do, D

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  11. Saw a good comment displayed at Chelsea this week “Nature always bats last”….
    Your garden will come back but perhaps not in the way you would recognise now – try and move on however sad you must feel…. have very much enjoyed your writing -keep going!

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    • That is a good comment. Thanks. The garden was in a parlous state when I started working there in 2008 – so you’re right. It can/will come back. Just a shame that it’s taking several steps backwards first. D

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  12. Oh Dave how heartbreaking – I’ve deliberately not hit the ‘like’ button as there is nothing to like. I often wonder what has happened to my Worthing garden. I understand its a family with loud young children a dog that barks all the time and a large trampoline, so I can’t imagine much care is given to the garden. Try not to dwell on it, although it is hard not to feel sad and a little angry.

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    • Hi Ronnie, thank you. I had a similar garden experience to you – was told by the buyers how much they loved the garden, were enthusiastic about growing veg, would tend the espaliered apples, wouldn’t change a thing. And then promptly ripped it all out as soon as they were able. Tsk. D

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  13. With a heavy heart I read about the vandalism of the Priory garden. It’s more than sad it’s heartbreaking. But what I miss more is your chronicaling of your garden Would you please consider returning to blogging about your adventures. I live on the Prairies in western Canada, your writing was and is an inspiration to garden in this short growing season. Thank you

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    • Hi Carole, I’m so very aware that I haven’t been blogging very much. I’m sorry. If it’s any consolation part of the reason is that there isn’t much to relate about our new garden nor the gardens I’m currently working in. But it’s also because I’m involved in a new project which I hope to announce here on the blog soon. Or perhaps not! If it’s the latter, I’ll have more time for blogging. D

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  14. I’m so sorry to hear this, it must be heartbreaking. As someone who tends a large garden for a job I can imagine what it must feel like when you have put your heart and soul, and blood and sweat into creating something special. Just try and focus on the wonderful stuff you did and the joy you brought to so many people through your writing. It inspired me.

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  15. In the last two years I also have given up two gardens I loved. I maintained a cemetery garden in Barnsley for twenty years and transformed brambles to flowers. After 18 months I just don’t want to see it and as I travelled forty miles I am unlikely to do so. More happily at Bolton Percy churchyard a team of volunteers have taken it on and it is really lovely. They sometimes call me back to help!

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    • Brambles to flowers made me smile. Gosh but I’ve dug up and cut back an awful lot of bramble in my time – some of an alarming size. Glad you’ve moved on happily, Roger. I shall too. D

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  16. When our mother died and the house was for sale, my sister and I were faced with leaving a garden that she had tended for 50 years. We dug up as many plants as secretly possible from her rich alkaline soil and replanted them in tubs and pots to survive our chalky gardens. The trees and plants that we couldn’t move, we photographed. Some new ones have been purchased for our own gardens to replicate the memories – we often wonder what the new owners, who admitted to not knowing a thing about gardening will have done, but change happens. We met up with Margaret and walked down to the Priory at Easter – the sun was setting between the trees and the spring bulbs were beautiful. Much of your legacy is still there. Hold on to the memories and cherish those photographs.

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    • Hi Debbie, well that’s good to hear. About your Mum’s garden but also that you enjoyed that walk down to The Priory. I can picture it so well, obviously. It’s a beautiful walk and though I must have done it at least a hundred times, I always tended to walk at a leisurely pace (even if I was meant to be working!). I’m pleased the bulbs put on a good show. They should carry on regardless, quietly. Thanks, Dave

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    • I see that, Helen! I still know quite a few people who have a connection with The Priory, if only walking past it on the public footpath. Asking friends not to tell me what is happening there seems foolish. I guess in time the news will dry up. I am less keen to visit now then I was, D

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  17. I had an update a year or two after we left our Surrey garden, that I’d tended with love, care, and creativity, for almost 4 decades. Like you major changes and choice plants that I’d left behind, not wanting to deprive the new owners, just ripped out and discarded. Those owners passed on quickly and new people are now there. It really no longer feels like “my” garden. But I’ve also seen the other side. Our 3 acres in France, bought when we left Surrey, have been drastically changed by us, in the process of changing a typical French country “parkland” style into a garden. Many trees and shrubs (dead, diseased, dying, or for some simply in the wrong place) have come out, to be replaced by choice specimens in designed areas. We are excited about what we are doing, but it is quite possible that our predecessors feel differently. Change is complex. I hope your feelings of loss pass.

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    • Thanks. No-one expects a garden one has worked in to remain in aspic (unless you work in a historic garden, I guess). And I didn’t expect the Priory garden to stay unchanged either but the loss of particular plants I knew and loved is particularly bitter. I now know that the apple trees haven’t been felled but either a greengage or a cherry tree has – I can’t think why. I suppose it is no longer my business and, as so many have said here, it’s time to draw a veil over the garden I once worked in. But I find that quite tough too. Change is indeed complex. Good luck with your continued work in France. Sounds lovely. D

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  18. As a Gardener in your situation I supposed it is best not to look back. I went back to a garden I had for 15 years. I know all too well how you must feel.

