'The glory of gardening: hands in the dirt, head in the sun, heart with nature. To nurture a garden is to feed not just the body, but the soul'
Alfred Austin, The Garden that I Love, 1894

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Spring is in the Air-ish

The last year has seen me completely subsumed by the house. A few years before that, it was the garden that was absorbing all my energies. In turn they have each had to have my full attention to create the things I've wanted to create for my home and my family. Though I am still living through builder-hell, I took time out on a rare sunny day to catch those first glimpses of Spring. After so much grey and rain, it was uplifting.


Thursday, February 25, 2016

Green Therapy

If I had a drum to bang, it would be this: in an age when society is so permanently wired up to technology and virtual worlds, there is no better therapeutic antidote than to put the smartphone/tablet/laptop away and step outside into a green space where real things live and breath, wind blows, birds sing, and clouds skud across skies. There need be no more interaction than what you choose. No-one is speaking to you, no-one is telling you what to do or how to behave. It's just you and the landscape that surrounds you. This may be your garden, a park or the wilds of Exmoor. The point is that it doesn't matter as long as you are somewhere that envelops you in nature, where colours, scents and sounds change with the seasons and where you can be at peace with yourself.

The Peak District was once known as The Green Lung of England. In those days it represented an oxygen-filled, fresh-aired escape from the industrial smog and particle packed air of the cities, towns and mills of Sheffield, Manchester, Liverpool, Derby and their satellite towns. While the mills are long gone and the city air has been cleaned up, it now provides respite of a different kind: technological detox. It allows city folk to feel mud and grass under their feet rather than man-made concrete or tarmac; it allows eyes to take in new sweeping horizons and perspectives; it allows lungs to take time to breathe. Yet none of this is any good unless the technology has been switched off.

It is not possible for Man, once so in touch with his instincts, to continue in the direction he is going without some kind of balance being re-introduced. If society is to continue on a civilised upward curve (which currently seems increasingly unlikely), we urgently need to reconnect with the natural world around us (before we destroy it completely) and to re-awaken our innate intuitive powers. Our ancestors were born out of the earth and we should always maintain that connection, that humility, if we are to remain a civilised, functional society. We are a tiny fragment of an infinitely larger picture - one that our scientists and astro-physicists are continually trying to explore and understand.

At the most simplistic, achievable level, gardening can help with this. It can literally bring us down to earth. It allows us time to think and ponder instead of continually rushing headlong. It re-connects us with the matter out of which we developed. 

Anyone who has picked up a spade, fork or trowel and tilled the soil will understand what I'm trying to get at. Anyone who has raked damp, musty leaves (or dry crackly ones) will understand. Anyone who has planted the seeds of new life will understand; anyone who has pruned an old plant to encourage new growth will understand. It is the very joy of being 'in the moment', of cultivating and nurturing, putting in and getting out, that is food for the soul. And if the soul is happy, the mind is happy; if the mind is happy the body is happy. It is a virtuous circle better than any business plan or economic utopia. 

It is no surprise to me that we are seeing more instances of cancer. We live lives these days that create triggers for ill-health. And all it takes is one trigger. If we are permanently wired and connected, then we can never truly rest. If we can never truly rest, we are not allowing our bodies the time they need to recover. The human body has a remarkable ability to self-heal but our modern lives seem intent on preventing this happening. All you have to do is put a hyphen in the word disease: Dis-Ease is what you get.

So many of our modern diseases are examples of a body out of kilter - from cancer through to the many auto-immune diseases which abound these days. Too many of these are triggered by stress - which is the state of permanent 'readiness' for fight or flight which our bodies remain in when we are stressed. An overly stressed body is an overly tired body and an overly tired body is at greater risk of malfunction. At a mental and emotional level, depression appears to be on the rise - or maybe the taboo is being finally lifted and, as more people suffer, more people talk about it and acknowledge its presence in 21st century lives.

No surprise, then, to see the rise of Mindfulness in recent years - so much so that it is virtually becoming an epidemic in itself (yet another example of how our modern society has lost the ability to balance - everything is boom or bust, done to excess as we increasingly lose our ability to moderate). Twenty minutes a day of intricate colouring is certainly restful for an overworked brain, but how much better is the smell and touch of the earth, the sound of sea or birdsong, the rain on your face? Only then do you get a true sense of your place in the universe, of your ultimate insignificance and yet your timely importance. Being in touch with the natural world is being in touch with your essential self. How much better this than the version of yourself you too often choose to present to society in our increasingly virtual existence?

Each generation is moving civilisation forward - such is the nature of progress. But we should all remember that such progress needs to be positive, not negative. Gardening should no longer be sneered at or assumed to be merely for the retired and redundant. It is therapeutic at all levels - physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. If we all had a bit more of it in our lives - or at least spent more time in green spaces, parks, fields, woods, rivers, seas and mountains - we may well be healthier, happier and better able to contribute positively to the development of humankind. It is arguably a perfect example of how the micro can benefit the macro, and how the individual can benefit society as a whole.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Funny old game, gardening.

Early September 2015

Leaving the garden in July to go away for a number of weeks is never easy. Everything is in full flower and the fruit and vegetables are about to yield. It is now that I need to be around to pick raspberries, strawberries and blackcurrants; to grab any peas that have survived the slugs and mice; to cut the lettuces and to feed, water and nurture everything else.

Last year, two weeks of extreme heat followed then by heavy rains left me with nothing but disappointment on my return - drought stress followed by wet stress is a killer. This year the rain has been abundant but the sun and heat have been miserly so, once again, I have very little to show for weeks of hard work.

The first set of runner beans I planted are doing well with plenty of long, straight pods developing. The second set are weak and paltry and I doubt will produce anything much at all at this point, confirming once again that timing is all in vegetable gardening.

