Was buying a house called “Brambles” an omen? (Part three)
“Every snow drift has a silver lining?” or “Is it true that gardeners are the world’s greatest optimists?”
If you are inclined to classify yourself as British on those forms we all have to complete every now and again, then I’m going to hazard a guess that you’ve got a socially engineered propensity to bang on about the weather as much as possible. And if you’re further inclined to put “gardening” down as one of your hobbies or interests then I’m going to increase my bet that you in particular like nothing better than a good analysis of what the climate (micro and macro) is up to and the effect it is having on your plants. I feel fairly safe in making these sweeping generalisations – I am a happy member of this simplification – as I think that these past 12 months of weather have given British gardeners much to muse over and ruminate on.
According to the BBC Weather website this year the normal signs of spring’s arrival have been delayed by approximately one month and that March was colder still than December and January together – the coldest March since 1987 (nearly rivalling the infamous “ice-age” winter of 1962 of which I am happy to report I am too young to have experienced). It is certainly true that winter was refusing to exit stage left as per the normal stage instructions. So as the back-curtain is edged down and winter takes his final bow and swaggers slowly towards the side wings I thought I would write up a few observations about how my garden here at Brambles has fared. As I raise my head from the daily grind of work, school runs and housework it seems to me that the year has been on fast-forward and I am confounded at the fact that we are practically halfway through the year already. Look outside however and nature has decided to ignore this. There is no interest in the Gregorian calendar months that are slipping by and being in the garden at the moment is to experience a degree of time travel – back to approximately early April depending upon where you live.
This “extra time” is an absolute gift that the weather systems have conspired to hand to me. You see, my garden is invariably left to its own devices from mid-October through to early March. There are definitely months during most winters where the garden will not see me at all! This is generally down to the fact that I work full-time and so weekday gardening is just not possible in the short days and that the run up to Christmas is beyond crazy-busy with my two children having social diaries that would exhaust the Queen! During this five month absence therefore my garden happily decays back in on itself, flopping inwardly against the cold and attempting to revert back to its ‘field’ status. It reminds me of Greta Garbo – “I want to be alone” – actually rather pleased to remain out of the limelight and enjoying the enforced reclusive hibernation away from me. Meanwhile I stand forlornly at the French doors peering out, Christmas lights blinking behind me, onto the cold-shoulder of my garden, fretting that my plans are not progressing fast enough or with enough skill or fervour!
So it was with some relief that I was finally able to get outside this year and grab my obdurate, wayward garden by the shoulders and force it back towards the light-side. According to my garden journal this year that was 17th March. Only seven days later than 2012 interestingly – but feeling a whole lot later. I set about the first task of clearing all of the decay and getting down to the hard graft of weeding. The garden has five main borders in it – the largest of which runs the entire length of the plot and so is approximately 300 feet long. I try to be methodical in my weeding of these – mainly so that I remember from week to week what I’ve done. Now normally, the first run through will take from March to end of May for me to progress from the top of the garden down to the house, weeding the borders as I go. But this year I was completed by 7th April. A full four weeks earlier than 2012! Celebrations were held – documented by my ecstatic, if rather banal journal notes of “Phew! Finished! Amazed!”
This productivity is a direct result of the weather being as consistently bad and cold has it has been. Normally you see I am overtaken by the F1 roar of the perennial weeds (see my last blog post) as their turbo boosters kick in and they accelerate past me and my garden fork to put on huge leaf growth and deep, deep roots. I am usually left standing, hands on hips staring in despair thinking I am defeated – but not this year! The awful weather has dealt me a trump hand! I have had the time between the first step into the garden and the growing season really kicking in to get through the entire borders. The weeds were just lining up on the grid ready for the ‘pedals to the metal’ moment when I was able to pounce and eradicate them!
Okay – I say eradicate in the blind and comfortable denial I often like to deploy in life. Weeding is a constant cycle that means every month I have to start at the top and work my way, weekend by weekend, back down the garden, interspersed with the other more enjoyable chores – seed sowing, potting on etc. etc that needs to happen. But nevertheless I am nursing a burgeoning love of the perma-frosts we’ve suffered and a hope that every winter turns out that way. Because for the first time since moving to Brambles I have been able to feel on top of this garden and able to carve my vision more permanently and indelibly into the borders without the blurring and obfuscation of the thistles, nettles, creeping buttercup and Rosebay Willow Herb.
