Autumn colour came late this year, and puff, it was gone, leaving chaos and disorder in its wake. Now I’m a bit fussy about tidiness, not the best character trait for a gardener. And I’m not a fan of formal or minimalist gardens, preferring the organised chaos of more naturalistic schemes. This time of year I just have to man up and get on with the annual clear up. The recent mild weather has meant that whist some plants have well and truly crumbled, others are stubbornly growing on. No wholesale cutting back and mulching in this garden, oh no, flowers keep popping up, (quell damage, colour in December!) and deciduous ground cover keeps growing back, thinking its spring no doubt. So far we’ve filled six of our non-gardening neighbours’ bins and with one week to go before the council stop collecting the green bins until end January, the pressure’s on! Oh how I long for the leaves on the contorted hazel to drop awf to reveal its mystical twisted stems, but on the other hand I shall be so sorry to see its neighbouring blood red Ricinus inevitably succumb to the frost. And when do the grasses change from being architectural to a frightful mess? I can certainly relate to the expression on a friend’s ornamental bunny. (How I restrained myself from snaffling that little fellow home with me I shall never know!)
With all the tender salvias finally lifted and tucked up in the greenhouse along with the heuchera waifs and strays recuperating from the evil vine weevil, I can while away the time daydreaming and reflecting as I tidy up and file away Garden 2018. A challenging year, certainly on the weather front, with The Beast from the East then the Long Hot Summer, but what a learning curve. Confidence built, lessons learnt (yuck, cliché). Salvias, melianthus major & agastaches, which weren’t supposed to like the intense cold, survived. Reliable roses Rhapsody in Blue and For Your Eyes Only failed to flower in the heat. Slugs and snails almost extinct, hardly any wasps. But still the cannas didn’t come into flower until August. Win some, lose some.
And in general terms it’s been a year of extremes. Great pride and joy at winning the London Gardens Society Best Small Back Garden third year running; great shock at losing two of our cherished cats but great relief that two of our other cats survived serious illness. Deep sorrow at losing my wonderful 106-year-old friend Ethel. I first met Ethel when she asked me to do her garden for her as she could no longer climb the ladder to prune her honeysuckle. She was 100. She had nerines that were older than me! Ethel was a great believer in the adage, ‘Adapt or Die’. As it is in life, so it is in the garden. When Ethel eventually moved into a care home I continued to visit her every fortnight. Even then, she was always Up For It. Countless number of times she would reel off a poem she had leant as a child and I would look it up on Google and join in. I learnt so much through Google with Ethel that I would never have known otherwise: Why are yawns catching; do the nails on your dominant hand grow faster than on the other? And as a postscript, we are about to introduce a new Siamese kitten into our household. And her name? Why, Ethel of course!
We had holidays in Cornwall in October and Cyprus in November. Do you realise that it took the same amount of time to drive to our friends Bob’n’Patti in Manaccan near Helford, as it took to reach our friend Naomi in Paphos? 7 hours, door to door on both counts. Never mind Friends in High Places, its Friends in the Right Places as far as we are concerned! B&P recently had their garden landscaped, including the regeneration of their wildlife friendly perimeter hedge. Their house isn’t called Fair Winds for nothing, so all the plants must be resistant to severe exposure (something I am not, being the cossetted Londoner that I am). The temperate climate is host to all variety of plants that I have little experience of, or at least ones that I am used to treating as annuals. Echiums spread like weeds in their garden; so-called tender fuchsias & agapanthus grow in robust clumps. Nerines everywhere (again?). Schitzostylis Major on steroids! And imagine having a Trachycarpus Fortunei as the focal point of your borders. (Can’t help name dropping now.) We spent a happy couple of hours at a local nursery choosing a second wave of shrubs for the gaps in the original design, common to both of our gardens, such as hebes, hydrangeas and viburnum.
For poor travelers like me Cyprus is a perfect holiday location; driving on the left-hand side, same power points, taxi drivers with cousins in Turnpike Lane. You can tell a British ex-pat by the number of roses in their gardens. The only lawns to be seen are at the luxury beach side hotels, expensive enough to employ gardeners and sprinklers 24/7 – somehow they just don’t go with the local terrain anyway. Parasol shaped pergolas, intertwined with bougainvillea, frame the pavement cafes lining the streets of Paphos harbour. Oleanders and brugmansias adorn every suburban villa; ipomoea winds its way through the wire fencing of every parking lot; wild rose, lantana and rosemary hedges. Coastal paths lined with trachycarpus, olive trees, and banana palms. Cannas along the road side verges. Mega-aromatic pots of basil, lemon balm, rosemary and oregano, placed casually up the steps to Naomi’s apartment.
Of course, we made our annual pilgrimage to Tala Monastery Cat Sanctuary, currently home to 800 abandoned and stray cats, all named and loved and cared for by English manager Dawn Foote and husband Mark. Whether a fine pedigree or a one- eyed feral, all cats are pragmatic but barmy, illustrated here in some truly ludicrous sleeping poses.
So there it is for another year, life chez Broome: gardening, friends and cats. We’ll be raising a glass to 2018 and toasting new challenges for 2019. I make no apologies for my sentimentality. Season’s Greetings, keep healthy, live and love well. Laugh a lot. Caroline xxxx
Caroline Broome has been gardening for more than 20 years. Having passed the RHS General Certificate, she has since developed her East Finchley garden into a “personal paradise” that she and her husband invite the public to visit each year via the National Garden Scheme. Learn more about our contributor using T&M’s ‘Meet the experts’ page.