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    • Thanks, Lisa. Nick sent through loads of photos of the state of the gardens which I didn’t feel I could share – given that I no longer work there. The ‘gardeners’ now working there are accomplished cowboys. It really is shocking. Perhaps it’s best that my romantic view of what was has been popped. Makes it easier to move on. D

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  19. I’m so so sorry- that’s literally heartbreaking. If it helps at all I just ordered a honeysuckle like “yours” literally RIGHT now- it’s beauty inspired the planting of another one… perhaps that’s a legacy of sorts

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  20. I empathize. It is a tough thing to experience. A feeling of loss and helplessness. And hurt, even anger. When you have tended something so lovingly, for so long, it is not simply a thing, but part of one’s life.

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  21. A gardener’s worst nightmare! So sorry to read about the drastic changes at the Priory. Even though we acknowledge that we are but passing through this life, it is hard not to become attached to what we create and tend.
    We’re mulling over downsizing this house, but I greatly fear that 30 years of gardening will be hard to put behind me. Change isn’t easy.

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  22. How devastating ….. perhaps a good time to look down your nose and feel superior. Surely the gardens must have been quite a draw for the new owners in the first place? Who knows…

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  23. Hello Dave, My heart weeps. We have been in our current property since August 2016 and since then I have worked my guts out in an attempt to create a ‘garden’. The property is now for sale and I have sworn never to drive by (I made that mistake before!). I just do not understand people they buy something of beauty then destroy. ‘My’ garden is nothing like ‘the Priory’ but ‘Cloud 9’ has been and still is (until a new buyer is found) a labour of love: https://photos.app.goo.gl/XboG3Pn6GZLCxRXUA

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    • Amazing photos, Irene. I’ve never put that amount of work into a garden of mine in such a short time. I love the Brugmansia – you really shouldn’t have any problem selling. Good luck, but yeah probably best stay away after the move. D

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  24. Your heart and soul will always be part of the garden whatever happens to it. You are pages in its history. Shed a tear, drink a good bottle of red and know we all feel for you. It’s a sad reminder that nothing is forever…

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  25. And, vicariously, your blog followers gardened and loved The Priory garden with you. How sad for you (and us) to see old garden friends disappear after years of your care.
    May your new home and garden eventually fill the spaces.

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  26. I created 3 gardens in homes I had to leave. All are gone now. Working on my 4th and hopefully last. I want my ashes buried in it when death comes.

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    • I’ve only had one personal garden almost completely ripped out after we left – to my knowledge. But it was, of course, the one we worked hardest in and invested the most time and money in. The person who bought it off us had expressed her delight in the garden and said how she wouldn’t change a thing! D

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  27. If you care about what you do then you develop an emotional attachment. It is almost a period of grieving you have to go through. In a previous life I use to manage a pedigree dairy herd, as if it was my own. It was sad to see five years after I left to hear of poor management and then to see it being sold. However we must look forward and be positive, at least I now have my own garden.

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  28. That is SO sad. I too used to love reading about your endeavours in
    the priory garden. This news must have been totally shattering.
    Wise words from others, just go forwards and enjoy what you have now
    with you and your partner.
    I look forward to your next blog.

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  29. SO sorry to read of these events David… As you note, the changes that happen to a garden after one leaves are not in one’s control, and yet… after such a long stretch of nurturing, shaping, growing and loving a place… anything but easy to see. I think the advice of a previous commenter was perfect: Don’t go back and don’t get updates, at least until several years have lessened the effect. Must at least feel great to know that you documented the Priory so well, and have a record of all that you did and loved.. Which reminds me, must go back and read some of them… You are such an apt chronicler and great at capturing the feel of a place in photos.. Think how Sandra and Nori Pope must have felt when Hadspen was leveled… for a ‘new’ garden. Sending hugs + love,
    Jo XX

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    • Thanks, Jo. You would not believe how many photos I have of my time at The Priory – thousands upon thousands upon thousands. I purposefully didn’t post Nick’s ‘after’ photos because I’m not sure that I have any permission to do so anymore but also because they were so ugly. You’re probably right about not going back but the damn place still has such a strong pull on me I can’t help myself. But I guess I shouldn’t then have a moan when I see things I dislike! D

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  30. How tragic to have to contemplate what must feel like the slaughter of offspring! I once made the mistake of going back to a house & garden I had not only lived in & cared for, but had designed & built. A HUGE mistake! Large murals I had painted had been painted over with white paint….gasp! Like you, I knew it was no longer mine, but some part of your soul stays behind in the house & gardens, & it’s a form of soul-tearing to see the change. I would say, don’t go back & don’t let anyone report the damage to you! Ultimately, it’s a lesson in moving forward……

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    • All good advice, Treah. The Priory has been neglected for a long time now, even before I left it was noticeable. And tbh I didn’t expect such shocking news from Nick, just more of the gardens’ slow decline – which I could handle. I’m hoping that if/when new ownership happens, someone will enjoy bringing the grounds back to life in the same way that I did. And I hope they appreciate some of my additions too. D

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