The weather is so changeable at the moment it’s hard to keep up – from the deepest blue sky with flecks of cloud, to the darkest grey, thunderclaps and torrential downpours. I have been doing a kind of rain dance with the laundry – peg it out, run to bring it all in, peg it out once again – on repeat all day long.
Besides the raindrops on roses, a few other favourite things right now:
sifting through old photographs
a bundle of reserved books collected from the library
planning and packing for a trip to Brighton
juicy ripe yellow tomatoes picked from the garden
a flurry of blue butterflies on the common (apparently the collective noun for butterflies is ‘swarm’, though I think I prefer flurry)
In the evenings, I’ve been weeding and clearing the flower and vegetable beds, trying to bring a little order to the wildness and make space for springtime seeds and bulbs. The rain has softened the hard summer soil and the spade slides in with ease.
The air is still. Although I can hear the distant cars, there are fewer now, as most people are home from work and settling in for the night. I hear the slam of a car door and listen to the song of the blackbirds. A robin hops from fence-post to compost bin trying to attract my attention, chirping and flashing his berry breast.
The fruiting cherry tree was pot bound in its container so I’ve planted it out into the garden now and there are daffodils and other bulbs that need bedding before the ground gets too hard and cold. I’m sorry to say I’ve neglected the garden a bit this year – not cared for it quite as much as I should.
Once I get started though, I’m so engrossed in what I’m doing I barely notice the fading light – until I can’t see whether what I’m holding is sage or brambles – then I know it’s time to go inside.
I’ve got a little behind with my blog posts. Not that I’m keeping to any kind of schedule, but I like to keep a record of the changing seasons in the garden and further afield.
So here are some photographs of the garden a few weeks ago, when most of the perennials were reaching the height of their growth. As you can see I don’t plan any formal arrangements, and a lot of the plants here are wildflowers. I don’t have loads of time to spend in the garden keeping it neat and tidy, though I could do with being more methodical. I do prefer the wild and slightly unkempt look of old English gardens.
Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Quite frequently a certain plant will get ideas into its head that it wants to take over the entire flowerbed – the purple deadnettle or forget-me-not are notorious for this here. I just pull up big sections and they all settle back and work together… for a while.
Having lived here for over twenty years, you get a feel for what grows well and what doesn’t in your soil and position. It’s important for a garden to be given time to settle into its own cycle. You never know what is waiting to emerge. So many of these plants have arrived from seeds blown on the wind, or dropped by birds. Some, like the poppies, only appear if you’ve turned the soil the previous year.
A lot of patience is required to allow a garden to reveal itself to you, rather than try to impose your own ideas on to it. In the beginning I bought a lot of plants from a garden centre which, while pretty and unusual, had the effect of upsetting the balance here. They didn’t look right, they took a lot of extra care and attention, and most of them failed to thrive.
I suppose it is more of a partnership – you work with the garden and it works with you. Though I don’t do a lot of planting now (I work with cuttings or reseed what is already here), it is best when I plant the native British species that suit this soil and micro-climate, or at least those that have been easily and readily naturalised (These orange and yellow Californian poppies seem to love it here. They are not invasive and easy to pull out if I wanted to – I don’t 🙂 ) This way, I am less likely to be disappointed in the long run, and the garden seems to evolve in a more healthy way… better for the plants, and better for the gardener!
It is that time of year again, when every plant in the garden doubles in size if I so much as turn my back – that goes for the weeds as well. I have just spent the last few hours uprooting ground elder and the dried dead remains of spring’s forget-me-nots, and pulling great handfuls of herb robert and cleavers that were intertwining with and choking the shrubs. There are still plenty left for making herbal teas… it’s been a while since I dried some herbs so I look forward to getting on with that soon.
The wee fella in the nest at the top was rescued from the darned cat who’d deposited it on the lawn. She sat there proudly as if we would come and congratulate her fine hunting skills! Instead, she was promptly scooped up and locked in the house while we searched in vain for the little bird’s nest. The blue tit chick was yet too young to fly, so we made a nest in a bowl and wedged it high up in the hedge in the hope its parents would come and feed it. Sadly he didn’t make it to the next morning.
The fruit and veg are coming along nicely. We’ve had a couple of handfuls of strawberries and there are hundreds of blackcurrants ripening on the bushes. The fruiting cherry is a disappointment this year, only a few small fruits forming when last year we had so many. I think I may have to transplant it out into the garden rather than leave it in the pot it’s been in the past few years. It no longer seems happy where it is, perhaps the roots are restricted.
We’ve been eating salad leaves and leeks. My favourite way to eat leeks is to slice them and boil them in the same pan as potatoes, then mash them altogether with butter – delicious! The kale, beetroot and chard are suffering from the onslaught of slugs, but putting on a brave face.
The flowers are always a joy to see at this time of year. The iris, celandines, foxgloves, fragrant sweet peas and roses are all in bloom. It’s nice to be able to go out and pick a jam jar full of sweet peas to brighten the kitchen table every few days.
I’m afraid with all the rain we’ve had lately, the garden is a bit neglected. I’m regretting leaving it so long. The brambles grow over the fence from my neighbour’s garden and it’s such a tricky job cutting them all back, my arms are scratched to pieces. It’s good work though. The plants are no longer being strangled by the weeds. My body’s aching, but it’s a worthy kind of ache. I’ll sleep well tonight 🙂
Last week, a few warm days meant I was able to spend several hours in the garden. Spring has definitely, thankfully, arrived here in south-west England. As is usual with every season, by the time I have had enough of it, the new season is already on its way. No more frosts to speak of, and, though downpours are expected, the hail storm that we had a couple of days ago was a surprise. The last picture above is my newly planted sweet peas and the white flecks are balls of ice!
