Stormy Weather

Last night was ferociously windy. Rain lashed against the windows for hours, and left everything sodden. Garden bags ended up blown all over the place. And the final few leaves have been torn from the trees in the garden. But it is the sodden-ness which is the lasting thing, rain falling on rain, soil and fallen leaves alike turned to mush and mud. It makes any heavy work distinctly unpleasant, and potentially damaging – treading on grass or soil in these conditions churns and compacts in equal measure: not good as we head towards what ought to be some cold and frosty times through the winter. The ground needs to be open to the elements, not squished and flattened underfoot. 

One thing I did achieve yesterday, gales notwithstanding, was to acquire two new clients. One of them is in need of a quick garden-tidy ahead of the winter. The garden is small, but quite well-planted with shrubs and climbers. It won’t take a huge amount of work, but it has the potential to be really nice come the spring. It’s a bit late to get some bulbs in for the owner, but we’ll see.

The other garden is larger, and very much a ‘play garden’ with plenty of grass, a few shrubs around the edges, and two areas of paved patio. This client wants me to garden sit for 6 months while they are abroad. The main task is to ensure that the garden doesn’t resemble the interior of the Amazon rainforest when they return. Again, keeping on top of it ought not to be too taxing, but I’d like to think I can introduce a few improvements and nice touches while I am at it.

An old client has asked me to plant up some soft fruit for him: a good job for this time of year, as long as it doesn’t stay too wet. I dislike putting plants in the ground when it absolutely soaking, as it’s not good for many, and disastrous for lots. However, I can get on with preparing the ground and getting some manure dug-in while I wait for the plants to arrive. I have gone for a mixture of fruit to supplement the early-fruiting raspberries which are already well-established – to extend the cropping season, and to introduce some different varieties. So, autumn-fruiting raspberry ‘Autumn Bliss’ is top of the list. I grow this at the allotment, and it does well hereabouts, cropping well into October. The I have gone for blackcurrant ‘Ben Connan’, redcurrant ‘Rovada’, and whitecurrant ‘Blanka’ which all fruit July/August. Gooseberry ‘Xenia’ and a Casseille complete the patch for the moment. The client and I disagree a bit about strawberries – he’s not bothered, but I tend to think they are de rigeur in a soft fruit patch. Still, we can always revisit that question in the spring: and it is his call, of course. 

Otherwise, it’s clearing and tidying time in the gardens I look after – again, not a job that is much fun in these soggy conditions. I have built a leaf-cage at the allotment, and am taking as many leaves as possible up there, from my own and other people’s gardens. I’m slightly ashamed at not having done this before, but better late than never. Mind you, there are plenty of leaves to spare, and I have mulched some beds in my own garden with them – the yellow and gold lifts the appearance of the beds and makes it easier to see what plants are growing too.

Which reminds me, having destroyed (or so I naively thought) the ancient yuccas in part of the garden last year, ahead of replanting it, I now discover that the green shoots of yucca recovery are poking through in many places. The shoots are small, bright green, and not unattractive in their way – easy to spot, and easy to remove. Tough old beggars they are, though.

Finally for now, garden reading piles up. I have been reading Christopher Lloyd’s The Well-Tempered Garden which I know I ought to have read long-ago – shamefully it seems to be out-of-print. Whatever happened to that series of Garden Classics that Bloomsbury started publishing a decade or so ago? I have four on the shelves – Cobbett’s English Gardener, Ann Scott James Down to Earth, William Robinson’s English Flower Garden and Michael Pollan’s Second Nature. But they seemed to disappear after that promising and eclectic start. There is certainly need to keep classic gardening books in print – publishers please note. Most second-hand bookshops’ gardening sections are stuffed full of Readers’ Digest books and other equally unattractive and dated stuff – seldom do you find really good books.

Anyhow, Christopher Lloyd is always good value, and I am learning lots from The Well-Tempered Garden – a wonderful title too. I also have Dan Pearson’s Home Ground: sanctuary in the city sitting in the queue: a much more attractive book to look at, but I am confident it will be just as inspiring to read.

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