For all of us, a perfect day in the garden will be the sum of many little tasks, revelations and modest triumphs that together make our collective hobby so satisfying. But with such contrasting tastes and locations (and, in Caroline’s case, skill levels …) what really constitutes a perfect day in the garden for us three sisters? I’m afraid to say the following list may contain a little more than its fair share of sisterly oneupmanship …
1. Patience rewarded. My perfect day in the garden will always start with a perambulation after breakfast (so 7.30am for me, much later, no doubt, for C and E ) when I will hopefully come across some plant that has finally come good after years of patient cosseting. At the moment this slot is being filled by Crambe cordifolia, which is flowering for the first time after 10 years and three location changes (a level of commitment unthinkable by E or C).
2. Compost making Another real satisfaction for me is to make a batch of my own peat-free potting compost by up-cycling (at the age of 66 I am finally bang on-trend ?). I tip all the spent contents of pots in which plants have died into a big wheelbarrow first. Then I add in great dollops from our compost heap and dung lump, plus a bit of bark and gravel. Lastly I mix the whole lot up with a spade. Not only is this better for the planet, the heaving and twisting involved means it’s better for my waistline – it’s a win-win that gives me a warm glow inside and out.
3 Wildlife watching My perfect day would also include a moment of mindfulness as I watch a cloud of pollinators descend on a particular group of the plants; their hormones have told them to go into nectar overdrive to get that all-important cross-fertilisation achieved. (Clever plant breeders are now producing sterile clones that are incapable of fertilisation. This results in a much longer period of flower and nectar production – good for the bees, but a bit cruel to the poor plants who are endlessly attracting pollinators without anything to show for it? )
4 Catching scent on the air. Scent is the most evocative of our senses especially when it catches you unaware. The plant that has come up trumps for me this spring is a humble self-sown perennial stock, Matthiola incana ‘Alba’. It has conveniently positioned itself close enough to our swing seat to be discernible on the breeze as we have a cuppa on Sunday afternoon listening to GQT on the radio – now that’s definitely part of a perfect day in the garden, and the scene is our feature picture this week
Oooooh, can’t you just hear the smug tone in Laura’s voice as she tells us about her homemade peat-free compost? Laudable of course, and I do make compost, but Laura needs to get out more if making a compost mix is part of her Perfect Day in the Garden. I have different ideas – surprise, surprise! Here we go:
5. A touch of sunshine: There was a time when I could lie out in the sun and relish the heat for hours – barmy, of course even when slathered in Factor 50. No more. Now, all I need is a warm, bright day in which to potter around the garden while wearing a wide-brimmed straw hat. I HAVE had happy times wading around in muddy borders in the pelting rain, but contentment is a lot harder to find when your gloves are sodden and there’s a slug crawling up your neck.
6. Weeding a patch: I kinda LOVE weeding. I have a trillion weeds in my garden, and it may appear to the casual observer that I have a very laisser-faire attitude to them. But when I set myself to clear an area so that the things I actually planted there can have the air, space, and nutrients they were supposed to have, it’s soooo satisfying!
I’m talking about the easy annual stuff here, of course, like groundsel, chickweed and hairy bittercress; digging out ground elder, brambles and bindweed would NOT be part of an ideal day. I love the story about Christopher Lloyd at Great Dixter being really annoyed with a visitor who, unasked, did a bit of weeding for him of a certain patch which he had been saving for himself!
7. A bit of appreciation. Okay, so you have spent all day bottom-up in the flowerbeds, dead-heading this, moving that, pruning a shrub, propping up a delphinium etc. etc. and you’re ready for a sit-down with a snifter. You’re pleased with your efforts (though there is ALWAYS more to do) but what a sweet moment it is when your partner, or anyone, says “That looks nice!” We all know that Kipling poem about how ‘Such gardens are not made, by singing “Oh, how beautiful!” and sitting in the shade’. You have put in the graft, and enjoyed the work it involved, but some recognition goes a long, long way!
Making compost? Intensive weeding? What’s wrong with my sisters? It all sounds dreadfully dull when you could be …..
8. Plant shopping. MacPlants, Binny Plants, Glendoick these are all idyllic destinations in Scotland. Would any of you disagree that all budget constraints evaporate when you pore over the priceless wonder of a plant you haven’t seen before? A purchase was inevitable a few years ago when Donald Davidson at Abriachan Nursery murmured “Ah ‘Langtrees’ the only osteospermum that’s reliably hardy in the Highlands”, and now when it re-appears after yet another Highland winter – well that’s another perfect day right there.
9. Slug wars – Can’t lie, my ideal moment would be finding a note from the slugs to say they’ve won the lottery and they’re moving. Our wet spring has brought them out in force and now that slug pellets are a ‘no no’ I’m engaged in a battle of strategy and cunning with these slimey foe. Currently it involves cutting up my daughter’s orange squash bottles to create a slug-free creche for my small sweet peas etc. It’s quite Blue Peter-ish and bizarrely satisfying (I’m as sad as my sisters, aren’t I?) but before you start to feel sorry for the slugs – really don’t – just look at my still-exposed infant sunflowers.
10. Marvelling at plants‘ resilience. A huge pleasure for me is monitoring the miraculous return of plants I inadvertently strimmed off at ground level last year. Having little time and possibly too much hospitality, I don’t really do DETAIL, and some of quite expensive shrublets have taken a very cold shower under my command of the strimmer. But like your lifelong bestie, Mother Nature is immensely forgiving, and how one’s heart leaps with joy when that plant you thought you’d killed, produces just one tiny shoot.
Finally – Laura in fact just ruined one of my perfect days. Call me Little Miss Schadenfreude if you must, but sending her photographs of my Crambe cordifolia flowering gloriously here in the Scottish Highlands, while she endured another ‘no show’ with hers in Sussex, has been a yearly moment of euphoria for me.
You see pleasures don’t always have to be laudable – what makes you most happy in your garden? We’d love to hear your ideas!
NB Louise conducted intensive research before she chose the ideal rose – click on the box below to find out what it is.
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