Every year at about this time I marvel at a bizarre phenomenon that occurs in the garden to the rear of our house. It expands. It definitely becomes larger each spring. I don’t understand the reason for this event-especially as the boundaries of the property do not appear to move, nevertheless every area, feature, pathway, patio, border, lawn, pond and structure has grown. I know this principally because it all takes hours longer and produces more aching muscles than the previous year and the year before that.
I like to think I’ve got the measure of our garden. After seventeen years of designing, redesigning, trying out plants, failing, digging, planting, weeding, chopping, trimming, mowing, pruning, staking, composting and the rest I am under the illusory impression I have the better of the beast, but the reality is I haven’t got it under control at all.
During the May holiday weekend, along with everyone else, I made my annual pilgrimage to the garden centre, a visit which never fails to provoke a feeling of optimistic fantasy. I trail around the stands of bright, bushy perennials with my trolley, scrutinising their labels and picturing them in the border; a riot of dazzling colour bursting forth and wowing the neighbours as they peer jealously over the fence, or eliciting exclamations of ecstasy from visitors. I fill the trolley. I bear the trophies home in a rush of excited enthusiasm. I set to, identifying a location, soaking the plant, preparing the planting hole, adding the compost, ladling in the food granules, settling the roots in, refilling, firming and watering. I go out each day to check.
But it is the garden that has the last laugh. It cannot be fooled. It grows what it wants to grow, its favourite diet consisting of robust ‘self-comers’ that seed with effortless abandon or send out subterranean wires of roots that pop up anywhere and everywhere, resisting wind, frost, slugs and drought regardless. Thus I have a garden brimming with Aquilegia, Montbretia, bluebells and spiderwort-all very pleasant and worthy of their place in moderation.
Here we are battling strong, coastal winds, salt laden air, poor, sandy soil and droughts. Once I had more time to devote to growing things I developed ambitions to grow things to eat. Knowing how unsupportive the soil is I persuaded Husband to build some raised beds, explaining that we-[I]- could fill them with rich, organic compost. The first year I was inspired to sow a wide variety of vegetables, including beetroot, asparagus, potatoes, runner beans and onions. Success was limited. The beetroot never grew beyond miniature, the asparagus failed to rear its head and the onions remained in stubborn infancy long past the time when it should have grown up.
I still dabble with vegetables, but in a limited way. I seem to be able to produce tomatoes [provided there is any sunshine], spinach seems to quite like our gaff, and most herbs are tough enough to cope. There is only one problem though; we are almost always away in September, when we should be enjoying the harvest. Let me see-travel or tomatoes? Fortunately there are others around to see they aren’t wasted!