March On – (A Sneaky Peak Over My Garden Fence)

The Great Fence of China

Well my goodness… where on Earth has March gone? January, February and indeed March always seem to plod along so slowly, and now it’s almost April; nothing to do with getting old, I trust? I’m only twenty six…! What…?

Well its been a pretty busy March here in the garden. We dug out a hideous line of scratchy conifers at the beginning of the month, which I pretended weren’t there when I designed the garden two years ago. Their removal was an immediate and vast improvement, but their absence revealed that we didn’t have anything in place to delineate the boundary with our neighbours, a mind-boggling three metres above us. We (eventually) found a brave/stupid (please delete as appropriate) fencing contractor who completed the job perfectly in a couple of days. Fences completed, the baton was passed back to us fairly swiftly to commence the mammoth task of painting the fourteen metre stretch.

Hard landscaping completed (I now know why they call it ‘hard’ landscaping, cause it’s bloody hard work!), we set about the ‘fun’ part… planting (it’s obligatory to use the word ‘fun’ when referring to planting).

An old nursing home on our easterly boundary needed softening, sorry no, not softening, hiding… completely! It’s fair to say this building is somewhat architecturally challenged! As such, three bare-root Pyrus ‘Red Spire’ were duly planted to help screen aforementioned monstrosity and under-planted with two tree-ferns (Dicksonia antarctica), Skimmia ‘Fragrant Cloud’, zesty, lime-green Cornus flavarimea and three regal ferns (Osmunda regalis). Further along the fence (to the left in the picture above) three Catalpa bignoniodes ‘Nana’ add height and structure in front of another part of the Great Fence of China (in Bournemouth). These beautiful standard trees can be pollarded in late winter/early spring which will then, in turn reward with super sized, fresh green foliage… watch this space. Further along still, I’ve planted an Eleagnus ‘Quicksilver’ (which I first saw when I was working with Carol Klein at Glebe Cottage). It’s a breathtaking deciduous shrub, quite unlike the evergreen eleagnus most of us are familiar with. It sparkling silver foliage will look perfect backed by the mid-grey of the fence.

So in terms of general garden maintenance this month, as if the above were not enough:

Dahlias & Abyssinian bananas (Ensete ventricosum ‘Maurellii’) have been started back into growth. The term ‘started back into growth’ is a technical gardening term for… ‘watered’!

Scarification in progress

Lawn restoration work has started. I’d never been a lawn ‘anorak’, until our new lawn was laid two years ago. Now I’m an ‘anorak in training’. And as such it’s time to start scarifying and aerating lawns. Scarification is the back-breaking process of removing thatch (dead grass) from the lawn. I started this operation by hand with a spring-tine rake (for an hour) and then hobbled along to Homebase, hands clutching the small of my back, and treated myself to a fabulous, new electric one. Aerating is getting oxygen down to the grass roots through plunging a garden fork repeatedly across the lawn. Another backbreaker, for which I don’t possess an electrical slave! Is it too early to put this on the Christmas list?

Tree ferns have been released from their winter ‘wrap-up’. Tree ferns need their crowns protecting from pro-longed periods of cold as they’re not fully hardy. I stuff the crowns (the growing point at tree top of the trunk) with straw and wrap horticultural fleece around the base of the fronds for extra cosiness. I’ll be keeping a close eye on the weather forecast over the next few weeks though and will rush out with hot toddies should the temperature drop to below -5°C (the hot toddies are for me, the tree ferns will make do with the straw and fleece).

And in other news:

Deciduous grasses (miscanthus, calamagrostis and panicum) have all been cut down to about 15cm (that’s 5″ in old money).

Penstemons have been cut back to where the new growth is growing away.

Hydrangea paniculatas have been pruned back by half.

Trays and trays of seeds have been sowed (tithonia, cosmos and ricinus), and finally

Bucket loads of weeding

March 2020

Tune back in next month for an exhausting list of April jobs.

When life throws us thorns, look for roses

After years of being beaten around my shell-likes with ‘Brexit’ and wishing I hadn’t ever heard the word, I, like many of you will probably be thinking what a joy it would be to have the ‘B’ word back, loud and proud instead of this new, dreaded ‘C’ word, Coronavirus. The Coronavirus global pandemic has thrown our world into a melting pot of fear, uncertainty and anxiety.

And, lurking under the belly of Coronavirus, a creeping anxiety has quietly taken many of us hostage. Nagging doubts, worries and a fear of the unknown haunt us in the early hours and well beyond.

Everybody’s talking about ‘social distancing’, ‘self-isolation’ and ‘lockdown’ with a scarily practiced ease. Three weeks ago these phrases weren’t even in our vocabulary.

Much has been written about the many benefits of gardening for those living with anxiety, depression and other mental health issues. And so now, in the midst of this perturbing pandemic, more so than ever before, we may all acquire a slightly better understanding of how life consuming these problems can be for many people. So many of us have already admitted to feeling the anxieties of this situation.

Gardening isn’t for everyone, I understand that. A significant percentage of people I have gardened or created gardens for have reaffirmed that belief, ‘I don’t like gardening, but I want a nice garden to spend time in’. I’ve heard these words so many times. But gardening doesn’t have to be the fully immersive, all consuming pastime some make it.

Mowing and edging the lawn, a spot of light weeding or deadheading the daffs is a great way to start. Little and often, gently reconnecting with nature. It’s incredible how just ten minutes of pottering around a garden can mollify a muddled mind or soothe the stresses and strains of day-to-day life. The combination of breathing in fresh air and listening to the birds twittering, happily in neighbouring trees. The frothy pinks, creams and whites of blossom are just beginning to sparkle on the bare boughs of flowering cherries, butter yellow primroses nestled down in our borders, pots or verges. Dazzling daffs nodding their heads to welcome in another long awaited spring. You’ll be quickly transported to ‘another place’. Somewhere calmer, quieter and altogether more tranquil than the worrying ‘here and now’ of our hectic, pressure-laden lives.

For the (ever so slightly) more adventurous, sowing seeds for flowers in our gardens or produce for the veg patch with the kiddies (or without!) is so rewarding. It’s educational and so easy.

Don’t be afraid of your garden. The worst you can probably do is cut off this years flowers, which in the overall scheme of things, at present, is small fry! However, the internet and social media is full to bursting with eager gardeners (like me) with helpful ‘how to’ videos and illustrated guides taking you through all manner of gardening jobs.

But, if gardening is still not your thing then try a wander up the garden path, broom in hand, a much-needed lick of paint on the garden fences or just sitting there with a cuppa, or a chilled Pinot Grigio. You will feel so much better for it.

Things will eventually return to ‘normal’; a new normal, admittedly. Hopefully, some things will change for the better after this. Already a heart-warming sense of community is beginning to emerge.

And we will get back out into our gardens with friends and family. We will go out to restaurants and eat good food, and drink, and laugh. But we will always remember this time.

“Sometimes when things are falling apart, they may actually be falling into place”

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