My Secret Garden – Herbie Collen

Life today is dominated by digital technology.  At our meeting on 16th April we had a reminder of how things used to be when Herbie Collen gave us an old-fashioned slide show complete with a projector which jammed now and again and sometimes went backwards rather than forwards.  This was all part of the fun in a presentation which contained a number of useful tips for gardeners, especially those with a relatively small garden …

Herbie’s title was “My secret garden” and he aimed to show how a standard rectangular plot in a suburban garden overlooked by neighbouring houses could be made a place of beauty where what you saw was the colour and form of plants rather than other people’s bricks and mortar.

Herbie’s slides were a visual demonstration of one of the principles of garden design that you shouldn’t be able to see the boundaries of the garden.  As with most gardens Herbie’s boundaries were wooden fences, a cupressus hedge and a brick wall but these were rarely evident because of the density of planting in front of them.  In particular he made an emphasis on vertical plants.  Major features used to screen out other houses were a tulip tree, a weeping copper beech and a palm tree, put out of the conservatory because it grew too big but survived.  There was also a brick wall covered with a vertical planting of ferns and Herbie’s professional horticultural training allowed him to graft and prune plants so that they grew straight and tall.  He also used standard forms of shrub and small trees for height and then covered the bare stems with other lower plants.

A useful lesson was not to be too tidy but to allow nature to do its bit.  Several of Herbie’s attractive specimens had arrived through seed in bird droppings or underwent a colour change by natural reversion.  That means being observant with your weeding and allowing seedlings to develop to see what turns up; not that weeding took much of Herbie’s time because he didn’t leave room for weeds.  The density of planting was a key feature in the success of the garden’s secrecy and very evident in the slides.  It was also a tribute to the gardener’s skill and the importance of soil preparation and good feeding.

Another feature was the use of successional plants so that there was always colour in the garden.  In one bed daffodils gave way to roses to be followed by agapanthus.

Herbie showed us that you don’t have to spend a lot of money on expensive garden features and accessories.  Most of his stonework came from job lots or off- cuts and a couple of shapely stone ladies had arrived either decapitated or armless.  He had the advantage of working in the horticultural trade where he could pick up damaged or returned items but we can all keep our eyes open in the garden centres for damaged items or imperfect specimens where a deal may be available.

Herbie was asked if he sprays his roses.  The answer was “No. if I get greenfly I squash them. If it’s anything else I take the leaves off.”

Our next meeting will be on 21st May when Martin Towsey will speak on Woburn Abbey Gardens.  This will be followed up by a visit to the gardens on 4th June.

Jeremy Arthern

This entry was posted in Spring, Talks. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *