Talk dirty to me…

mistress. mɪstrəs/

1. a woman in a position of authority or control.

My garden is my mistress. She’s in a position of authority or control. But, that’s because, as a modern man, I allow her to be so. I observe her subtle demands; I look for her silent clues that something isn’t right in her world and I attend to her every whim and desire. I bestow her with gifts to enhance her natural beauty. I spend (arguably far too much) time with her and do whatever is within my power to make her truly beautiful.

And she is a modern woman. I am happy for her to be that. She seduces, she flirts and teases those who come to visit her. She flaunts her blowsy femininity at all and sundry. It’s shameless!

So where am I heading with this analogy? I was asked recently by an aspiring gardener how I know what to do in my garden and when. I responded, as I always do, that she (the garden) tells me what to do. And she does. Years of experience have taught me that gardening ‘things to do’ lists are a great and important reminder of what needs to be done and when, but your garden will ‘tell’ you; it will show you. And, as such, I am continually observing her, looking closely for tell-tale signs and clues that suggest she needs attention, or is indeed unhappy. She can be demanding, wanting so much; but in return for my continued ministrations, she delivers and makes me happy beyond words.

In winter, she slumbers quietly; undemanding, barely stirring. Heavy rains or sometimes snow, hard frosts and biting winds battle around her. Still, she sleeps, requiring very little from me.

With the dawning of spring she awakens. Ready to give of her all, but hungry. In the long winter months, torrents of rain have leached precious nutrients through her soils. Spikes of fresh, lush, green foliage begin to pierce her barren borders; they will need sustenance in order to grow away. ‘Feed me’, she whispers, and feed her I do;

Parchment coloured grasses have now fallen haphazardly, their perished stems collapsed and untidy. Leaf debris blown from afar lies in drifts, whilst a sprinkling of annual weed seedlings are germinating randomly here and there. She looks dishevelled and weary. I groom her bedraggled borders. But, still she demands. Ever expanding clumps of perennials jostle for space, encroaching upon each other. ‘Divide them’, she instructs. ‘Give them space to breathe’.

Tall, leggy roses sway awkwardly in her borders. Myriad buds swelling up their length. She is showing me that her roses can grow from lower down their lanky stems. Each plump bud bursting with energy and new life. Pruning now above an outward facing bud much lower down will produce a more attractive, freer flowering rose. The signs are all there.

In the summer, she glows and takes centre stage. She is a prima-donna. She’s at her best; beautiful, burgeoning and bountiful. Nothing must spoil this vision of romance. Her pageant of perfection must not end; not yet. Not a spoiled flower, not a stray weed, not a yellowing leaf, a single aphid or seed-head can blight her now. I’m primed with secateurs, snippers, hoe, trowel, organic sprays and an armoury of feeds and tonics. She looks magnificent.

October arrives and the warm, wet winds of autumn blow in. The spent, blackened stalks of Dahlias, Echinacea and Rudbeckia bend forlornly in the gales. Geraniums, Hostas and Brunnera fade and flop. Verbena bonariensis has shaken its last seeds onto her borders, the remains of its skeletal structure standing solemnly. I can’t leave her like this. She has standards; or is that me? One of us is not going to be happy until her faded perennials are chopped to the ground and composted and her borders tidied in preparation for the long winter ahead.

And there we have it; a long standing love affair with the mistress I call my garden. She’s an open book. Years of close observation and scrutiny, largely achieved through general and ongoing maintenance, have taught me so, so much. The words of advice and guidance in my library of books and countless websites and blogs I follow have been invaluable, giving me the knowledge I need to attend to her in the best possible way.

I love her.

It’s not all about the Holly & the Ivy

It’s December. Again. Cold, wet, grey and miserable December. Although, amidst the seasonal gloom, clear, frosty, blue sky days are dotted intermittently across the month. Predominantly though, a seemingly never-ending succession of murky mornings and early nightfalls. Rain-laden clouds scud across leaden skies; persistent and heavy rains fall onto already sodden gardens. From dark, shadowy houses, christmas lights twinkle silently from behind misty windows into the cold, damp night. 

As a garden writer, I happily join my fellow scribes to wax lyrical about the abundant joys of spring, summer and autumn gardens with their burgeoning borders; kaleidoscopic, coloured flowers jostling for centre stage. Paragraph after paragraph, page after page crammed with glorious descriptions of the seasonal bouquets Mother Nature has gifted us; stunning colour combinations, glorious scents, and myriad flowers all detailed in meticulous minutiae. And then, as winter blows in on a biting northerly wind, our gardens slip into a deep, hushed hibernation; dull, grey and expressionless. 

But there is still beauty within the winter landscape; a subtle, understated beauty. Fleeting moments that can disappear or change with a squall of wintery wind. A winter’s walk around the neighbourhood wrapped in an oversized, warm coat, woolly hat and gloves, peering into empty gardens or a stroll through a local park, is the perfect way to explore these bashful, seasonal splendours. 

Trees bereft of their summer leafage, stand strong, yet exposed and naked. The delicate tracery of wet Silver Birch branches and their soft twigs silhouetted forlornly against silver-grey skies; the last red, terracotta, butter yellow and golden leaves of Beech, Horse Chestnut and Liquidamber dotted forlornly within their empty boughs. 

In the gutters and the black, puddled pavements lie the dying remnants of autumn’s leafy vestiges; black, burnt browns and coffee-coloured leaves lie wet and lifeless. In between the drifts of dying debris, crescent shaped puddles reflect the skies and the twisted reflections of the trees above. 

Along the main road, evergreen shrubs stand sentinel like on the boundary between pavement and front gardens. Fruits of Arbutus hang like bonsai baubles on a Christmas tree. The rain soaked berries of Holly nestled amongst dark green, prickly foliage. On the Pyracantha, clusters of beautiful berries wink seductively at our famished feathered friends. Vitamin filled vermillion will be taken first, followed by orange, then yellow.

In the somewhat barren borders of my own garden, the early flowers of Hellebores in rubies, pinks and whites nod coquettishly. They whisper at passers-by to lift their downturned blooms skywards to reveal their hidden treasures. A boss of golden stamens nestled in a bowl of intricately patterned or stained glass coloured tepals. 

In the same borders, columns of the bleached, golden stems of grasses, mine are Miscanthus ‘Flamingo’, stand statuesque, flower heads buckling like wizened fingers in the breeze. 

In a garden across the road from me the colourful, seasonal stems of Cornus stand defiantly in shades of red, orange and lime-green. A drift of Cornus sanguinea ‘Midwinter Fire’ a blaze of vibrant, hot colour across frost gilded borders. For larger gardens or parks, the ghostly, chalk-white stems of Rubus cockburnianus look magnificent, contrasting against their dark backgrounds like the intricate, fossilised bones of a prehistoric carcass. 

The diminutive flowers of Chimonanthus praecox and Sarcococca confusa lace the winter garden with their beautifully, intoxicating scents. 

And so, it’s December. Again. Cold and wet? Yes But miserable? No, not at all. The gifts may not be of gold, of frankincense or myrrh; but there’s so much more than just the holly and the ivy. 

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