There is nothing quite like a few stolen hours working in the garden on a chilly early Spring Sunday to make you feel heroic and pleased with yourself. The choice of task on such a day needs to be given careful consideration; this is not the time for slow and pondering chores but for those tasks that will warm you up and encourage you to stay outside just that little bit longer.
One of my favourite jobs at this time of year, although to be honest at any time of year, is sowing seeds and potting up tubers. This week saw me potting up half a dozen dahlia tubers, agapanthus corms and sowing sweet peas. These small achievements are particularly significant to me as they signal a step change in my approach to the garden. I am revisiting my original floral loves. Dahlias haven’t graced my garden for one or two years and sweet peas haven’t put in an appearance for possible five years. I love sweet peas they were one of my earliest love affairs with flowers. When I got married back in the 1980s I wanted sweet peas in my wedding bouquet but was told the end of May was too early so instead I have sugar craft sweet peas in a floral arrangement on my wedding cake. I grew them successfully in a previous small garden when I lived in Berkshire but they have been a real battle since I moved to the Midlands. This year I am determined to succeed, just as I am with dahlias which should do better with more space in the Big Border when I have relocated the asters to the front garden.
It was interesting to read the comments on the border which I am featuring this year as the End of Month View. Many couldn’t see why it needed improvement but for me it is lacking a sense of cohesion, as is much of my garden. I believe the garden has suffered in recent years from my dabbling with various plant groups such as alpines and over zealous undirected plant buying. It just isn’t right and it niggles at me. Whilst I have a good working knowledge of plants I don’t have much of an idea about design. Not so much how to organise the space as I think the layout of the garden works and I have a pretty clear plan for the front garden. What I need to learn is how to put plants together to get the effect I am striving for.
I have tried planting in terms of colour, seasons of interest, exotic, cottage and nothing seems to meld the bitty components together. The garden is neat and tidy and pretty but it doesn’t excite and it doesn’t have that generousness that I admire in my favourite gardens. I have read and listened to many a talk on succession planting etc but this isn’t what is missing either. I read two articles today in a copy of Gardens Illustrated that talked about planting. One was by Troy Scott Smith, head gardener at Sissinghurst which described how Vita Sackville West’s approach was to pile on the planting to create a wow moment and not worry about later and the other article was by Arne Maynard on a planting scheme at Cottesbrooke where he talks about deciding on the atmosphere you want to create. Somewhere between the two there was an almost light bulb moment – I could sense the eureka moment just being beyond my grasp.
I have decided to start by writing a list of all my favourite plants, things I have to have in the garden. Then I will organise those by season of interest and growing conditions and see where that takes me. Initially I can see something quite relaxed in the front garden with a late summer focus of asters, grasses and salvias with iris and poppies earlier in the year. In the back garden I want to focus on roses, peonies, sweet peas, foxgloves (all very cottage garden) but then move into dahlias and cannas (very dramatic and exotic) – I’m not sure how those two different styles will combine or whether I will have to sacrifice one for the other.
While I plan I have started to tidy the garden and to make the changes I have already decided on. Some ferns from the back slope have been potted up ready for the shady part of the front garden. They have been replaced by a division of a persicaria which should help knit the slope together and provide a good under-storey to the taller shrubs. I also emptied out the old tin bath which was home to some zantedeschia last year – they have been planted out on the slope to add to the lush foliage I am trying to cultivate in that area – I will wait to see how water tight the bath is as I am hoping to try a small water-lily in it, something a bit exotic maybe.