The unique ache of breaking up with a garden

There’s no end to the process of making a garden. You put in backbreaking amounts of work and bank-breaking sums of money. You plan, nurture, cajole, tinker and then tinker some more. For many of us, the life of our garden becomes enmeshed with our own. What does it mean, then, when the time comes to leave it?

It’s a question that has been preoccupying Sharon Harris, a garden designer who has been refining her Thornbury property for 24 years and is currently ruminating about whether to sell and move to the country.

Sharon Harris in the garden she has been refining for 24 years.Credit:Eddie Jim

Having watched her Juniper Spartan hedges thicken, her Rosa moyesii ‘Geranium’ grow as tall as a small tree and every space get steadily fuller with perennials, edibles, espaliers, bee hives, a chicken coop, succulents, climbers, water fountains and wood-fired ovens galore, she says one of the things pulling her back from selling is the thought of what new owners would do with her garden.

Subdivision is her biggest fear, but really she worries about anything that overly changes the mood of a place she has blogged about, opened to the public and generally devoted great swathes of her time to.

While gardens are, by their very nature, ephemeral, we all know there is nothing like new owners to hurry things along. Think Melania Trump pulling out 10 crab apples from the White House’s rose garden, or closer to home, the frequent levelling of Melbourne backyards to make way for townhouses. Then there’s the everyday but not-insignificant tweaking that inevitably occurs as any owner moves on and people with different tastes move in.

The space has grown ever more layered.

The space has grown ever more layered.Credit:Eddie Jim

Even much-visited and widely loved gardens like the big, punchy Australian-plants filled one that Rick Eckersley fashioned over a decade in Flinders aren’t immune.

Two years after the garden designer sold his 10-acre Musk Cottage, he was lamenting that the new owners were starting to erode it. “(They are) pulling down the buildings, which will start changing the garden and how it was wrapping around the property. Everything was dovetailed into everything else,” he said while publicising a book on the property last year.

But Eckersley was pragmatic too. “You’ve got to suck it up and move on. It’s like the end of a relationship. It runs a certain length and when it’s done, it’s done.”

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