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Diary of a Cultural Gardener - August 2020

The Hepworth Wakefield Garden has been built in two phases and the last few weeks have been exceptionally busy as we have happily completed the construction and planting of the second phase of the garden in the area closest to the Doncaster Road.

Our garden is unique, in that it is free for anyone to enjoy and is an open, urban site. This has meant that unlike most Tom Stuart-Smith gardens, ours has been created in public view and people have been able to watch every stage of the journey, as we have transformed a pretty barren piece of land into a new urban oasis. It is both a challenge and a privilege to share a garden at every point in its infancy. A garden has to go through some juvenile stages until it reaches maturity and it will take a couple of years for the perennials to form the fully cohesive mass of flowing colour and texture that we are looking for. However, people have delighted in watching the evolution of the garden and it is very exciting to be able to say that all the plants are now in the ground. We will soon be able to take down the final construction barriers, so that people can meander the garden as a whole and enjoy the new planting close-up as it establishes.

The recently planted area is sheltered by our new wall which shields the garden from the hustle of the A61 and creates a sense of enclosure – reminiscent of a modern walled garden. The understory planting gains shade from the canopies of a beautiful mix of new pin oaks, amelanchiers, cherry trees and magnolias. 2,500 shrubs and perennials make up the rest of the planting, including epimediums, japanese anemones, nandina and danae. We call this area the ‘Woodland Edge’, as it has been designed by Tom Stuart-Smith to evoke the verdant flora that you might find on the periphery of a woodland. All the plants chosen are those that have evolved to live in that particular habitat where they thrive from dappled sunlight and shade.

Nurturing a garden is a singular form of creativity, as a garden never reaches a static point of completion. It is a living community of plants, dynamic and always evolving. The first phase of our garden was planted last year and in some beds, those perennials have already knitted together into one tapestry and are starting to provide the ‘meadowy’ feeling that we want to achieve. In other areas, the plants have been slower to establish and where the soil is heavier, the perennials have not been so quick to form their bulk. This autumn will see a program of forking over the soil to aerate it and a bit of gapping-up and shifting plants to enable a fuller effect next year. In spite of this, it is incredible to think that only a year ago the perennials were small 9cm specimens, with approximately seven of these per square metre. When you scanned your eyes around the garden at that point, the vista was predominantly a sea of mulch. Tiny plants punctuated the brown as mini green dots and there was little to hint just how tall and richly colourful the planting would quickly become.

August has brought many highlights; not only have we completed the construction of the garden, but we have also been delighted to reopen the gallery to visitors and to welcome back our dedicated team of garden volunteers who will be a huge help in the garden as we head into autumn.

Katy Merrington
Cultural Gardener