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Gardens: Down to Earth with Robert Barker




No matter the size or state of your garden, it can provide much-needed solace in these tough times, says Cambridge designer Robert Barker

During these strange and unsettling times there is one thing that has remained constant and that is my own garden. With almost a mix of arrogance and ignorance, while my own personal anxiety levels rise and fall, the plants in my garden are carrying on about their daily business as if nothing in our world has changed.

The wonderful point is that for most of nature, nothing has > changed. Everything has moved into spring mode and where there was once winter hibernation, seedlings are germinating, ornamental grasses are flowering, herbaceous plants are waking up and bulbs are bursting into life. To witness this is incredibly comforting.

People always assume that my own garden is Chelsea Flower Show standard but I can’t stress enough how disappointed new visitors to my house are when they first see my garden. The cliché of a plumber’s tap comes to mind - as well as the fact that I have two small children, a dog who is just growing out of the puppy stage and that I am so busy with work that my own garden always seems to end up bottom of the list.

Robert Barker's daughter helps in the garden (33542657)
Robert Barker's daughter helps in the garden (33542657)

However, despite the ridiculously large trampoline, the odd hole dug by the dog and areas that I am ashamed to cast a designer eye over, I can’t help but exhale more deeply the minute I walk into the garden and feel a deeper connection than normal to life and Mother Nature.

Like so many of us, now more than ever, the garden has become an extremely important place. Not only is it our main access to the outside, but it is an area for release. A place to reflect, contemplate, for children to run around and burn off steam.

My wife and I are still working full time, albeit remotely, so while taking it in turns to look after the children the garden is also an extended classroom. I set my son and daughter up with an area for them to call their own, for them to grow vegetables and a few flowers. Every morning both children go outside to check for any signs of growth. (Please, please, let there be growth!)

Even though the team and myself are still extremely busy at work - all of a sudden people are seeing the importance in a designed garden - I am now immersing myself in our own garden whenever I can. Making changes, dividing plants, sowing seeds that I had forgotten about.

Where I used to listen to the radio outside, I now listen to the garden, allowing thoughts and worries to pass. If you are lucky enough to have a garden, no matter the size or condition it is in, seek out new signs of life, take a breath and remember that even in the darkest of times nature finds a way.

* See robertbarkerdesign.com for more.



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