I’ve walked past this shady little front garden many times but had never noticed it before. Now that the Japanese anemones are out, though, it caught my eye. I like the contrast of leaf colours and textures, and especially love the crinkly, purple pittosporum. It’s an attractive, low-maintenance solution for a tiny Victorian terrace.
Now that our Indian summer has most definitely come to an end, I thought I’d look back at the first growing season in my garden. The highs, the lows, the courgettes…
My new borders
I dug two new borders out of existing lawn earlier in the year. (Actually, I didn’t do it, I paid a strong young man.) The turf was turned over and left in situ, then topped with loads of well-rotted manure and topsoil. I then left them alone. I was a bit worried about how they would turn out, but I planted the borders up last weekend, and the soil seemed good – easy to work and not too sticky or heavy (the soil around here is heavy clay).
My Eindhell push mower
My dad gave me an old Flymo hover mower when I moved house, and despite its cute retro appearance, I loathed the thing. It was heavy and unwieldy, especially on slopes, and it didn’t so much cut the grass as flatten it. I couldn’t face yet another piece of kit that needed a power lead or battery charger, and didn’t fancy going down the petrol route, so I went for a push mower. I did some research online, and found that everyone loved the convenience of their push mower and wished they’d got one sooner. However they all thought the grass collection boxes were rubbish. There didn’t seem to be much difference between the expensive models and the cheaper ones, so I bought a cheap one. It’s great – I can cut what’s left of the lawn in about ten minutes. But the grass collection bag is rubbish.
My garden is pretty windy. It’s on top of a hill, and is very narrow, surrounded on both sides by high fences (I didn’t put them in, and there isn’t enough room to replace them with hedges). But Gaura lindheimerei (above), despite looking so dainty, has withstood it all. Plus, it’s been in flower since June. So much so that I’ve planted a second one. Verbena bonariensis has also put on an amazing show. A friend gave me 10 baby plants this spring, and they’ve flowered their socks off. They gave the illusion that my virtually empty borders were full.
My temporary veg patch
I cleared a raised bed that was full of junk at the back of the garden in spring, and turned it into a temporary veg patch. As I dug out the bicycle chains, bricks, paving slabs, child’s hair grips, rusty nails and endless bindweed shoots, I could tell that the soil was actually quite good. I enriched it with some manure and got planting. My first courgette plants got eaten by slugs, so I rashly planted four more that were given to me by a friend. They all bloody grew. I now have some patty pans that are the size of spaceships lined up over every available surface. I also rashly planted two wigwams worth of runner beans, going against the very advice that I’m forever dolling out in articles. As a result I’ve eaten runner beans every day for about three months.
Sweet peas are my favourite flower, and it’s a sad day when I pick the last one of the year. That day hasn’t come yet, as some ‘Spencer Tall Mixed’, from a free packet that I sowed late, left to languish in loo rolls and eventually bunged into an unpromising part of the veg patch, have come into their own. They’ve got frilly flowers that look like cancan dancers’ knickers. ‘Spencer Tall Mixed’ aside, I planted a mix of autumn-sown plants, spring-sown plants and young plants, and picked them in succession from May onwards. I put them in a very sunny spot, and their stems got short very quickly in the hot weather. The sweet pea expert, Roger Parsons, suggests growing them somewhere that is shaded during the hottest part of the day, so I’m going to try that next year.
Mara des Bois strawberries
I’d been itching to grow these perpetual strawberries that taste of alpines, and I wasn’t disappointed. I’m still picking the odd one now.
In the absence of a greenhouse, I grew tomatoes in my conservatory. It was fine until they reached triffid-like proportions, at which point I moved them outside. I grew the much talked-about ‘Indigo Rose’, a black variety, and ‘Rosella’, a new cherry type. The fruits on ‘Rosella’ were ridiculously sweet, almost like a fruit. I managed to ripen some ‘Indigo Rose’ eventually (they take a very long time, especially outdoors) and enjoyed growing them – they look very striking when they’re at the black stage (they’re ripe when half the fruit has gone the colour of tomato soup), and I loved the little red star shape that develops around the stems. My only criticism is that they took so long to ripen that many of the stragglers got eaten by slugs.
I buggered it early in the year, doing too much heavy stuff. Hence why I had to pay a strong young man to dig my borders.
The lack of progress.
I shan’t be inviting Gardens Illustrated round anytime soon. Sometimes I’ve spent an entire day in the garden, with nothing to really show for it (except a bad back). I didn’t get half of what I was hoping to do done this year. Gardening is a bit like decorating – there’s a hell of a lot of necessary but unglamorous preparation.
