Wednesday, 2 January 2013

The Garden

As I recuperate from the horrible lurgy that obliterated my entire Christmas week; frustrated at the time that I have had to spend in bed and lying around feeling totally unproductive, I engaged in some rummaging through boxes in an effort to begin decluttering for the start of the New Year. As I rootled around (what a lovely word "rootle" is, don't you agree?) unearthing objects that I had forgotten I possessed, I stumbled across a few old photos of my garden which on this dank grey winters day I find so cheering that I cannot but help wanting to share them with you.

This is the garden where all those years ago my interest in gardening was first kindled. Totally private and secluded with mature trees beyond the garden fence - this little patch of ground had potential. Although the size of a postage stamp; never before cultivated, full of blackthorn and laurel bushes, with briars and brambles alongside the wall reaching as high as the windows, the garden was a little sun-trap and simply crying out for a make-over. 

Taking the bull by the horns, I "called in a man". The quote that he gave me for simply clearing the ground was derisive and standing tall with all my 5ft 2', I dismissed him with the retort that I would do it myself. And do it myself I did. Well, okay I capitulated after my first ineffectual encounters with the vicious blackthorns, which slashed and tore at my skin, leaving red inflamed wounds as though I had encountered a wild animal amidst this jungle of a garden, and so asked a neighbour to assist and cut them down with his chainsaw. 

Within a very short space of time, thorny branches lay scattered around the garden and my next task was to remove the hoary old stumps dotted across the uneven ground. I am sure that the efforts required for this are etched indelibly on the tissues in my back, as although my leg and thigh muscles toned up beautifully through all the digging, I hobbled around in the manner of an arthritic ninety year old lady for several weeks after I dug up the last stump.

At last the ground was cleared and a blank canvas waited expectantly. I had already decided upon a gravel garden with no lawn whatsoever - low maintenance I thought. How naive! At the time architectural plants were all the rage and I had not yet learnt to acquire the patience of a true gardener. So for structure and immediate impact I began by planting Bamboo, Fatsia Japonica, Pampas Grass, Yuccas and New Zealand Flaxes. I had also begun to have an obsession with hostas, but that's a story for another day.

Laburnum Tree behind a New Zealand Flax

The prolifically flowering Laburnum tree was the first realisation I had of my absolute need for flowers and the first clue that deep down inside me, waiting to burst out and defy everything I was doing, lurked an undiscovered passion for cottage gardens plants - most specifically roses. I began to regret planting so many architectural plants which took up valuable space that could have been used for flowering perennials and shrubs. 

I constructed a wooden pergola to separate the garden into two and clothed it with a climbing rose - Mdme Gregoire Staechelin, honeysuckle Serotina and Clematis Jackmanii.

Geranium Johnson's Blue and a perennial Wallflower Bowles Mauve Erysimum drape across old cobbles onto the gravel

The acquisition of some old cobbles provided an ideal form of edging to the gravel and borders in the top half of the garden where I have the little French wrought iron table and chairs. Of course it was not simply a matter of arranging the cobbles - nothing so easy! They were all encased in thick mortar which took a whole weekend worth of chipping to release, with severe wrist strain as a result! 

To disguise an ugly fence I planted Rosa Rambling Rector, a mistake that became apparent within a very short space of time and which necessitated the removal of 20 foot long whippy branches clothed with razor like thorns. (More wounds to add to the scars remaining from the blackthorns). I learnt from that to make sure and distinguish between ramblers and climbers.  

I fell in love with the beautiful Arum Lilly which bloomed profusely from a small cutting given to me as a gift.

The Cottage Garden passion began to become more and more evident. I discovered Alchemilla Mollus, or Lady's Mantle as it is known with its froth of lime green flowers and leaves which cup the morning dew drops like diamonds, although many see it as a weed because of the way it self-seeds so freely. I however cannot bear to discard any seedlings and have made use of the many that have seeded happily amongst the gravel, transplanting them into whatever nook and cranny is available.

Alchemilla Mollus beside the old stone trough

Blowsy candy coloured heads of Peonies bloom freely in front of a David Austin Rose called " The Dark Lady".

More roses soon found their way into the garden; Gertrude Jekyll and several other fragrant David Austin roses.

Honeysuckle entwines amongst the rose over the pergola.

Over the years the garden has changed; a few changes were imposed through the weather - The Hard Winter of 2010 annihilated some of the plants such as the New Zealand Flax, Pampas Grass, Lavender and Rosemary to name a few. Unfortunately both the elements and the weight of the foliage have taken their toll upon the pergola and last summer one horizontal piece partially collapsed.

Slugs and snails too have also dictated as to what survived in the garden. Hostas do not stand a chance and the Delphiniums and one of the Bronze Fennel plants suffered badly one year until I had the pleasure and delight of two hedgehogs who stayed throughout the summer and dealt with a multitude of the pesky snails. 

The bamboo that I planted in the very beginning is currently striving to take over and is going to need some serious attention to bring it back under control. If anyone has any suggestions as to how to tame bamboo, I would be delighted to hear them.

Of course the other major impact upon the garden has been the allotment. My desire to have more growing space for fruit, vegetables and flowering annuals led to me taking on the plot and so I discovered that it is possible to have too much of a good thing, as it unfortunately reduced the amount of time that I have to spend in the garden and thus last year the garden was not tended to as much as it needed. (The rain and the renovation of La Petite Maison were also contributing factors that shouldn't be overlooked).

However this little garden has provided a haven and a little bit of paradise for me over the years.

A beautiful Peacock butterfly basks in the sun on the Buddleia Bush, with the deep purple of Clematis Jackmanii flowers in the background

I have spent many very happy days here, along with Florence and Freddie enjoying the warmth of sunshine and the scents of the roses and honeysuckle. 

Freddie would lie peacefully at my feet as I ate my lunch at the little table, perturbed only by the audacious blackbirds bathing in the stone trough undaunted at his presence; confident of his docility; while Florence laid soporifically upon the bench until the heat got too much for her and she would flop down to the shade underneath, resting her chin on her paws.

Time does not stand still though and sadly Florence and Freddie are in the garden only in spirit now. I am preparing to leave the garden too, as a new garden is waiting to be created at La Petite Maison. I will be so sad to leave this little garden, but I shall be bringing it with me as much as is possible - I have already taken cuttings of the roses, the herbs, the arum lilly and so I shall ensure that all the memories of this garden are brought with me to the new garden.

I hope you have enjoyed this rather nostalgic visit to my garden and you too have felt some of the warmth of the sunshine seeping through from the photos offering a glimmer of brighter flower filled days to come.


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