Windy, windy garden

In my last post I mentioned that I had taken on a new client in the Dorset village of Sixpenny Handley. Yesterday was my first day working there.

The drive over from Salisbury is a lovely one. Climbing up from the water meadows of Salisbury onto the downs where Dorset, Wiltshire and Hampshire meet and mingle, there is a feeling of entering a more ancient landscape. The main road, heading towards Blandford Forum, passes the Roman Villa at Rockbourne, numerous barrows and burial mounds, and some well-preserved field-strips. It is bleak up there, on the northern edges of Cranborne Chase, past Pentridge and Martin Down. And never bleaker than on a day like yesterday, when a truly wicked north-easterly wind was slicing over the tops of the downs.

The garden needed a reasonably extensive tidy-up, and I spent some time pruning and tying-in climbing roses and a vine to their wire supports on the house wall. I am a great fan of ‘Soft Tie’ – wire covered in a flexible rubbery coating – which is strong, highly versatile, and best of all its cushioned covering doesn’t cut into the shoots and branches as they are secured. Better still, my local discount DIY shop always seems to have loads of it at rock-bottom prices. Other roses were given a good prune and a generous feed with Vitax Q4 too, as the soil is very poor. In more than 5 hours’ gardening I didn’t see a single earthworm in the soil, which concerned me somewhat. They may have buried down deeper because of the cold, but I suspect that their absence is a sign of very low fertility in the chalky, cold soil. I will recommend that we get a load of manure delivered and give the flowerbeds a really good mulch to start restoring some goodness.

Thinking ahead to replanting and developing some of the garden, the weather yesterday gave me a very useful insight into the extremes of cold and wind that the garden experiences. The client told me that in summer it can be just as windy, but bakingly hot – there is not a lot of shade, beyond that cast by the house and fences – no large trees to provide dappled shade on a sunny day. Quite a challenge, then, to find plants which will tolerate (more than tolerate, positively enjoy) such conditions.

There is also a very low, downhill corner to the garden, which gets little sun and gathers water draining off the rest of the garden. It might make sense to put a pond in there, or at least make a bog garden to take advantage of the natural dampness.

Back at home, and thawed out a bit, I had time to check on my plants in the conservatory and greenhouse. Seeds sown over the past couple of weeks are doing alright, and some – Tomato ‘Terenzo’, Blue Beans, Sunflowers – are already big enough to want pricking out sooner than later. Similarly, quite a lot of plants in the greenhouse want to be making their way outside. The trouble is that the outside temperature is so low that normal hardening-off is not really an option just yet, as I think the shock of even daytime temperatures and wind-chill, might be too much. So I will try to keep them going under cover a little longer, and hold off sowing too much more until things warm up a bit. It feels like Spring is going to be about a month late this year, so there is still plenty of time.

Finally, I was lucky enough to pick up some ‘unwanted’ Buxus bushes through our local Freecycle plant exchange. The owners had dug them out and didn’t want to throw them away if they could be found a good home. So I asked if we could have them for Wyndham Park School’s garden – and they agreed. Seven substantial and really healthy Buxus, each about three feet tall, are now heeled-in, waiting for me to plant them in the Library Garden. They will make a nice feature in the ‘Explorer’ garden, with its developing array of hardy shrubs and grasses amongst which the children can make trails and play hide and seek.

I reckon they’d have cost £100-ish if I’d bought them ‘new’ – good old Freecycle.

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