The Guilty Gardener.
I always feel rather guilty when I read of devoted gardeners slogging their guts out every minute of the day, knowing the Latin names for all the plants, and sighing on about the joy of it all.
Truth to tell, I would often rather sit and look at it, with beer in hand, rather than get stuck in.
However, when I do build up the energy, or more likely, when my wife hard-working wife has shamed me to it, I will don my moleskin trousers, Panama hat and stout shoes and get cracking.
Let me show you around our garden.
(Images: photos taken by me)
In The Beginning …
(Opposite: photo of the garden when we first moved here, five years ago)
My wife and I have lived in our present house for five years now. When the kids finally decided they had had enough of us, or maybe it was the other war round, we downsized from an old sprawling Victorian house, with its large – but very awkward garden – to a modern 1970s detached property.
Like many modern English houses, it has a smallish front garden, and a long and thin one – about 30 metres long, by 10 metres wide – at the rear. It faces south so catches the sun for most of the day, overlooks the River Aire valley in Yorkshire, and is dominated by Ilkley Moor behind us. We are on a slope, so the rain drains down both to the west and south, and the soil is a medium and easy-to-work loam.
It’s a good spot. The small town down the hill is a pleasant, peaceful place to be and we have friendly and decent neighbours, although we all subscribe to the adage, ‘good fences make good neighbours’. The fences, or hedges in our case, are needed too, as this is Yorkshire and it can get pretty nippy when the winds blow, which they often do. The winds sweep down from the moors, so you need thick hedges to give your plants some shelter. It’s the wind, rather than the cold here that does most plant damage, if you let it.
When we first moved here, the garden was OK – a long lawn, a few trees and shrubs dotted around (see picture above). We had no great vision or grand design, apart from wanting a vegetable growing area, so for a while we just looked at the space. Things kind of evolved in time, with us responding to them. We found early on that the two main trees were diseased, so those had to come down, which opened up space to the left of the garden.
We dug or extended existing borders for shrubs, bought a range of deciduous shrubs, including bamboos and magnolias, and started to acquire smaller perennial plants – mainly from sales at our local church hall, or from car boot sales.
For the most part, we didn’t quite know what we were buying, but if it looked good and the seller assured us it was hardy, would grow to such-and-such height, we’d take pot luck with what emerged. We’ve been lucky with what we bought, and most of them have made themselves right at home: ” ‘ey up, it’s all right here, Mother, in’t it.”
Gradually the garden took shape, and as it did we started to respond to its evolution with additional tweaks (see the same view today, picture on the right). But it’s still changing; that’s the beauty of gardens and gardening.
Early on we established work demarcation lines.
I would take charge of the fruit trees, bushes, vegetables, herbs and grass, whilst my wife would be the designated flower and shrub person. This was largely because I am, “Heavy-handed on the pruning, don’t know a weed from a prize dahlia, and have no colour sense whatsover“.
But I do know my onions and can operate manly things like lawn mowers, strimmers, drills and stuff; and my brutish nature is often enlisted for the gut-rupture stuff with spade and shovel. And, with all due modesty, I’m a whizz at making compost. Famous for it.
So between us things get done.
What am I growing in my vegetable patch? You name it.
But you will find potatoes, carrots, lettuces and peas galore … you get the idea. look at the photos below instead, if you are interested; it’s less boring.
We want to boast about a new acquisition though: a greenhouse – a nice big green ‘un, which is lush and popping right now (June) with tomato, chillies, cucumber, peppers, aubergine and watermelon. There’s nothing quite like stepping from the cool winds in the garden into the warmth of the greenhouse: the heat embraces you as you enter. No wonder the plants love it.
Now, I’m a nice guy, really. But there are always a few who spoil it for the rest of us. And I have to admit these guys below bring out the Mr Hyde in me.
Opposite is Harold Dalrymple. He was a corporate banker when alive, but in the midst of celebrating a multi-billion contract he’d secured, he choked on a vol au vent, keeled over and died.
But he’s back now, with an eye on my spinach assets. He’s busy too, spawning a future generation of Harolds, but on behalf of the Little Guy everywhere, I’m fighting back this time.
Old Etonian, Henry Smyth-Bradley, was a lawyer. He too died suddenly but happily counting his money. And like Harold, he’s found ripe new territory and is busy ambulance chasing around the casualties of my slug pellets. He’s gonna hit me any day now with an injunction for malicious intent, I can feel it coming. But bring it on, Henry.
The Cabbage Patch Gang
Now these guys are a special nuisance – but they were in downtown Bradford too – so what else is new? They’re back in town, and nobody’s property is safe.
But, they’re kids – and unlike the unredeemable Harold and Henry – I’ve got some hope for them.
If I take them in hand, and throw them over the fence into my neighbour’s garden, I’ve a feeling they’ll turn out fine in the end. We were all young once, right?
“Get Your Fruit ‘n Veg Here”
The Flower Girl
The flower and shrub world is my wife’s territory. And she wants me to say that she’s done a great job. I can’t argue (wouldn’t dare).
She has made the stained glass panels on the patio and on the lawn too, and potted up most of the tubs and containers you see here and in the picture gallery, below.
The flower and shrub garden has a pleasing blend of height, structure and colour and we have added arches and domes to add to this effect.
Honeysuckle and clematis climb and twist around the fences and in the evenings the scent from these drifts toward the house. Shrubs and perennials predominate over annuals because they are less trouble, but we get strong hits of colour from the annuals in window boxes and pots – the fiery red of the geraniums blaze from the patio in the height of summer.
My favourite of the shrubs is the Philadelphus, or ‘Mock Orange’, for the simple clusters of white flowers and its heady citrus scent. Man! It’s intoxicating.
In one of the flower beds is a heron sculpture from Zambia. It has a metal head and legs, with a body of irregular shaped wood. In summer the shrubs grow around it, but you can usually see its head peeking out of the greenery. It sways on its spindly legs in the wind, but is a pretty tough fella really.
We have started to grow rockery plants in containers. There are some wonderful shapes to these plants, with bursts of colour every year from the flowers. And, contrary to their delicate appearance, they are as tough as old boots, providing they are in gritty well-drained soil.
All Things Bright …
Good Nosh: ‘All Day Breakfasts Served’
Our garden has built a fine reputation for good nosh, and plenty of it.
The word got around and soon the tweets started.
“The bald one … generous with the sunflower hearts.”
“A right soft touch … do some acrobatics for him, guys, he’ll be chuffed.”
“It don’t take much to please this lot.”
“No ******* cat, either.”
“I wish they’d change the water in that bird table more often though … that wood pigeon’s got some very mucky habits. It’s probably from Barnsley.”
It’s Been a Hard Day
Well, I’ve done my bit today. I’ve fought the good fight and put the Harolds, Henrys and Cabbage Patch guys in their places, so I can justify sitting with a beer now. You won’t deny me that small pleasure, surely?
(Any libellous similarities between worthy members of the mollusc community in Yorkshire and corporate bankers and lawyers is, of course, unintended.)