Was Buying a House Called “Brambles” an Omen? (part four)
It is early January 2014 and it feels like it has been raining nonstop since Christmas Eve. The ground outside is splendidly squelchy; far from the horticulturist’s ideal and workable “crumbly tilth”. The cars, the children and the dog are all variously caked in varying layers of seemingly permanent brown crud and I have a dirty-(muddy!?) confession to make – it seems that I have not ventured out into the garden since the middle of October!
Frankly I am ashamed of myself! “Call yourself a gardener?!” is the internal dialogue that whispers loudly enough to register whilst I am otherwise distracted dashing around dealing with the weekend-devouring cluster of family birthdays that happen in Autumn and then of course there’s Christmas not to forget full-time work and trying to keep the house heated, clean and bills paid. But now that January has crawled around and the bustle of Christmas is over and, crucially, the daylight length is expanding I can feel my gardening desire unfurling and thoughts turning to green shoots, brown earth and bountiful borders full of colour. The horticultural retailers aren’t unaware of this either! Abundant plant catalogues are delivered for me to pore over – Sarah Raven’s eye-popping colour combinations for example, Thompson & Morgan’s mind-blowing cornucopia of delights – all dilemma inducing! Which plants to buy? Which to resist!
So, given the Sunday newspaper glossies are chocabloc full of new year resolution clichés, I thought I’d go with the rest of the herd and wallow in a bit of cliché myself – that of looking forward to the growing season ahead and listing a few of my new gardening year resolutions. I’m keeping the list short to try to increase the chances of me actually keeping to these disciplines:
Things I did last year that I will repeat this year:
- Staking! This I promise to do very early on in the season again. I will create a wondrous network of canes and twine and obelisks for the various perennials to scramble up and between. I will willingly put up with the garden looking like a mad cat’s cradle in March because I know that by May/June it will be hidden by growth. It worked like a dream last year and made me feel so much better about my gardening skills. Ah, the joy of having upright plants rather than a flat slump of them. Thrilling!
- Weed Early! This is however caveated with “depending upon what the weather brings” as, if the soil remains sodden for a long time, my size 7 Wellington Boots will just make a compacted mess of the soil if I furtle about attempting to weed. Nevertheless I will definitely put effort into weeding the borders before I start with the seed sowing. Late-ish seed sowing seems to always catch up in a way that is never possible if there has been any procrastination regarding weeding.
- Chelsea Chop! This, for those of you not aware of gardening-parlance is the selective pruning of summer perennial plants’ flowering tips in June. This is generally done around the time of the RHS Chelsea Flower show, hence the name. Not only does this prolong the flowering of summer perennials it stops them getting top-heavy and splaying irritatingly into their next door neighbours (see also staking comments above). But more marvellously so, this activity provides lots of brilliant material for cuttings and therefore more free-plants. This year I will be doing the “third” rule – going through and Chelsea chopping approx a third of each plant so that I still get some early colour but generally the flowering lasts longer into the middle of summer.
Things that I really must and will get around to doing:
- Another confession here – I have never tested the pH composition of my soil! I think that it is a little bit acidic but I haven’t really got a clue. 2014 is the year that I will pay proper respect to my plot of land and learn more about its geological building blocks.
- Mulching – I am, generally speaking, rather rubbish about doing proper mulching of the borders and this is probably one of the best activities you can do to improve your gardening success. But it’s a tricky thing to do right – you’ve got to get the perennial weeds out before you mulch and it’s fiddly to work in around all of the established plants so can take a long time to finish. And there’s the fear of suppressing the wanted self-seeders. But on the other hand, I have been ‘brewing’ three bays of compost so frankly it needs putting to good use. 2014 marks the 7th year of us being at Brambles so should really be the year that I give back some condition and attention to the earth itself.
- Visit other gardens – on my annual visit to the brilliant Eden Project in Cornwall this year I am going to try very hard to wander about in the outside gardens much more and really study the planting combinations. The biosphere plantings are great – but I can’t garner too many tips from them not living in the tropics or the arid Mediterranean. I am also going to take time to visit at least one other garden in the UK that can inspire me. I was given a new book for Christmas called “1001 Gardens to Visit” (sub-text, before you die!) so in honour of and with grateful thanks to the present-giver, I will endeavour to tick at least one off that hefty target-list!
So here’s to a fabulous new gardening year. No doubt full of the usual frustrations with weather, weed & wildlife infestations and poverty of time but equally giving of scent, colour, graceful flowerific-form and (fingers crossed) blue skies.
I’d love to hear if there are any other October to February ‘non-gardening-gardeners’ because frankly it would make me feel less slovenly and shamefaced! I’d also be really interested in what your 2014 gardening resolutions are – leave me a comment below so that we can compare..