It’s Growing On Me
My evolution into Fotherington Thomas is complete (a ‘wet and a weed’, according to Molesworth). It’s all ‘Hello sky, hello trees’ these days and now, finally, after over thirty years, I’ve developed warm feelings towards my garden.
In the beginning I largely ignored it, and it wasn’t until, yes, The Blessed Alan Titchmarsh appeared on our screens with his gardening course that I decided to get a grip. There was a moment, though, when I nearly got sucked into virtual gardening, because it was such fun to match a plant with the type of location that favoured it, then click and drag your little bergenia or whatever to the right spot and be rewarded with a big green tick.
It’s been an extremely shallow learning curve. How many seasons has it taken me to learn that you really can cut stuff back hard and it will regrow lustily – as long as you do it at the right time. I can still see the look of mingled pity and horror on a colleague’s face when I told him on one October Monday morning that I’d given the mock orange a fierce pruning over the weekend. And he was right to be appalled, as the mock orange joined my casualty list. Similarly, shrubs in our garden have spent years in suspended animation, neither growing nor dying, as they struggle to establish themselves in the inadequate planting holes I’ve dug for them: too small, too tight, the soil too compacted for their poor little roots to find succour.
The internet has been a godsend. In the early years I had to rely on books but I could never find the answers to my questions in the index. Clearly I was asking about problems that proper gardeners didn’t even register as a thing. Now I can google any daft question and it comes as a huge comfort to realise that many out there have grappled with the same issue and I can benefit from their advice.
Much of my annoyance with the garden was because I felt that I put in a lot of effort only to end up with a comedy garden. If I’d done nothing and settled for the unkempt look, I could at least have been relaxing with a book and getting an even tan on my legs. But no, I’d been out there digging and stooping and hauling, and for what? The Single Flower ( a speciality of mine –– see pic), the red hot pokers that ended up as long black sticks, the gigantic mallow that had only one flower at the end of each waving branch, like a demented triffid in training.
And the horrors I had to face just for this: the stomach-turning beer traps full of rotting slugs; the trellises turned turned multi-storey snail parks, which on closer inspection turn out to be love hotels and nurseries; the not-so-deeply buried cat poo.
Looking round it today, though, I realise I’m happy with it. It will never be manicured, but there is little bare earth to be seen and some lowly bedding plants I thought would last only one summer have become cherished friends blooming year after year despite, if not because of, my benign neglect (yes, I’m talking about you, peach dascia).
What’s more, by now it’s full of associations: here’s the holly bush planted over the ashes of our beloved family cat Holly, here the hydrangea my sister gave me (and the plucky box shrub from her is now rallying after two seasons of box blight). My late father-in-law’s spiraea is just finishing, and the purple loosestrife we bought from the South London Botanical Institute, the curious Kew-in-miniature just round the corner from us, has completed its invasion of the back to the largest bed. Hello flowers, hello bees – I rest my case.