The rain showers kept coming. As my favourite commentator, Brenda from Bristol, would have said: ‘Not another one!’.1 The rain started more or less the weekend after we opened the garden for the National Gardens Scheme, back in September (note for your diary: in 2020 we’ll open on the weekend of September 20-21). At first the wet was just irritating. It meant, for example, that long grass in the meadow couldn’t be cut until it was a bit too long – which meant in turn that it had to be raked off in places (hard work!). Some areas, such as the orchard, even missed their late autumn cut. But even so, there were compensations. The summer growing season had been warm and wet, which meant that trees grew well and the red stemmed white willows (Salix alba var. Kermesina) laid down vigorous new stems, which glowed a good colour in the late autumn sunshine.
The constantly passing shower clouds would often form strange patterns at dawn and dusk and I noticed this rather strange stripy effect on two or three separate occasions, when I got up early to do my first stint of writing.
But there were a few other benefits. The ground water table had been very low for several years and the pond would remain dry for many months. I was actually getting quite concerned for the well-being of the many hundreds of newts and toads who depend on its water. At first the almost ceaseless showers seemed to be having a minimal effect and the pond stayed stubbornly dry. Sometime in later October, water began to accumulate, first slowly, then quite rapidly. This photo, taken a few weeks before Christmas, shows the water at its correct level, which is more or less at Sea Level. Ignore the willow trunk in the foreground and look instead at the three trees growing out of the pond. They are semi-evergreen Swamp Cypresses (Taxodium distichum), from the southern states of North America, and are just starting to shed their leaves. They’re one of the few trees that can happily grow in near-permanent standing water. If trees could dance, that’s what they’ll be doing now…
Thanks to the roots of the many hundreds of trees and shrubs that we planted over the years, some parts of the garden remained passable, if not exactly firm underfoot. The Nut Walk was just such an area, but as you can see I haven’t been able to get out and rake up the leaves, which we normally put in bags and use as leaf-mould in a year’s time. The grey squirrel problem has become so severe that we only managed to collect a couple of dozen hazel nuts. They start picking and opening them in July – weeks before there’s anything inside the shells to eat. It’s SO annoying, although I must confess, I do quite like looking at them when they play on the wooden pergola, which we call the Poop (as in Poop Deck), at the back of the house.
The rain eased-off briefly in early December and I was able to get this post-leaf-fall view of the wood and the meadow. There’s something very English about such a simple scene. I have to say it, but I often find modern gardens can be over-designed and a bit too clever, with far too many contrived views and vistas. Sometimes something as simple as trees, grass and woodland-edge can possess a dignity and charm that’s irresistible – for me at least!
And now to the floods. I think what made them – and still makes them – so destructive and difficult to manage or deal with is the fact that the soil was already completely saturated by the time the heaviest rains started to fall, in November and December. Usually when floods happen they tend to be one-off events: sudden massive rainfall usually followed by weeks of drier weather. That way you can get back on the land after four or five days. But this season I haven’t been able to get back to the vegetable garden at all. Runner bean plants are still there, with their bamboo cane frame starting to lean at an impossible angle. And I certainly haven’t been able to barrow-in the manure to do my usual early winter digging. I’m about a month behind in the vegetable garden. Here’s a shot of the floods along the edge of the meadow, at the end of the Serpentine Walk.
Here’s another view of the flooded area, which you can see lies in a clear line or row. If this was anywhere else in Britain, you’d say that the water was lying in the furrow of an abandoned ridge-and-furrow field, but in the Middle Ages the silt Fens of Lincolnshire were farmed in a slightly different way, that didn’t involve the raising of high, heaped-up ridges. Instead, local farmers dug widely separated, parallel shallow ditches known as dylings. Very few of these still survive as surface features, but they often show-up in very wet conditions. I’ve counted about six running parallel across our garden. This one is particularly clear – in fact it’s a great shame it isn’t still flowing!
One job we have managed to do is to cut back the hornbeam hedges which have grown rather long and straggly of late. It’s a pretty heavy and demanding job and my hip won’t let me do it. So I employed Jason, who did a superb job and is as keen about good hedge-clipping as I am. It has been good to see them straightened-up and rejuvenated. Jason’s YouTube website is well-worth visiting.
So that’s it, but only for a short time. I’m aware I haven’t done a blog post for just over a month and that’s because I’ve been up-to-my-neck with signings of The Fens and I’ve also been very busy working on my new book for Head of Zeus, which I’ve got to finish by the autumn. So I’ll be back shortly. The rain has held off for almost a fortnight and I’ve been able to do a little light work on the garden – usually involving several sheets of plywood and wellies. I’ve been living in wellies of late!
1 For the benefit of my non-British readers, Brenda was famously recorded on the BBC greeting the news of a recent General Election with the words: ‘Not another one!’ in a strong Bristol accent.