I sowed some seeds in the spring. Not one came up. Not one. Nada. Zilch.
Red spider mite
I didn’t notice the signs of this critter in the conservatory until it was way too late, and lost my little lemon tree to it. I’m wise to it now, though, and have got myself a magnifying glass so I can see them under the leaves before they’ve done too much damage.
WHAT I’VE LEARNED
Everything takes a long time.
There’s always something to do.
There’s no time to sit in a deckchair.
Even if there was time to sit in a deckchair, I’d just sit there thinking about all the things there are to do.
Patience is a virtue.
I work in Cheltenham a couple of days a week, and the last leg of my long journey takes me through a park called Imperial Gardens. I love walking through it, and often have the place to myself. It’s laid out in the traditional Victorian style, with thousands of bedding plants, and always looks always immaculate. Come the evening, when I do my journey in reverse, the park is full, with groups of people lounging on the grass.
The planting around the statue of Gustav Holst is a complete contrast to the bedding displays – it’s mostly grasses, predominantly (I think) Miscanthus sinensis ‘Kleine Silberspinne’, with some Stipa tenuissima in there too. They’ve been steadily getting better and better since early summer, and are really coming in to their own now.
The park is currently one of the venues of the Cheltenham Literature Festival, and much of it is covered by festival marquees. I don’t think the lawns will look quite as immaculate when the festival has finished.
It’s impossible not to fall for the charms of St Michael’s Mount – it looks atmospheric from afar, and romantic from within. The garden is ever so pretty, filled with exotic plants (the granite rock acts as a giant heat store) that can withstand salt-laden winds. Succulents abounded,which made me very happy – my favourites are below.
The garden is a tad precarious – the garden was crowded when we visited, and when there was a bottleneck on the paths, it wasn’t hard to imagine someone toppling off one of the terraces. While we were visiting, a woman had to be airlifted off the castle path by a Royal Navy helicopter – a private drama made public. Her rescue seemed to take ages, the helicopter whirring rather menacingly above our heads. It made me feel fortunate to be eating ice cream, admiring succulents and enjoying my holiday. I hope she was ok.
This is Gymnocladus dioicus, the Kentucky coffeetree. There’s a line of them at the Piet Oudolf garden at the Hauser + Wirth Gallery in Somerset. Apparently they come into leaf late and drop their leaves early, so presumably Mr Oudolf chose them for their architectural quality. The seeds can be roasted to make a coffee substitute, apparently.
Much excitement has been surrounding Piet Oudolf’s new garden at the new Hauser + Wirth Gallery in Somerset. I was one of the people who was excited about it, so I was very pleased to get the chance to visit.
The gallery and restaurant is extremely swanky – some challenging art, neon lights spelling ‘Everything Will Be OK’ on one of the building walls, throbbing music in the exceedingly cool bar area and lots of trendy people. It’s what you’d expect to find in a capital city, which isn’t surprising as the other Hauser + Wirth galleries are in New York, London and Zurich. To be honest, it made me feel a bit uneasy – it just didn’t seem to sit comfortably in deepest Somerset.
As for the garden, there are some beautiful planting combinations (my favourite is below), and quite a few plants that I didn’t recognise, which is always interesting. The place was positively buzzing with bees and butterflies.
Interestingly, the non-gardeners in our group didn’t ‘get’ the garden at all. I tried to explain the naturalistic style, the planting in drifts, the fact that it’s all very new and will take a while to establish. But they still didn’t get it, or even like it very much. And I must admit it didn’t quite do it for me, either. Maybe it was the simple fact that the garden isn’t established – the perennials are dominating at the moment, and the grasses need to mature to give more structure. Or maybe it was the clock sculpture, which dominates somewhat (and ticks annoyingly). Maybe it was the bright green grass paths which look a bit odd, the lack of structure, or the lack of a sense of enclosure. I’ve been wowed by Piet Oudolf’s planting in the past, especially at Pensthorpe a few years ago, but this time I was surprised to find myself thinking that I’ve seen it all before.
By the time you read this, I may be sitting once more on the Rock Pool Cafe’s terrace, admiring the view. I took this picture back in June, when the British summer was shaping up nicely, and Cornwall looked like (and was as hot as) Greece. The red geraniums were giving the place a Mediterranean air. I’m going there this week, and I’m hoping that the sun will still be shining.
See you in a few days : )
It’s well worth taking a wander around Mells after visiting the Walled Garden. St Andrew’s Church has an interesting history, and Siegfried Sassoon is buried in the churchyard. Edwin Lutyens had an association with the village, and his work (including a war memorial) is dotted about.