Shortening days and winter chills descended on the garden just as I was setting to work on waking it up. Indeed I’ve rarely spent so many blocks of time in wellies and waterproofs, with so many days alone on the tools and with little beyond birds and planes to break the quiet. I had the winter to prepare for the start of a new decade, and I was very glad of it.
Decaying leaves carpeted paths and carriage ways, lawns and borders. Tussocky wild flower areas, bleached white after a year of playing, had sat back for the winter and borders due to the busy world around them had merged seed heads with the sneakiest of weeds. With sacks of bulbs waiting impatiently in the cool garden shed, there was much work to be done.
As fortune would have it, I’d seen it all before, and I’m much more challenged by DIY than I am conquering a wayward border or lapsed coppice. Hour by hour the days passed, and when I wasn’t breathing in winter garden sounds, my head was filled with podcast chatter and audio books, and my break times, with little reception, were spent reading.
Plans were being made, development work was being commissioned, and I had plenty to get my teeth into. Dense grass swards were recovered, normal lawns trimmed, wayward shrubs pruned or moved and hedges, in need of TLC, received the harshest of cut backs. Loppers and a saw became daily tools of choice.
A long established compost bin and sizeable leaf stack were harvested and put to use, and others turned and created – more than doubling the previous quantity of both with additional wildlife piles for good measure. Trees too called for attention, and with a handful of tasks and investigative visits, a plan for the trees began forming.
Although it would be easy to take from my words that it was all doom and gloom, it was not. Hard work yes, but moments, sometimes hours and occasionally days shone brightly through winter trees, and as buds were bursting the garden was already showing its horticultural pedigree.
Snowdrops, if mostly the simple form were in abundance and mild early season days brought blossom hither and thither. Selected hellebores raised many faces, glory-of-the-snow shone from freshly restored and frosted lawns, and primroses popped up beside every path. Spring was genuinely revitalising and much needed.
Slowly, as if to make up for winter rain, the sun arrived to pull and push me through to the summer. Whilst the sun shone and the kite soared overhead, the prior peace was quickly challenged. Plans, previously on paper began to form on the ground proper, and within the walls of the kitchen garden. Numerous box shrubs from their temporary quarters were scooped up and hauled away to a slip garden whilst figs and vines, layered from heritage varieties, were teased and potted for posterity.
Paths were laid, repairs made, and walls grew to bring present relevance. Beds have been raised, media levelled, and triangular tines have carved seed grooves with the most delicate of rake runs. The former Victorian walled garden has begun to breathe again, and what I’d have given to look out from the prettiest of garden bothies with the 1880s Head Gardener, and to have seen them looking over the new growth.
Beyond those garden walls dressed with the occasional ivy-leaved toadflax, another border took shape. Anonymously stored dahlias were eager to appear, and old ground was re-broken. The deck was cleared for a new display and for new discoveries of old favourites. Before the beautifully matched tulips were done, tubers were shooting and teepees were raised to be dressed, in time, with numerous sweetly scented peas that matched the brightest of border displays I’ve seen for a good while.
Yet, when considering the year, it feels like I’ve only scratched the surface beyond which hide numerous tasks and trials and successes. It’s been a period of intense effort matched with dynamic thinking in a garden full of creativity and content. It was exhausting but it was significant for many reasons, and I’ve really learned a great deal about myself during the time.
It wasn’t just me I hasten to add, for I had the encouragement of many people around me – for a position that is largely solo working, every comment of encouragement on social media always spurred me on. Volunteers too, how could I not thank the hard work of some great friends who also dug deep, literally, to push the garden and me forward.
It was a fascinating period of time, an illuminating stopping point in my journey, and one I’ll remain very fond of. In the very least, I’ll imagine the garden continuing to grow and blossom over the coming seasons, and who knows, I might return to see the results! Ah yes, I mustn’t forget Woodapuss…
Next weekend, after the dust settles, I’ll be looking forward to my next chapter, or few chapters, where I’ll be getting to know a very different garden space. Will Reginald Blomfield turn in his grave, and can the ‘Capability’ Brown landscape styled gardener be able to thrive in the formal gardening world? All will become clear!