Garden Notes

It’s that time of the year when all gardeners are up and at it on their patch of paradise. Kim’s the plantswoman who created our garden from scratch here at the corner house some 18 years ago and I’ve been her willing deputy since moving in six years ago. Descended from a long line of gardeners, with the practised artist’s eye for colour, form and texture Kim has created something special at the edge of the known gardening world. Growing up in an interwar council house in west Devon in the 1960’s my family enjoyed the benefits of having front and back gardens plus a generous size allotment a stone’s throw away. That’s where I got my interest and grounding in the basic craft.

Our garden’s generous three quarters of an acre spread has given me the responsibility and challenge to tackle all the things my guiding light doesn’t like doing. i.e. lawn mowing, spreading and raking gravel on the yard and along paths, moving big heavy pots and stones, sawing and shredding, construction etc. We share the tedious but necessary regular tasks between us, like watering pots and hand weeding. Her centre of industry currently is the vegetable garden raised beds with their protective pop-a-domes and the small but essential greenhouse where many small miracles are fashioned to ensure production. My mainly self taught husbandry centres on meadow, orchard and pond.

This year’s apple blossom has been exceptionally good. Frosts have not been a problem so far (fingers crossed) so setting for fruit has been good. Our south facing aspect greatly benefits the fruit trees espaliered on that side of the house – the stone gives shelter and retrains heat, and they thrive. The James Grieve for instance, the first variety we planted six years ago, has spread luxuriantly. The pear and apple trees re-planted in wooden pots two years ago – well fed, in good compost and mulched with bark – also thrive on that walled garden south side.

Of the stand alone trees in our other orchard the three year old Katy, (grown for juicing) is currently a riot of creamy white flowers. Next to it is a Christmas Pippin, my particular dessert favourite in being small crisp and flavourful. Its brave show of blossom too promises a bumper final crop this season. The biggest tree is an Arthur Turner and a fine cooker displaying the blousiest of blossoms.

Spring housekeeping done on my beloved pond. Removed a tangle of excess oxygenating weeds to avoid choking more delicate plants like water hawthorn and a small lily recently bought. Cleared and deepened a channel between the stony beach and the deepest section by taking out some pebbles and baskets of marginal plants that had succumbed to weeds or died off. I was delighted to spy from the overlooking bathroom window a male blackbird taking his morning bath and drink in this new waterway. One of the visiting grandchildren spied a pair of young frogs under a capstone by the waters edge and I saw them myself today. Frog spawn is usually spotted in the water troughs or streamlets in nearby fields but never in our pond. This being a palmate newt dominated spot adult common frogs are only seen in spring and summer. If they ever laid eggs in the water here they would be eaten by adult newts. Frogs, like the resident toads, are very useful in keeping a check on slugs, snails and other garden pests. A stack of logs beyond the stony beach provides shelter for overwintering newts, frogs and toads as well as attracting the insect life that gradually breaks them down.

The meadow, of all my ongoing garden projects, is the one most in flux. The garden lawns link and frame all main areas – beds, borders, woodland and shrubs –  but a large roughly triangular section is always left unmown. I started the labour intensive process of turning its top corner and edges into a flower meadow. Four years in and already we see an increase of emerging plantain (deliberately seeded) as well as meadow cranesbill and cow parsley (self seeded). Most of all though the yellow rattle liberally sown every year is spreading into the heart of the growing sward, as intended. This annual is key in meadow creation, being a semi-parasitic that lives on the roots of dominant grasses, in this case rye and couch, weakening them to allow more delicate meadow flowers to take purchase and establish. There have been successive waves of predominant flowers dominating from the clay seed mix I used – first poppies, then marigolds – so we await to see what this season throws up as herbal front runner. A couple of weeks ago I broadcast lesser knapweed in spots where random daffodils had been growing and then added the displaced bulbs to the massed line up on the roadside out front. The linear spread of established daffodils there put on a cheering show for the passing world, from March into April and even now, into May.

In Other News…Swallows returned earlier than usual, on 28th April to be exact. Caught them acrobatically copulating on the wire over the yard yesterday and see that nest building is in progress under the new deck roof. They seem to have started one then abandoned it in favour of another, dark with still damp mud. Elsewhere in the garden I think we have a pair of greenfinches nesting for the first time.

Last autumn the storm battered old wood gazebo collapsed and was replaced by a metal arch that has slowly rusted once exposed to the elements. Have now made it a pair by installing another at the other, lower, entrance to the vegetable garden. I’ve re-positioned a climbing Tayberry on one side and a thornless blackberry on the other. (Both of them failed to grow happily elsewhere). Here’s hoping they thrive as much as the New Dawn climbing rose and Blue Angel clematis do on the other arch.

The canny texel tups over the hedge continue to revel in the lawn clippings I serve up for them by way of a ready meal. In the next field their offspring lambs in happy gangs are playfully running around with all the joys of spring as they do every year. A dip in the ground by our stone wall their favourite playground.

Initial dismay at the sight of more molehills in our field transfigured in seeing the positive side.  A happy hour spent bagging up soil of such fine tilth to use filling pots for Kim’s ever growing range of plants and shrubs.

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