Why is it that when deadlines approach, things always seem to go pear-shaped? I’m tempted to mention the Brexit fiasco, but it’s all too inept, divisive, dishonest and depressing. So let’s return to reality and what has been happening in the garden. August was a difficult month: warm, humid and rainy. August 11th brought fierce Atlantic gales. The next morning my walk with the dogs revealed broken branches on some of the black poplars, which will have to be chain-sawed off in the winter, but not before then, as black poplars are notorious for ‘bleeding’ sap if they’re cut back at this time of year. Later that morning we had to go shopping for supplies, but our journey down the front drive was abruptly halted when we came across a large branch that had been blown off one of the pollarded willows near the pond. It completely blocked the drive and couldn’t be dragged out of the way, as it was still partially attached to the tree. A couple of hours later I’d cleared a path through – where would I be without my trusty chainsaw? But I now knew it was time to re-pollard the willows. Yet another job for the winter – and professional tree-surgeons.
Opening the garden for charity through the National Gardens Scheme is very rewarding and it’s also very hard work, especially in a wet year like 2019 when weeds seem to reappear two or three weeks after you’ve cleared them. Some parts of the main borders have been completely weeded four times already this season. Normally I’d reckon on doing it twice. But opening also provides us with incentive to get jobs done that we might otherwise defer. A case in point is the dogs’ daytime run and kennels in the barn. The dogs prefer the shade and airiness of the barn on hot summer days and in the past we used to make a lash-up arrangement for them using hurdles, bales of straw and anything suitable that came to hand. Then in the autumn we’d clear it all out of the way before the sheep came in for lambing. But now that we’ve stopped lambing, we decided to make the dogs a more comfortable, permanent daytime home in the barn. So I bought ready-made wooden fencing panels and with our neighbour Jessie’s help we’ve constructed quite a smart new run, complete with two old kennels that I’d previously contemplated putting on the bonfire. The new canine compound will allow visitors to the garden to enjoy Pen and Baldwin, but we must first prepare Health and Safety notices to ensure that nobody gets licked to death by either of them – a slimy, if rather warm and lingering demise.
Another slimy Health and Safety hazard is the decking of the patio or poop-deck at the back of the house, from where our crack Tea Team dispense vast quantities of tea and cakes (at VERY reasonable prices) during the open weekend. Because the air in Lincolnshire is very clean and unpolluted, algae grow readily and within a few months, especially in a warm, wet summer, the decking can become highly hazardous, especially on wet days. So that was why I asked Jessie if he’d very kindly bring along his brand new power washer and give the poop a quick blast, when he’d finished work on the dogs’ run. In the event it took him three and a half hours, but the results have been fantastic, largely, I gather from Jessie, because of a new rotating brush-head, which proved extremely effective. This view shows the decking during cleaning. It was miraculous. I won’t suggest that visitors could wear high-heals, because that would be silly, but the poop deck will be fine, even if we get a shower or two at the opening.
Opposite the poop-deck at the back of the house is one of those sunless, north-facing beds that can often be such a problem for gardeners. It’s on the dark side of an L-shaped brick wall that supports two large fig trees and hides the fuel tank for the Aga. We’ve tried growing all sorts of plants there, mostly without success. Then about ten years ago Maisie decided to use it as somewhere for pot plants. And what a success that has proved:
Our heavy, moist soils can often make it difficult to establish certain plants and over the years we’ve found that growing shrubs in containers is a good way to build up a strong root system. The two large pots with Mahonia ‘Soft Caress’ will probably be emptied next year and the Mahonias transplanted to a dry bed elsewhere in the garden. Incidentally, ‘Soft Caress’ is well-named as it isn’t even slightly prickly, unlike most other Mahonias whose dead, dry leaves can be very painful indeed when weeding without gloves. We were given the Tetrapannax as a potted sucker by our niece Rosie Sutton (a professional gardener with the National Trust) and it has taken a few years to get established; but now it’s starting to grow vigorously, with huge leaves that give the bed a wonderfully exotic, jungle-like feel. With any luck we’ll be able to start transplanting suckers ourselves in a year or two.
When I took the photos for the last blog post there were simply too many good pictures to use, so I’m showing a couple more to remind us of past glories. The Hostas were as good as I’ve ever seen them and their flowering was superb. Maisie was very worried that we didn’t manage to spread the ground around them with sharp sand, grit and wool balls that expand to repel the slugs that can so rapidly honeycomb their attractive large leaves. But she needn’t have worried: the Hostas were to provide a cool, damp and sheltered refuge for quite a large population of toads who made very swift work of any passing slugs. Thank heavens they’ll never become Vegans.
Unlike the beautiful leaves of Hostas, those of Hemerocallis (Daylilies) can look a bit tired in early Autumn, but in common with the Hostas they also provide nice damp protection for toads and newts at a time of the year when the main pond has been dried-up by the roots of the willows and Swamp Cypresses (Taxodium distichum) surrounding it. I sometimes think that modern gardens, especially those in towns and suburbs, can often be a bit too tidy. After all, a weed is just a plant in the wrong place: they aren’t some kind of existential threat, as they are often portrayed in magazines and on television. So I don’t tend to remove the leaves of plants like hemerocallis and I certainly don’t knot the leaves of daffodils, as used to be seen in ‘neat’ gardens of the ‘60s and ’70s. Like mature human beings, older plants should be encouraged to flop about a bit.