The strawberries have not had enough sun and the raspberries, redcurrants and blackcurrants were stripped by the birds. (At least something got to enjoy them!)

I grew dwarf broad beans this year and they have produced nothing. I won't be doing that again - bigger plants, bigger yields clearly holds true.

I have had a couple of small courgettes (again, anything that was ready while I was away was duly eaten by slugs and snails) and a few shallots and garlic. The cabbages became as Victorian lace, the rocket, chard and curly red lettuce bolted. The celery put on a reasonable show and the parsley proliferated. The lavender, contrary to all reason, is flourishing again and I have been able to make little muslin bags full of pungent perfume to put by my pillow and lure me into sweet dreams. I didn't do carrots this year but I seem to have a good enough number of potatoes, all grown in pots to avoid the worst perils of growing them directly in the ground. I have mint too. Lots of it. Endless mint tea. Lovely.

As for the rest of the garden, the lawn is looking exceptional thanks to all the rain and Ian's hard work earlier in the season scarifying it to get rid of some of the moss build up and make way for more grass. The roses have been lovely and I continue to dead-head them to prolong the show. The heleniums, anemones, actea, cosmos, crocosmia, achillea, rudbeckia and sedums are also creating colour in the borders and the grasses and everygreens are maintaining structure and interest. If nothing else, my planting schemes to prolong the season (so that on my return from summer holidays there is still much to relish in the borders) have actually paid off.

In other words, it's not all gloom and doom. And best of all, I have picked a delightful little posy of sweet peas whose looks and scent quite simply sum up the quintessence of an English garden.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Seasonal Succession

What a delightful time of year this is in the garden. A gardening must, in my humble opinion, is to have perennials, shrubs and trees which hand the baton of colour and interest seamlessly from one to the other as the seasons progress.

Thus in late winter the white carpet of snowdrops takes over from any real carpet of snow, followed by the nodding whites and mauves and greens of hellebores; the purples and whites and yellows of crocus; the blues, pinks and whites of the delicate windflowers and the pinks and whites of cyclamen, perhaps an understorey to the red and yellow and green naked stems of cornus and salix. 

Soon to follow will be the yellows of daffodils, forsythia, gorse and broom, the multi hues of tulips, the soft purply cobalts of bluebells and the whites and deep reds of hawthorn; with these also come the white and purples of wisteria, the pinks of clematis Montana, the yellows of laburnums and the rainbow of colours which are the gift of rhododendrons and azaleas. 

Frankly, the list is endless and I will go on no longer. You get the picture: an artistic palette of ever-changing moods. For whatever sadness you have that the seasonal blooming of one plant is over, another should soon whisk you away to new areas of sensory delight. 

I have been lucky in the garden I inherited. It's structure of mature trees was sound, giving it the permanent bones all good gardens need to endure. Mature shrubs also abounded together with well-stocked beds of perennials. Over the years I have had the pleasure of taming those that have outgrown their spaces and removed those that have passed their usefulness. I have further stocked the borders, re-balancing the abundance of perennials and stuffing in as many appropriate ones as the earth will take to continue the theme of permanent interest and ever-changing palettes of colour. The large lawns and the many trees mean it is all too easy to become overly green, so I am always trying to manage that balance of nature in the most light-handed way possible. 

I will give you a quick tour of how things were in early June. The photo quality is not marvellous as they are snapshots taken with my ipad, but they give an idea.
The wisteria has been beautiful this year. The alchemilla mollis is starting to take over the terrace as it does every summer. Some of the Aucuba have mysteriously bitten the dust. Time to fill the gaps with new planting ideas.

Doronicums and daisies add a burst of colour to the late spring/early summer border.
Welsh poppies start bursting up through every nook and cranny and will always remind me of the day we moved here 12 years ago (31st May 2003).

Wallflowers amongst the ferns. Always a favourite.

The bright new leaves of a young pieris.

The lupins are splendid this year - thick strong stems and hearty flower spikes.

More bright bursts of daisy colour.

Welsh poppies mingling with the geum.

Clematis Broughton Star.

The Stipa gigantea, planted last year, finally taking off a bit.

The large, old shrub rose.

There's nothing like a rose bud...

Alliums happily increasing their numbers over the years by self-seeding.

This beautiful Ravenswing (purple cow parsley) has finally taken off this year...

More lovely wallflowers.

Orangey-red and purple - I always love that colour combination.

The acid green vibrancy of new foliage punctuated by the blue cornflowers and purple pom-poms of the alliums.

And here we have white pom-poms on the Guelder rose (viburnum opulus) - another favourite.  

Clematis montana scambles through the hedges with gay abandon.

The copper beech leaves are still a light shade of burgundy rather than a deep shiraz.

The ponticum is getting going. Often an unwelcome intruder, but always colourful.

Orange erysimum and blue forget-me-nots hob-nob under the Rhododendron luteum.

The sweet-smelling luteum, also a heady reminder of our arrival 12 years ago.

Bold red blooms of a well-established rhodi...

More elegant white, living side-by-side with the red like an old married couple.

New plantings of azaleas.

Euphorbias catching some sunlight and brightening up a dark corner.

Nothing better than mown paths through long grass.

I've been adding planting around the stream: candelabra primula, wild garlic, hostas, ferns and tiarella.

Dappled sunlight through the dell.

Lily waiting ever hopefully and patiently for her red frisbee to be thrown...

Dappled sunlight on a hosta.

Bronze fennel blowing in the breeze and adding a contrasting featheriness to the uprights of the alliums (and excellent for cooking and infusions).

Green wall punctuated with colour.

The old rose again.

Fabulous flowers on the clematis this year.

The beauty of a new lupin spike.

And back to the beginning again....