If you are working from home, homeschooling children, or having to take care of all aspects of your own life without your usual support network, you might not have even more time to mow your lawns (or if you are like our elderly neighbour you might run out of petrol for your mower and be reliant on others to get you more). Why not let the grass grow?
On the spring equinox – 20 March – as the schools were shut indefinitely; my sister, step-mother and mother had all entered 12 week shielding in locations far far from me; our daughter was in lockdown in her care home and our son and family was also social isolating as our youngest granddaughter had been sent home from nursery that week with a high temperature I went out in the beautiful sunshine into our garden in a very worried, stressed state.
Whilst as you saw last month I spent January reviewing our vegetable and fruit production, obviously this is a wet weather/darkness type of job. As with all gardeners, as soon as I can after the Christmas/New Year festivities I am itching to get back into the garden to start the big winter clear up.
When we moved here we inherited an orchard of mature plum, pear and apple trees. It was our intention to also grow a lot of vegetables to help us eke out our income and stop us blowing our savings and for many years we only ate fruit we grew ourselves, and continue to grow and store vegetables for our whole year.
Continuing on from last months’ blog article regarding this particular bed in our garden I will start with my favourite plant in this border - Rosa glauca, planted centrally to the bed. I just love this plant – its glaucous grey leaves, its delicate single pink flowers so fleeting and so enchanting against the leaf colour, and then its cinnamon coloured hips that gradually change to deep red as the autumn progresses.
Opposite the Acer walk I talked about recently in the gravel garden is the grandly titled Shrubbery. This is a rectangular bed that has the steps down through the gravel garden on one side, and the boundary fence on the other
I don’t know why it comes as a bit of a shock each year, but by late July I suddenly go into a bit of a panic about collecting seed for the Hardy Plant Society seed distribution scheme. Each year I think I’ve run out of time and each year I have to remind myself of the date by which I need to send the seed to the designated collection person.
In the 80’s I assisted an ecology/botany graduate friend of mine to lead a botanical/walking holiday in the Plakias area of Crete in the spring to see and identify the spring flowers. We were not at or on beach level, but walking through the foothills above the beaches (where all the original villages were), and enjoying the beautiful Maquis environment.
The new garden area needed to provide some interest all year, but be a follow on from the Rose garden nearer the house which peaked in June, so that sitting on the courtyard in high summer you had a beautiful view up the garden.
Most holidays to various Greek Islands in the 90s in particular were during September and October, and we always encountered Fig trees clinging to cliff tops or beside the roads smothered in ripe and juicy figs which were a delight to pick and eat sun-warmed from the tree. We determined we were going to have one ourselves.
Jerusalem artichokes (Helianthus tuberosus) are members of the sunflower family, and in this garden behave like any hardy perennial, dying back in the winter from their statuesque stems up to 3 meters tall with their tubers sprouting again in March/April. They have lovely flowers like sunflowers too. You can grow them as a wind break in the garden to protect more delicate plants.
Like most gardeners I almost never sit in my garden relaxing - we rest on various benches during our labours for a cup of tea or coffee for a short time, seeing all that needs doing. Consequently I wanted something to look at all through the year as well as scent and colour.
Generally each year I have two or three concerted efforts to cut back or pull out the brambles down the boundaries, once in the winter, again in later spring, and hopefully during the summer as well, which creates cuttings material (ie the honeysuckles branches snap off as I pull out the brambles) but does not eradicate the brambles, which are growing in and through the roots of the other shrubs and climbers.
I may have mentioned in my earlier pieces about creating the pond how certain plants overwhelm the space allotted (and indeed every other space) and have to be removed completely – I’m thinking Typha minima here particularly – but it is staggering to me how vigorous waterplants are in their growth when you think they are either freefloating in just water, or anchored into very very poor soil in the margins.
You saw the berries of the Guelder Rose already red in June this year in my piece last month, and I thought I would look at other berries, hips and haws that are in my garden. I think of these as autumn colours, but some appear earlier than that, even in years without a drought or heatwave to extra stress the plants, though they don’t usually become noticeable until autumn when there is less colour around them.
The mesh seemed to be effective against the deer as during the evening, after it was tied all the way down the 50m length, they went into our neighbours garden instead and ate all his runner beans that he had been about to harvest. (He was not pleased at all!)
We like ponds. There was one in the garden when I was a child which was already established when we moved in. It had a rockery behind it which had two miniature roses in it – ‘Baby Masquerade’- that had been planted when the house was built in the 50’s and had reached their full size of 35cm x 30cm.
What a slow spring – and then a mini heat wave and everything started sprinting – the plum blossom out and over in eight days, and the pear blossom suddenly showing on 18 April, and then almost completely over by 28th April. In that week the garden went from flat, bare and twiggy to lush green mounds everywhere.
Let me turn my thoughts to cowslips and other spring flowers. Just past the pear trees that are at the far end of the rose garden, the hillside slopes away in a steep grassy swathe. This grass must originally have been “lawn” but had over the years reverted to a rougher sward, speckled with wild flowers, particularly of horticultural note – cowslips (Primula veris).
The original inspiration of my tiny border came after we first visited Margery Fish’s garden at East Lambrook Manor to see the snowdrops shortly after we moved here. She had planted the winter bulbs through Arum italicum subsp italicum ‘Marmoratum’ and I was hooked. What a great combination!
Last month I discussed the structural and ground cover plants which work in the beds for many months of the year, this month I shall cover some of the plants that I have used in the rose garden to make it floriferous and of interest from spring to autumn.
As we approach the shortest day it makes me happy to think some more about rose gardens. Following on from last month’s article about planting the rectangular bed nearest the house, this month I am moving on to the three irregular-shaped beds we created by putting the hoggin paths through (described in the October blog piece).