FIVE SWEETPEAS AND A CUCUMBER
Like a fine wine I don’t travel well so I have only ventured abroad twice in 20 years (that’s if you don’t count Jersey). However a promise is a promise: We have just returned from a visit to Cyprus, home of my oldest friend Naomi, to celebrate her 60th birthday. (I bet she’ll thank me for that announcement!). I had forgotten how exotic the Mediterranean was. Oh the flowers! So the British have their privet and box hedges, but the Cypriots have oleander, lantana and hibiscus hedges! Cannas growing like weeds at the road side, ipomoea scrambling through wire mesh fences, callistemon in flower now. Little gems (well not literally lettuces but nothing would surprise me) like gentians and eryngium, nestling in shingle on beaches and rock faces. Banana plantations! Cactus flowers 20ft tall! Whether it’s the British ex-pat community over there or just brute adaptability, the roses were magnificent: I have to say though that the species roses growing wild amongst other indigenous shrubs looked more comfortable than the cultivated ones, somehow incongruous, in domestic gardens. And green lawns, hmmm, a sure sign of British ownership methinks.
As well as being in flora heaven, the fauna was highly entertaining too. Opportunist sparrows, more like our robins, silently prospecting our alfresco dining – unnerving if you are not a fan of Hitchcock’s The Birds – quick as a flash, dive bombing for French Fries in formation, the final flourish provided by a hooded crow who swooped down and carried off half of an 8” seeded baguette complete with cream cheese topping. (I wonder if foreign tourists find seagulls quite so entertaining in Southend when they steal your chips; come to think of it, do foreign tourists go to Southend?) As in so many other Mediterranean resorts, the feral cat population is alive and well thank you. By and large they are in good condition due to trapping and neutering programs established by the numerous cat sanctuaries on Cyprus. At Naomi’s apartment complex, her Russian neighbour regularly feeds the resident feral community and it was highly entertaining to see them gathering around at dawn and dusk, staring intently up at her balcony willing her to hurry up with the grub. (Evidently there are Mad Cat Women the world over.) Like a scene out of West Side Story they roamed around in their gangs, lazing arrogantly around the pool in the sunshine, occasionally brushing up against rival factions. Clearly not starving, they barely lifted their heads to register the swifts that were dive bombing the surface of the water for insects.
However, here we are again in East Finchley. One week since our return and I find myself reflecting upon the joys of travel. Although I appear to be well on the way to conquering yet another phobia, this time flying, I don’t think that I shall be making a habit of it. Holidays are all very well but I won’t be leaving the garden to its own devises again any time soon! Oh the stress of it! Should I leave the irrigation system running or switch it off? Will I return to scorched earth or sodden borders? Two days prior to departure I decided it was prudent to relocate the dozen or so trays of seedlings and annuals from the greenhouse to our spare room. With temperatures so unpredictable and access so hazardous (plants-for-sale, hastily moved into the shade, were blocking the path to the back of the garden) at least this way friend Anne could keep an eye on them when she fed the cats.
After only five days away (trip dates had to work around our local Plant Heritage sale, never mind Naomi’s birthday) the garden had gone berserk! How do other gardeners manage to go away for a fortnight? Having loaded up the washing machine for the ninetieth time in 12 hours (slight exaggeration, but still, yet another reason not to go on holiday) I could at last concentrate on the garden. Once the nursery trays had been returned to the greenhouse (thanks Anne, what’s your secret, they have doubled in size!) and the plants-for-sale had been revived, it was time to plant up the T&M tomatoes, Garnet, Mountain Magic & Indigo Cherry Drops, into their final positions, then turn my attention to the patio.
With the assorted T&M jonquils finally over, I turfed them out of their pots, foliage and all, ready for replanting on the allotment. Not known for my patience or adherence to the six week rule, out came the rest of the spent bulb leaves from the permanent planting schemes. I’ll take my chances! You may remember my concerns regarding my two towering abutilons, well readers, they are well deadski, as my friend Laurie from the Bronx used to say! Quel dommage! ………..And five minutes later I muse that golden hop might look striking combined with blue ipomoea and black eyed Susan. There’s no sentiment in war, or gardening it seems.
So anyway, with Spring Phase One out of the way, next weekend is Hanging Basket and Container Display time. Yippee! Having successfully overwintered several cannas on the patio for the first time, I planted out some additional divisions in April. Hostas and heucheras, suspended in hanging baskets out of harm’s way, are slug (and Fred the cat) free. The piece de resistance will be T&M Begonia Non-Stop Mocca Bright Orange, Begonia Glowing Embers, Petunia Mini Rosebud Peachy combined with coleus Campfire & black and lime green ipomoeas. I love creating the patio displays, and whilst I was reminded by fellow blogger Julie Quinn that gardening is about the process not the finished result (more of that later), summer bedding schemes are like stage sets with a definite beginning and end.
Talking of Julie Quinn, isn’t it a small world. There she is, gardening away no more than 2 miles down the road from me, attending all the same local plant sales, with friends and acquaintances in common, loves cats and has medical connections. Julie made me very welcome for afternoon tea at her house where we shared horticultural experiences, knowledge and opinions in her beautiful paved garden. Thank you Julie, it was a pleasure to meet you and I look forward to seeing you again soon.
Last Saturday we held our Hort. Soc. plant sale in the Hampstead Garden Suburb. My spy tells me that, whilst queuing to get in, visitors were enthusing about this annual event as one of the highlights of the neighbourhood social whirl, not to be missed. I love selling – once a retailer always a retailer; shoppers still stop me in department stores and ask me where the loo is – so I was in my element amongst the trailing lobelia and petunias, “All plants on sale for £1.40 each.” I have however lost the art of adding up in my head and so hastily produced a crib sheet of £1.40 times table. There was a huge selection of veg and salad plugs and of course I couldn’t resist some extras for the greenhouse and allotment. Having guarded my purchases throughout the morning (funny how seemingly civilized locals can turn into marauding rabble when there’s a bargain to be had) I took my eye off the ball, for one minute I tell you, and they were gone! Panic set in; the Great Clear Up had begun, car boots were searched to no avail, fellow committee members were eyeing me with caution as I interrupted conversations to enquire, “Has anyone seem my five sweet peas and a cucumber?” Indeed, ever efficient chairperson Doc Page and the team had tidied them away ready to be returned to the local nursery, so I guiltily retrieved them and beat a hasty retreat! I am happy to report that they are all now happily in situ and growing on well.
So much to do, and without our usual mid-June NGS Open Day deadline it feels strange to be just ambling along with tasks at a leisurely pace. But my new mantra, “Gardening is about the process not the finished result” ringing in my ears, I can finally allow myself to potter gently on. Yeah right, until the next disaster…..
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.