Symbolic Forest Gardenblog

An experiment in container gardening

Archive for the ‘Inspiration’ Category


A few years ago, now, we spent a couple of weeks one September on a camping trip to the Mittelrhein region of Germany. We spent those weeks driving around various towns and cities: Koblenz, Köln, Mainz, Bonn, countless smaller towns with a town wall, four gates, gingerbread architecture and a castle overlooking it all. Towards the south of the area we visited every valley was covered in vineyards; but further north, where the land flattened out towards the spires of Köln cathedral, we drove along surrounded by pumpkins and squashes ready for harvest.

Up in the Eifel hills, west of Koblenz and Andernach, we visited the Benedictine abbey of Maria Laach, tucked away inside the crater of a beautiful, placid, dormant volcano. In the abbey’s shop we bought two souvenirs: a bottle of the roughest cider I’ve ever tasted outside Somerset, and a packet of ornamental squash seeds, a variety of Curcubita pepo called “Schwanenhals”, or “Swan-neck”. In our tent we drank the cider and grimaced; and when we got home, the packets of seeds went into the seed tin. No doubt to German gardeners they are just a regular brand of seeds from the local garden centre, but to us they were something of a holiday souvenir.

We never actually planted them, though, but the other week when working out what we could grow within our new set of gardening tenets, and as I was going through my seed tin working out what might be salvageable and workable within those guidelines, I came across the Zierkürbis packet. The seeds are obviously well past their recommended sowing date, but the longer they were left on the shelf the less viable they would always be in any case. So today, all 9 seeds in the packet went into fibre pots on the windowsill; the hope being that, should any sprout, they will be large enough to be transferred outside right at the ideal time of year.

Zierkürbis seeds

It will, of course, be slightly disappointing if nothing comes up; but better than never knowing at all.


More inspiration

The last inspiration post was a cemetery in distant Berlin. Today’s inspiration is also a cemetery, but one a bit closer to home. Arno’s Vale, in Totterdown, Bristol.

Arno's Vale Cemetery, Bristol

Arno’s Vale today is a beautiful wooded spot: but it was never intended to look quite like this. It was designed as a garden cemetery, a carefully-manicured hillside opened in 1839, the same year as Highgate Cemetery and a few years after the pioneering Kensal Green Cemetery. Like Kensal Green, it was run as a commercial business; and it was very successful for many years.

Arno's Vale Cemetery, Bristol

Unlike Kensal Green, Arno’s Vale started to run out of space in the 20th century; and as new burials fell, the viability of the cemetery as a business also started to fade. The cemetery management had to cut back on maintenance staff; and as they did so, trees and undergrowth started to take over. By the time the business finally went under, the cemetery was completely overgrown.

Arno's Vale Cemetery, Bristol

In more recent years the cemetery was saved from both too much decay, and the threat of redevelopment, by a group of campaigners. It now is owned by the city council, but managed and maintained by a charitable trust with the help of many volunteers.

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The last time I wrote an “Inspiration” post, I said: not to cause confusion with the blog title, but even though our little patch of earth decking is not a forest garden, I do find forest gardens inspirations, in terms of their atmosphere. The dappled light, the growth everywhere, the mixture of different foliage at different heights, it is all an atmosphere I would ideally want to evoke; but it clashes with our situation and our other aims.

Just to increase the confusion, this second “Inspiration” post is also rather foresty. This time, though, it’s not even a garden. It is: the Weißensee Jewish Cemetery, in the Berlin suburbs, and the largest Jewish cemetery in Europe.

Jewish cemetery, Weißensee

The paths are kept scrupulously free of leaves by the cemetery’s staff, but in line with Jewish traditions the individual graves are covered in undergrowth.

Jewish cemetery, Weißensee

Jewish cemetery, Weißensee

Jewish cemetery, Weißensee

The cemetery opened in 1880, and somehow survived both the Nazi period and Communist neglect. Despite being declared a “cultural monument” in the 1970s, at the same time it was threatened by a road scheme. Nowadays, its future is more secure.

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As I’ve said already, despite the title, our garden isn’t a forest garden. It’s too small, for one thing. As you can see, it is a little patch which is ideally suited to being a container garden, but completely unsuited to becoming a lush, verdant, dappled-sunlit forest.

That doesn’t mean forest gardens aren’t inspirational, though. Or any garden which is mature enough to have a depth and richness to it, so long as its gardeners allow it to stretch itself and develop.

My first “inspiration” post, then, is a large, rambling National Trust garden one can easily get lost in: Kingston Lacy, Dorset. I’ve seen mixed reviews of it online; but the poor reviews didn’t really explain just what they didn’t like about it. Its formal gardens aren’t that special gardenwise, but they do have an unusually large amount, for Dorset, of Egyptian archaeology scattered through them. Further away from the house, though, the themed gardens are much more natural-feeling; whereas the formal garden could have been shipped in yesterday, the other gardens definitely feel grown-in, even though they have been largely restored in the past 30 years.

First, the walled Fern Garden, including a field mouse I managed to capture a quick snap of before it saw us and fled.

Mouse, Kingston Lacy fern garden

Fern garden, Kingston Lacy

One of the largest parts of the gardens at Kingston Lacy is the Japanese garden, originally Edwardian, rebuilt in the early 90s. It includes several parts: a formal tea garden, a daisy maze overlooked by a bamboo shelter, and a more wooded area, blending in with the older trees fringing it. When we were visited, we were caught in a sudden summer downpour, so sheltered with our umbrellas, trying to take photos of the raindrops.

Japanese Tea Garden, Kingston Lacy

View from shelter, Japanese garden, Kingston Lacy

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