Even though this is usually one of the scarcer months of the year for harvesting, we are lucky to still be enjoying a bit of homegrown: leeks in various stages of development, winter salad leaves, chives, rosemary, mint and thyme are all welcome additions in the kitchen. Now I just need to decide what else I want to plant for this year… not too much, I have to keep it manageable for little old me to take care of on my own.
This month is the time when everything in the garden tends to shoot up a metre every time I go inside. If I don’t get rid of the weeds now, it will Day of the Triffids before I know it! It felt so good to work on the garden for longer than a few odd minutes. Leaves are bright and lush and plants are budding. A few specks of colour hide here and there: the primroses, spotted lungwort and a ladybird stopped by for a rest. There’s already been plenty of gardening and games of badminton, wafts of line-dried laundry, too much balancing precariously on ladders for shuttlecocks that the wind has blown over the hedge, and, of course, many cups of tea while sitting watching the squirrels and the birds prepare for the new season. Spring is here!
Feverfew is a herb that grows abundantly in my garden. It re-seeds itself all over the place and produces small daisy-like flowers throughout the summer.
It was one of those plants that arrived out of nowhere – a seed dropped by a bird flying overhead perhaps – and now I have several plants dotted around the garden.
It wasn’t until a couple of years ago, after searching for remedies for the horrible hormonal migraines that I suffer from, that I discovered a wonderful use for this herb. Feverfew leaves can be eaten on their own as leaves in a salad or sandwich, or made into a fresh or dried leaf tea. It has a distinctive and unusual taste, bitter but not unpleasant. And more importantly, it has a noticeably positive effect on my migraine.
For me, it works better than painkillers at reducing the pain and lessens my other symptoms like eye problems and nausea substantially. If you don’t have access to the plant itself, you can buy capsules of the herb that reportedly work just as well. Feverfew has other possible benefits including easing menstrual cramps and arthritis, and lowering blood pressure and inflammation levels.
So, maybe that old wives’ tale is true that the cures for our ills can often be found close at hand if we look for them.
How often do you look outside the windows of your house? If you are a blogger, probably plenty as I see many a beautiful photograph of gardens, snowdrifts, and window-framed landscapes. In these winter months it is not often enough that I let myself be called to go out that door and not be a mere onlooker, but an integral part of that outside scene.
For me, spending time outdoors is nourishing to my soul. I stop and stand and absorb all the swirling maelstrom of experience that is happening outside even when it appears to be still. From the swaying of trees, the deep browns, taupes and knobbled silver of their bark, to the sound of the hush between bird chirrups and the way grasses lean this way and that.
“One touch of nature makes the whole world kin.” *
This time of year, in my garden and beyond, the fresh green shoots of spring bulbs are urging their way upwards through the soft rain drenched loam. There beneath our muddied boots, is a living symbol of hope, an annual dance of yearning to inspire our own human possibilities, if we would only take the time to see it.
*quote by Ulysses, from William Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida, Act III, sc iii
A few mild days and I’m able to spend some time clearing up the garden in preparation for the winter months. The dahlia in the photo above that just last week was abundant with tight pink blooms, is now black and dead.
The ground is slick with rain. The rich sticky mud clings to my gloves and my shoes as I gather the lifeless stalks and brown leaves that have collected all over the ground. I snip off the old branches off the fennel and fuchsia, and muddy droplets flick onto my face.
Bo, our cat, hates the rain. Each morning she is impatient with excitement to get outside. She races around the house trying to attract our attention so we’ll open the door for her. But if it’s raining… a sad kitty will sit glaring out the window waiting for it to stop.
She loves it when we are in the garden with her. She’ll follow us around and play hide-and-seek and scampers out of nowhere making me jump. Can you see her hiding in the undergrowth, or disguised as a plant in the pot?
At this time of year, it is so cosy and warm inside. So inviting to stay in the warmth of the nest of the house, I often put these outdoor jobs aside. Yet, when I do venture out, when I don woolly hat and gloves and old clothes and get stuck into the rhythm of the work, I am always glad I did.
The smell of the garden is earthy at this time of year. There are few insects, and only an occasional robin or pigeon come to visit. The light fades by late afternoon. When I go inside my glasses mist over, and I have to peel off my gloves and wipe them with my cold red hands.
That’s it for the garden work for this year. I’ll be popping out to harvest a few leeks or some winter salad leaves now and again, and to snip a sprig of thyme or rosemary for the Christmas roast, but mostly I’ll hibernate for a couple of months til springtime calls me back outside to prepare the vegetable beds for planting. It seems like a long while off, but I know it will come around quicker than ever. For now it’s time to put the kettle on for a cup of tea.
A few metres away from my house there was a sycamore tree. At a guess, I’d say it was 80 to 100 years old. Its branches were home to squirrels, lichens and legions of insects.
I would often sit in my garden on summer evenings and listen to the pigeons cooing and settling down to roost beneath its leaves. My children loved to throw the seeds – double samaras – high into the air and watch them spin down like helicopters. In late October there would be a carpet of its shiny slippery leaves in shades of auburn, green, gold-yellow, and deep red.
Yesterday my neighbour chopped down this beautiful and healthy tree. I know how pleased my other neighbour will be that her garden will finally see some sun.
Sycamore’s are not a native species here in the UK, though they have been here hundreds of years, and I know trees don’t last forever. But, I can’t help feeling a little sad at the loss of this mini ecosystem that overlooked a corner of my garden. It will be missed.