The other day, very quietly and without fuss, I triumphed.
This is the Bible Garden, formerly a patch of scruffy grass outside the Key Stage One area with some wonky benches plonked on top, at my kids’ school. And it is, at long last, finished.
The school is a Church of England school, so they wanted a Bible Garden in which the plants reference passages in the Bible. It’s a popular concept in the States but less so here – in fact I struggled to find any in the UK.
The whole thing was made even more complicated by the fact that the site was in part shade, and most plants mentioned in the Bible are of course Middle Eastern – so very much sun-lovers. Added to which this is Somerset, so damp (and last year, even damper than usual) and I had to be pretty inventive with what I put in there.
There was already a brick-built hexagonal raised bed around 1.2m high, so I based the design around that and created two connected hexagons. The teachers wanted it to feel enclosed, but still open enough that they could see in: and they wanted turf seats, and some reeds (for Moses and his basket).
We ended up edging the whole thing with a low box hedge, but punctuated with bay ‘lollipops’. I steered everyone away from turf seats – too rustic, too scruffy, too much maintenance – and towards raised seats with the tops planted with spreading Thymus serpyllum (I was going to have chamomile but it needs sun). Once small bottoms have sat on them often enough, they should make a lovely dense, fragrant mat.
I’m still not quite sure about the practicalities: after all, it rains quite a lot here so those seats will be damp a lot of the time. But I have a plan B in my back pocket, to replace some of the thyme with small 30cm square paving slabs so the children can sit down but still be surrounded by herbs.
It looks a bit bare at the moment but last week I spent a happy hour or two seeding it with the wildflowers of the field: Agrostemma (corncockle), Nigella (love-in-a-mist) and, slightly incongruously, broad beans, the closest I could get to tares. Actually, I’ve had to interpret the Bible verses fairly loosely: in the back corner, for example, I’ve taken Job’s verse:
“If I have stolen the land I farm and taken it from its rightful owners, if I have eaten the food that grew there but let the farmers that grew it starve, then instead of wheat and barley may weeds and thistles grow.”
…and replaced the thistles with purple Cirsium rivulare ‘Atropurpureum’ (loves damp, happy in part shade) and the wheat and barley with Hordeum jubatum, an annual grass sown pretty easily from seed and with suitably ear-like flowerheads. Should look lovely.
And the reeds? A pond was out of the question with small children about, so I’ve done a little bog garden in the corner lined with black plastic. In it I’ve buried a couple of ‘mini-ponds’ – basically plastic flower pots with the holes bunged up – for the real water lovers, Cyperus papyrus and Typha minima. Around them are little marsh marigolds (Caltha palustris) – no Bible mention, just a bit of spring colour.
It’s been a lot of fun, incredibly frustrating (I was building this, on and very off, through the wettest summer, autumn and winter we’ve ever had) and absorbingly interesting: in all, quite the most challenging design I’ve ever done despite its diminutive size. The willow arches, made by a local Somerset willow weaver, have absolutely been the finishing touch, and I’m so pleased with the result. It’s being Officially Opened on Friday, too – I don’t think I’ve ever had anything of mine officially opened before. I hope there will be ribbons!