Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Setting the Stage

Winter: exit Stage Right, with slow stubbornness 
Spring: enter Stage Left, with hesitance}

Gentle Reader, today I set the stage, I give you the prologue to this challenging task ahead.

While the work of clearing and cleaning, reorganising and regrouping, and all the other chores that mean a gardener's work is never done, my garden has fallen into a state of neglected disrepair. 

I love gardening more than I can say, with deep roots running in my blood, but I confess, I am in pain with an arthritic back that limits what I can do, and the uphill struggle against inclement weather conditions mean that I have not give the garden the attention or care that it demands for around three years.  Weeds and pest proliferate if left unchecked, while much loved and favoured plants have withered.  A sad fact, but true, and regaining control, putting things right is the task ahead of me now.

I do not use chemicals but I sometimes feel the weeds and pests are making the most of this choice.  Last year, when mid~June arrived, the days were barely warm and I had lost three successive plantings of seedlings to slugs and torrential rain I just gave up.

Over the winter I spent much time reflecting and considering my options. It is not a big garden, but is big enough, and I need to make it manageable, to meet my needs and expectations.  So what are these needs and expectations?  Then, later on, as I get to grips with the tasks, how will I achieve them?

My expectations are: ease of maintenance with fresh, organic food from raised beds, and plot to plate in minutes, fruit and vegetables for jams, chutneys, and pickles, flowers for cutting, photography and creative inspiration, a verdant lawn to sit and sink my feet into the grass when the sky is blue and the days are warm, with fragrant herbs to heal my spirit, a garden that refreshes and nourishes my soul.

How will I achieve them? One task at a time.  I am no miracle worker, I have no magic wand to wave and it is done.  I know what I want, and while my expectations remain constant, all the time I change my mind as to how I want it all to look. There will be times when three steps forward are countermanded by four back, and no doubt I will keep changing my mind, plans will evolve, but then that is half the fun I think, don't you?  Budget is a consideration too, and so I am looking at what does well in the garden to avoid costly mistakes in poor choices of planting.  I am already offering plant exchanges with neighbours, and taking cuttings too.  Recycling and reusing is important to me too.  There is, I feel, a certain charm in the look of recycled things, and this also appeals to my ethos and values of not sending stuff to landfill unnecessarily.

Being of an overwhelmingly stubborn character, I want to do this all myself, without outside help unless the work is very heavy and not managable by me even using of the laws of physics!

There, Gentle Reader, you have a nutshell version of my hopes for the garden.  Later, I will be more specific, talk of raised beds and planting.  The reality, so far this year, is that Spring was supposed to arrive several weeks ago.  We are still waiting.  I don't know if she missed the boat or was simply held up along the way, but now, slowly and hesitantly she is arriving.  There are promises of Spring, and maybe even Summer, popping up all over the garden.  I talk a lot about the weather because I think it is the one biggest condition that impacts upon the garden and how well it does.  The weather patterns are changing, and I know I must change how I garden, and what I grow, to make my garden successful.  Indeed, my next blog entry may be about the weather!

When I looked out of my window this morning, across the lawn I thought it was snowing!  Pink snow in May can only be one thing: apple blossom drifting on the gentle breeze.  Indeed, the display of blossom is promising.

Here are a few more photographs I've taken over the last few days that show Spring finally arriving, and a little of the cleaning up and planting preparation that I have started.

These are trays of cultivated foxglove plantlets that I brought on from seedlings purchased from Thompson & Morgan an established mail order company.  I am very happy with their progress. There are over one hundred here, many more than I will need, so once potted up I will swap them for other things with my neighbours, and any surplus ones I will sell off and give the money to charity.

Here are some native foxgloves (digitalis purpurea) that I love to see in my garden and I let them seed where they want to grow.  Sometimes, I have to move them though, as they aren't picky where they grow.  These three are growing against a low, south facing wall in a border with herbs.  That is fine by me, although they might get a little crowded, three so close together, I might have to move that middle one to another spot.

Below is a terracotta pot that originally held a Pasque flower waiting to be placed in a raised border.  Over the winter, an Alchemilla Mollis (of which I have many in my garden) self seeded.  I was going to weed it out, but I just love the contrast of the two very different textures of leaf and colours of green that I am leaving it for a while as a possible photograph opportunity.

Edibles play a large part in my garden, and I am especially fond of my herbs.  The sage is finally starting to return into growth after the long winter months.  This is currently along the edge of the south facing raised vegetable plot, and it seems to love this sunny, well drained spot.  As well as seasoning, and as with many herbs, it has healing properties too.  I love to roast veggies in the oven on a bed of sage, then eat the crunchy leaves with my salad.

This is Sweet Cicely, such a pretty  name, don't you think?  It is rather close to the rosemary (another favourite herb of mine) but for now it looks so happy I cannot bear to move it.  I plan to harvest seed to sow and raise more of this delightful and versatile herb, for I think it would look really good with cut flowers in a vase, as well as the culinary and medicinal uses.  Umbelliferous plants are amongst my favourite, and I hope to introduce many more umbels to the garden this year.  I shall return to The Perennial Nursery, a delightful, small, independent plantswoman's business that shelters under a rocky outcrop in the wilds, and where I can rely on sound advice and quality plants.

Devonshire Violets run rampant in the nooks and crannies of the garden walls, giving delight to the senses with shyly bobbing fragrant blooms.  You will see the Corsican mint too, bottom right.  I love this small, invasive mint and wish it would spread more vigourously between the paving stones.  I love stepping on it and crushing the leaves, releasing the most intense mint fragrance into the summer air.  I think I have a mild obsession with this small beauty!

A promise of gooseberries soon!  I must work on my gooseberry plant, something is wrong.  It is not growin in size as it should, nor is it producing much fruit.  A little research is needed, I think.

More herbs, two varieties of Oregano, again this Mediterranean herb thrives in this raised, south facing plot (more on this raised plot in the future) but as you can see, I am happy to let the Alchemilla Mollis and a digitalis purpurea alongside, and the feathery fronds of Nigella (Love~in~a~Mist) having escaped from the garden have arrived here too . . perfect!

Blackcurrants do very well in my garden, and if these blooms are anything to go by I think there will be a bumper crop this year, for all five bushes are a mass of pinkish~white blossom.  I can look forward to summer pies and crumbles, jam, and some for the winter from the deep freeze as a boost of Vitamin C.

Finally, today, this enormous white pansy bloom.  It is nearly twice the size of all the others in the tubs, and at around four inches from top to bottom it dwarfs the very plant from which it grows!

So, Dear Friend, the stage is set for Spring and Summer too.  There are many months of dilligent work ahead, but for now it is weeding and clearing spaces and making the most of those spaces while the garden takes shape.  I hope, along the way, to share recipes, ideas, and crafts too.

I will change my mind a hundred times or more, of that I'm sure, so I hope you will come back again and see how I progress, and maybe share a gardening tip or two of your own.

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