I said when I first began this diary of the making of a garden, last spring, that there would be disasters as well as triumphs. The biggest was my shaming failure to understand the ferocious damage caused by salt-laden winds. I don’t like them, so why should my plants? And they don’t have the protection of Clarins SPF30.
I know I’m not alone in this. Gardeners everywhere suffered the ravages of the recent great winds of August. But moving from the sheltered calm of a London garden to the wind-whipped seaside has taught me a lesson to which I shall pay great heed, particularly as we move into autumn and (if the last two winters are anything to go by), the savage cold of winter. The olive trees, fig, hydrangeas and cherry tree will be swathed, à la Isadora Duncan, in gauzy scarves of horticultural fleece but more importantly, come spring, I will be more considerate of planting some form of wind barrier.
The only place I did get it right is the windiest place of all, the top roof terrace facing directly out to sea where the gorgeous blue heat-loving agapanthus have thrived, their strappy leaves bending obligingly with the wind. Growing among them are the tall, flexible stems of verbena boniarensis with their vivid violet flowers. They self-seed everywhere but only thrive in what they consider to be the right conditions; a perfect example that Mother knows best, a maxim we gardeners would do well to follow.
Well, if a weed is simply a plant in the wrong place, a mistake is simply wisdom that needs to be applied to the right place. So I am always grateful for lessons, however sorely learned. Mind you, the garden hasn’t done badly as it was only built in March and planted from scratch in April so it is still a child taking its first tottering steps. Gardens, rather like we lovers of high50, get infinitely better with age as they mature and settle into their proper identity – although always with room to expand and change.
If a weed is simply a plant in the wrong place, a mistake is simply wisdom that needs applying to the right place
In among the mistakes are small glories; a sunny corner alight with violet heliotropes and their sweet vanilla scent (known, for good reason, as cherry pie), which are blooming among the blowsy heads of white hydrangeas and a glorious tumble of cerise, purple and pink candy-striped sweet peas. They are still flowering, so I am picking them to fill the house with vases of intoxicating scent. In among them is a scented choiysya (commonly known as the Mexican orange blossom), which is evergreen so will see me through the winter.
The once-bare trellis is clothed in climbing roses, clematis (some of them winter flowering evergreens to add colour to the colder months) as well as jasmine and the wonderful trachelospermum jasminoides, another evergreen climber with glossy green leaves and white scented star-like flowers in spring.
Other tiny triumphs are the blue hardy geraniums tumbling through alchemilla mollis with its froth of lime green flowers. Both are perennials, dying down in winter and reappearing obligingly in spring and needing absolutely no maintenance other than a haircut every so often. What we gardeners call “good do-ers.” The foxgloves, with their majestic spires of cream speckled with violet at the throat, have done well in the shady areas so I have gathered their seed which is sprouting happily in small pots, waiting to be planted out in spring.
As for the plants that have simply given up and died because of my foolishness in putting them in the wrong place, they have left gaps to be filled in the spring based on the lessons they have taught me. Every new garden unfolds its character over the year: the hottest, sunniest spots, those difficult areas of shade, the swinging orbit of the sun which reveals changing levels of light. As I grow more familiar with its individual nature, the better my garden grow will grow. It is that intimacy which makes the best garden, as every patch of earth reveals its secrets, and I have plenty of time during the bare winter months to make plans.
In the meantime, the tulips, narcissi and alliums are on order, ready to plant out. The summer window boxes, which are looking horribly tired, will be replanted with the shining, cheerful faces of winter flowering pansies and violas.
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