It’s a week or so since we got back from a week in the Umbrian hills. We rented somewhere that had it’s own private road. Whilst this conjures the sound of the crunch of gravel it was the kind of private road that makes you glad that it is a hire car that you are trying to force up it in 1st gear rather than your own – very steep, deeply rutted and both done dry and muddy alternately. The kind of road that never fills one with confidence, one where you ponder foregoing the stress of navigating it and existing for a week on foraged strawberries and cherries. During the heat of the mid afternoon it did however provide great cover for a walk, being carved out of thick holm oak forest, and on the side of this road grew an abundance of wild flowers. The views and flora that being designated driver I was unaware of when behind the wheel were pretty good.
Category Archives: Gardening
We’re just back from a week away in Italy. Part of my reading for the week was Mirabel Osler’s A Gentle Plea For Chaos, a book in which, amongst other things she expresses the joy that gardeners’ might feel on returning to their own patch having been away and discovering what has grown/died/flourished in their absence. A slightly damp underfoot walk around our garden was duly taken this morning.
The bearded iris was only just in bud a week ago and the uncut grass in the meadow area was mid calf with camassias still staunchly above the sea of green . . . no more, it needs a chop but then I’ll have to bear the week or two of it looking very ungainly. Alliums are already going to seed and the persicaria has grown into a monster.
There’s a lovely line by Dan Pearson in today’s Observer.
“I make a mental note of plants to greet the bees. Like them I want to feel that the spell of winter is broken, to know that growth is on our side.”
Having woken to another covering of snow this morning the spell of winter could certainly do with being shattered. Dan’s piece is illustrated by photographs of hamamelis, primrose and celandine, all of them that single tone of yellow that has to serve as substitute sunlight in the garden. It’s a shade of yellow that might seem vulgar at other times of the year; there are subtler tones of yellow and indeed the white narcissi, Thalia being a particular favourite, but the classic daffodil yellow hits the mark like no other.
Before the onset of bluebell blue there is an interim period of woodland white to seek out, with both wood anemone and wood sorrel filling that gap and the richest purple of wild violets to scrabble around under hedges in the course of seeking out.
The back garden at our house was the final project in our grand scheme of doing up the house. The front garden had been the first project (before we even started on the house – the urge to put a spade in the ground was too strong). I think of myself as a gardener – gardening is one of the things that I do. The back garden was a project though. The previous owners of the house would, I guess, not call themselves gardeners; thus the back garden resembled a (bad) pub garden, it was approximately 40% decking, 30% paving, 20% tarmac and 10% (dog turd encrusted) lawn.
The decking came out fairly swiftly – we wanted to see what was underneath (and the decking was used to build raise vegetable beds in the front garden), the low brick wall was next out in order to ease access to the back door of the house for building materials, but the rest stayed roughly as it was while we figured out the interior. The urge to buy plants was strong though – too strong perhaps, I bought and lost a multitude of plants because we didn’t have any ground clear to plant them in and they remained in their pots and were lost to the winter of 2010/11. Come last summer though we were ready to tackle it – cue weeks of digging out a pond by hand, moving the spoil to one side, removing paving, digging out hardcore, infilling with spoil from the pond area, ordering and then raking out gravel and building one huge raised bed to disguise an area to park the car . . . and then planting.
There’s still masses to do – the planting is still a bit scrappy in places, the soil needs some serious mulching (it had never previously been cultivated being formerly used as a cow yard – before the pub garden incumbents) and I’m already eyeing up bulb catalogues in order to increase the number of alliums, tulips and narcissi, oh . . . and the weeding. All that aside though it is now a joy rather than a chore.
I thought that I had posted about Bryan’s Ground previously . . . and I had – almost 2 years ago to the day. The much vaunted 4 day long weekend is one of those things that passes you by if you work in retail; bank holiday bank schmoliday. Tuesday however happens to be our day off anyway – and despite the rain we stuck to a plan to visit Bryan’s Ground, which lies just outside Presteigne on the border with Wales.
It can’t have been an idea that resonated with many other people as we were the only ones there – a tea break necessitated by the showers and two very soggy sets of footwear at the end of it but still a beautiful garden. The fennel held drops of water magnificently and the long scalloped canal was teeming with newts and water boatmen. Despite being relatively nearby their plants are way ahead of mine – hemerocallis and roses were both in flower – but it is the mass planting of iris sibirica under fruit trees that is the star of the show at Bryan’s Ground.
In some mid stage between moving out of our London home and into our Shropshire home I took a cutting from a plant in our garden there and gave it to a friend in Shropshire. I’ve since coveted this same plant. The current caretaker of it doesn’t really get it as a plant – she says that it doesn’t do anything, by which she means that it doesn’t flower. The plant in question is Rubus Lineatus and my plant was bought from Great Dixter a good decade ago; it’s not in their current plant catalogue and is somewhat scarce. Crug Farm in North Wales have it (always a good sign) but I think that I may try and avail myself of a cutting from it’s current Shropshire location before I commit to that.
Given the deluge gardening opportunities have been scarce of late. I have however dodged the showers and visited 3 contrasting garden experiences in the past week; Hergest Croft in Herefordshire (reminded me why I like Erythronium and dislike Camelia), Whimble Nursery in Powys (picked up some lovely ruffled dark velvet Auricula) and Powis Castle (steep, and home to an amazing tree peony in the glass house). Succinct enough?!
This morning (with it’s unseasonal warmth) prompted the opening of the first daffodil in our garden – one of those cheap jobs from a bargain bag of 50 purchased at a well known supermarket and which resulted in the scowls of the checkout person left dealing with the papery detritus that falls from such a netted bag. The single species narcissi that I researched, pined and deliberated over have shown extreme tardiness in comparison and are only just forcing their way out of the ground. In the current issue of Gardens Illustrated there’s a nice piece at the back of the magazine in which Frank Ronan deliberates over how gardeners plant bulbs:
“As the patterns of autumn bulb planting emerge in our still sparse borders they bring on bouts of neurotic self-criticism. What on earth were we thinking? We were probably thinking of escaping the thickening rain before the onset of pneumonia and more than likely we were panicking because the previous three delves of the trowel had sliced through bulbs planted not ten minutes before, and we possibly had just realised that there was one bag of tulips too many because we had been keen to get over the threshold for free postage.”
All of which is familiar. So . . . this blog may turn into Bulb Watch (like Spring Watch and Autumn Watch) over the next few weeks. I can see you are all gripped with the prospect already.