When the world seems topsy turvy and uncertain, our gardens are a refuge to escape into. As I write, the birds are singing, dahlia leaves drip from a recent rainfall and I can see weeds to pull, seed heads to pinch off. Nature is oblivious to the rollercoaster we have had this year, growing away and doing the do regardless.
The gardens are better than ever. We have been gardening the ‘Walled Garden’ since late 2016 and the ‘Braybrooke’ since 2018. So much has happened since then; the approach and purpose to the spaces have changed many times over that period. But the constants, Ranunculus flowering in April, Roses in June, Dahlias in September return with each turn around the sun. With the smallest of intervention from me, the plants grow. My tasks really boil down to introducing the plant to the soil, material to the compost heap and then returning it to the soil. In one way or another, the cycle continues with the compounded effect of effort rewarded. When I first started gardening over 20 years ago, with youthful arrogant confidence coupled with overwhelming lack of knowledge, I was assured that plants want to grow. It is their ‘raison d’etre’ with little to do with me! I have had successes and failure each year. Some can easily be predicted. Should a seed stay in the packet then there is little to no chance of harvesting a fruit or flower from it. Others, like the nicandra that usually reliably self seeds everywhere, but is hardly to be seen this year, and the very little that grew isn’t where I would have chosen. I am going to have to make some tough decisions and decide which plants will mature. The nicandra has selected my favourite (this year) psychedelic annual chrysanthemum as its bedfellow. These two will not cohabit kindly and I am dithering over which to favour.
The Rudbeckia laciniata ‘Herbstonne’ is taller than me already and still has a couple of months of flowering ahead. It originally was a plant gifted easily 15 years ago. It has moved with me and waved its sunshine daisy petals against the summery deep blue sky until I took it for granted and just one plant remained. Two years ago, our gardening club split up a huge but tired clump that was sulkily refusing to flower. Last year every plant was desiccated by slugs, pinched out again and again. This year they are rising up about to flower magnificently and I can’t wait. The anticipation is all the sweeter for it.
This summer, I have hardly any ammi, orlaya or nigella growing, so I am sowing these now for early plants next and remedy their absence. I’m also germinating echinacea, hollyhocks and baptisia, perennials that will take a few years to bulk up enough to cut from.
Many years of experience now has left me more patient and I wonder a bit more grateful for gardening, its stories, memories and generosity. I am smugly sage about my mistakes nevertheless wildly optistmic for the future. I know successes are often luck over judgement, nature most certainly over my nurture. But if in August I remember to stake and net my annuals ahead of summer storms, deadhead and cut hard back spring flowering perennials, it certainly helps the results into the late summer.
This month, the gardens are a raft in unpredictable waters. We aren’t overwhelmed by tasks so I adore the long shadows and cool of the mornings, slinking away in the late evening to water deeply once a week, feed with my homemade (stinky) comfrey tea and snip off flowers as they go over. It’s a daily reset, I think the garden holds me more than I do so in return. It’s a tacit relationship, symbiotic in support and we are both rewarded handsomely by return.
Originally published in Cambridge Edition Magazine August 2021.