A couple of days ago I dug the first early potatoes of the season. It had been raining on and off for the previous ten days and the soil was more like porridge than earth. My heart sank as I looked at the mess of mud and spuds: there were slug holes everywhere. I won’t say the crop was ruined, but if the damage continues it will be. Very depressing. In fact, this is the first time in over forty years of vegetable-growing that my first earlies have been slugged. As I said: very depressing. So let’s try and look on the brighter side.
And what could be more cheering than an early rose? Maisie is something of a rose enthusiast and our garden has dozens of different varieties. I tend to like the older, more scented ones and am very fond of natural species, or very slightly improved ones. A good example is Rosa moyseii ‘Geranium’. This is a tall species that loves to grow through low trees, such as birches. We’ve got one in a birch and one (seen here), which scrambles over the tall brick wall which protects the front garden from the cold north-easterly winds of winter. Some of the more highly bred older roses lose their blooms at the first sign of rain, but not Rosa moyseii, which was looking particularly good when I took this photo, on June 10th.
A couple of years ago we decided it was time to take the small garden in front of the house in hand. This was where the readi-mix concrete lorries stood when we were pouring the house’s foundations, back in 1995. Later, the ground got further messed-up when we added the back porch and built-on a couple of walls. Rather than face the problem, we dumped loads of muck on the ground and planted a few shrubs, in the hope that nature would repair the damage we’d inflicted on it. And it seems to have worked. I won’t say the soil is anywhere near as good as in the vegetable garden, but at least it is soil – and not just gleyed silt.
So two years ago we cleared some over-grown shrubs and laid-out a new path, which we fringed with perennials. One or two plants had managed to survive from the previous garden including my favourite Delphinium, ‘Summer Skies’, which had struggled to survive for some fifteen years, but which was quite suddenly thriving, now that the shading shrubs had gone. I don’t think it has ever looked this good.
About a couple of metres away from Summer Skies are two plants of my favourite peony, with the slightly cringe-making name, Bowl of Beauty. Again, it’s looking superb and is flowering freely, if a couple of weeks late. Peonies can take the rain better than roses, but this year hasn’t been at all easy and I suspect the season is going to be very short indeed.
I suppose the horticultural polar opposite to the exotic and highly improved Bowl of Beauty is the native British species Iris pseudacorus, or flag iris. It gave its name to Flag Fen and I can see it flowering along dykesides as I drive through the fens near here. It always lifts my spirits, which is why we planted it around the little pond in our garden. It can be a bit invasive, so needs to be controlled in the autumn.
And finally, something completely different: strawberries. Fortunately I got mine strawed-up the day before the weather broke. It’s important to push straw underneath as many young green strawberries as you can. Do this while it’s still dry and you won’t lose your crop to slugs. I suppose those slimy little garden terrorists have eaten 5% of my crop, but that’s a lot better than having nothing. And a sprinkling of sugar can compensate for the lack of sunshine. The taste, the underlying flavour, of home-grown strawberries is so, so, so much better than those bland supermarket ones. We like them with Greek yogurt, which is far less fattening than cream. And as we are forced to eat strawberries twice a day for some three weeks, you have to take these things seriously. Cheers!
Oh yes – and death to all slugs.