GARDEN-MAKING depends heavily on illusion, sometimes even blatant deceit.
In winter, creating illusions pays off handsomely.
Several stratagems now conspire to make areas of the back garden more appealing than others.
For instance, architectural features (and some plants) have been transformed using artificial light.
Lighting works dramatically these dark days, but to get the best results plants usually need to be lit from the side and from below, never from overhead.
Another rather appealing trick is to dress up garden steps or short lengths of pathway.
Examples here at Villa Marie include steps leading to the writing studio and washing line.
These are now strengthened in appearance by a few potted, evergreens some with gold and silver in their leaves, others with yellow and dark green.
They have been chosen for their refusal to be affected by cold and wet or to give up their special qualities under adverse conditions.
Rain only makes their leaves gleam with greater lustre. These will be replaced early in the New Year with quite a different selection.
Pride of place behind the studio is given to a structural wonder called Fatsia japonica.
This noble evergreen shrub is best known as an indoor pot-plant, but it is quite hardy outdoors, used primarily where a particular style or architectural emphasis is required.
The huge nine-lobed leaves are indeed very handsome, and in late autumn the panicles of ball-shaped heads of white flowers appear.
It is a common inhabitant of all the Japanese gardens I have seen, and it is particularly decorative near formal masonry or wherever a bold and tropical effect is required.
In spring, the unfolding hand-like young leaves assume a charming attitude and are covered with a soft red fur on a silver ground.
In courtyards, near patios, and arising from paved areas there are few better shrubs of architectural form, but it has regrettably been undeservedly neglected for these purposes.
Start with a young specimen if a large specimen is too costly or unavailable. A bonus with these is their energetic and enthusiastic growth especially early in life.
Any good soil that is not too high in lime seems to suit the Fatsia (common name Castor Oil plant).
Pruning is seldom needed until the plant grows to full maturity, but a stem or two may be cut out to improve light around any windows being shaded.
New shoots will always spring from the base and clothe it again.
On the other hand, it is singularly effective when grown in tree form with a single clean stem (see illustration).