Whilst my hard-coded practicality is whispering that I shouldn’t be too smug, that there is time a plenty of the garden to be out of control in a jiffy again, I cannot let this breaking point go without some celebration of it and so I share with you my garden highlights of the year so far: These are pictures that I take to remind myself of the garden’s progress through the year and for my own self-aggrandisement and pleasure (my Facebook friends are quite resigned to being bombarded by the latest ‘flower of the week’ pictures in their newsfeeds!)
One of the first flowers to brave the winter chill – but of course ‘brave’ is the wrong adjective as, to these Hellebores Orientalis, the cold is delightful. Encouraging one to have to bend down to them and lift their flowers skyward they make the job of gardening next to them a treat – the chance to see them up close is one’s reward for the hard graft.
Narcissus “Cheerfulness” in all its Orchid-esque glory. These are not only very pretty and luxuriant they bulk up year on year very nicely and have a pleasant fragrance. They’re grown in the raised border that is on the terrace area so that it is possible to look directly into their faces. Frankly the person who named them knew what they were talking about – they make me cheerful!
Tulips have been one of my disasters this year – this specimen is the best of a rotten bunch I’m afraid. They started off looking promising and of course I was grateful to see their leaves poking up through the gravel in the pots, but as soon as they were up they have faded quickly. Did anyone else have the same experience I wonder, or is it just me being unlucky? These go down on the ‘must try harder’ next year list.
Emergent lilac buds against the best of sky-blues. A clear sign that spring was properly on its way and celebrated accordingly on the day it was taken. A simple but soulfully compelling shot of energy form the garden – one that I have no real part to play in other than a tickle of pruning after flowering.
The garden enters its blue phase. This is my one specimen of bearded iris – name unknown as it was purchased from a local charity plant sale. I am hopeful that it will bulk up quickly so that I can divide it and create more ‘exclamation marks’ of it throughout this border. They’re short lived flowers, but definitely worth it whilst they’re here. I find it hard to keep my eyes off them. Behind the Iris are the ‘local’ wallflowers; grown from seed that my Mother collected from her garden. Again; name unknown therefore, but the scent is one of the best honeyed wallflower scents I’ve had the pleasure to weed amongst. They will annoy me in their raggedly appearance as they progress to set-seed but I will put up with them so that I am able to collect that seed and keep that fragrance connection alive.
Perennial Cornflowers have to have one of the best blue colours around in my humble opinion. These have been untouched by the freezing temperatures as befits their continental European heritage. I have managed to get them staked this year though to prevent them flopping about later on in the season and smothering their neighbours as they did last year.
Sweet pea frames in place – as instructed by Monty Don this weekend just gone (not personally you understand, just on the telly via Gardeners’ World!). The sweet peas are also in the ground (unseen in the photo) and are ‘Navy Blue’. Grown from seed in my usual way; no pre-soaking or faffing, just put into long-tom pots to allow for good long root runs and kept in the greenhouse to give them a bit more shelter. I hope that they will produce a great show later in the summer and provide lots of cut flowers for the house. Even with last year’s wash-out summer I got quite churlishly fed-up of having to keep cutting sweet peas, the volume of flowers on them was so great. I happily look forward to getting royally annoyed with this ‘chore’ again this year!
The Mysotis (Forget-Me-Nots) this year have been stunning. Outright blankets of them spread sporadically throughout the borders giving a much wanted regular rhythm to the place. I might add that this is their own doing, not my conceit but I am happy to take the plaudits if offered! If I were Cath Kidston or one of the other famous textile designers I’d be very tempted to take this image and make some best-selling fabric out of it….
So that is a quick canter through Brambles’ gardening year so far. I wonder what your ‘upsides’ to the prolonged winter have been? I’d love to hear about them – so please do leave me a comment. As my friends and work-colleagues will confirm– I like nothing better than being able to talk horticulture.