City gardner Sarah Heaton
Keen gardener Sarah Heaton from West London is our new green-fingered columnist.
The psychology of a garden is interesting. Busy, calm, a mess, sorted. It reveals a personality. The colours, the order, the texture can mean vibrancy or coolness.
Its owner would have inherited some traits, like shrubs, from earlier generations, put in some new plants perhaps annuals or herbs and maybe some misplaced Lavender. It may be artistic, it may be for the cook, it may be blank but for children’s play things, a pastime or needing some attention.
Perhaps a garden says something of its owner, as a house does. One friend has a long empty garden except for a huge spiky yukka plant, given to her by her mother-in-law and never to be removed! Another friend would like to sift through the inherited shrubs, redress and start afresh.
In a way, choosing plants for your garden, like psychology, is all about relationships, with other plants, the soil, the sun, the aspect. What combinations will work best? What do you like or dislike? What memories some plants evoke? What it says about you?
Essentially, a small, rectangular garden is a blank canvass upon which to impress your personality and create moods. I am in favour of creating round shapes in gardens. Living in towns makes everything angular. Plants help soften this. I like a theme of domes and spires. In the plant world, the enormous and wonderful roundness of creamy Hydrangea aborensis 'Annabelle' located near hazelnut tripods of Lonicera peryclymenum (honeysuckle) with their beautiful, delicate scent recreates something other-worldly, even spiritual.
Horticultural therapy works on many levels. The cadence of the seasons and simple tasks such as planting seeds in spring as the sap rises can provide a practical activity to take one out of oneself. Leaf sweeping in autumn has to be good for sufferers of OCD and what about digging and pruning for anger management – big holes and shrubs much reduced in size! Just looking at a lovely garden can be uplifting.
Colours hugely influence the psychology of a garden. Yellow Rubeckia hirta (Black-Eyed Susan) and deep reds or purples of Dahlias or Clematis viticella 'Etoile Violette' add vibrancy while the blues and limes of Nepeta fassennii (Catmint) and Alchemilla mollis (Lady’s Mantle) provide tranquillity. Pink Roses with Peonies and Sedum and Geranium’s like Johnson’s Blue give romance.
The mauve Verbena bonariensis with feathery Stipa gigantea (Giant feather grass) catching the late summer sun bring calm.
Mixing textures and shapes of leaves such as Ferns with curly leaved Heuchera fascinates children and adults alike. The ancient natural history of ferns connects us with an earlier, more primitive mankind and provides a link with continuity. I find particularly appealing the nurturing aspect to gardening. I run a gardening club for a primary school in inner London. It is a perfect place in my life to bring out the oldest sister in me: boss, nurture and create!
- Hammersmith Community Garden Association (www.hcga.org.uk) runs the Grow Well project which provides therapeutic gardening sessions for carers. The next courses start in January 2012.
- Meanwhile Gardens (www.meanwhile-gardens.org.uk) based in North Kensington offers many activities especially for young families.
- Thrive is a national charity that uses gardening to change the lives of disabled people (www.thrive.org.uk).