2012 will go down in my memory as the year that sorely tried our garden and the little wood and kitchen garden down the road that we call The Patch. The hard frosts of the winter played havoc with the fig tree, eucalyptus and ornamental bay trees. The spring drought and hosepipe ban ensured that the early vegetables in my raised beds struggled to make anything of themselves. The lack of sunshine in late spring slowed up the spring bedding so that when it was time to replace my early tubs and baskets with summer plants, the pansies and violas were still flowering profusely. The begonias didn’t like the wet June and have only just started looking colourful, and the disappointing summer weather was a cue for every garden pest and disease to run riot.
Now, when it will soon be time to have a good clear-out, the garden is looking half-decent. The roses, devastated with black spot earlier on, have put on healthy new growth and flower buds that are just beginning to put on a show. There is colour in the hanging baskets at last, the runner beans are producing a bumper crop, the fruit trees in our mini-orchard, especially the plums, are positively dripping with fruit, and the frost-damaged shrubs have largely recovered, although the new shoots look a bit tender and will need fleece protection if we get the frosts this winter we’ve seen this last couple of years. We keep hearing rumours of an Indian summer; if this materialises there should be colour well into the autumn. You know you are getting like your mother when you say things like, “This will shorten the winter nicely,” and “This should make it only about four months till spring’s here again.” Oh, dear.
The good thing about being a gardener is that there’s always an opportunity to keep looking forward. At the moment it’s spring bulbs that are concentrating my mind wonderfully. I like to get a good display from late January, with the snowdrops at the Patch and tubs of early crocuses at home, through to midsummer with the alliums I squeeze between every plant. Most years we have an open day or weekend in aid of local charities, and this also influences what I plant now for the best display when the public arrives.
About a year ago we lost our beautiful blue greyhound, Bluebell, to cancer, and next year we hope to have a charity Bluebell Weekend in her memory, and to raise funds for local animal causes. There are plenty of bluebells already at The Patch, and the flowering trees in the small arboretum there will be at their best, but as we open both the garden at home and the Patch, there needs to be a good display at both places.
Most of the narcissi will be over by bluebell time, and you can’t always rely on winter pansies still to be looking good, so I am considering planting up most of the temporary containers with late-flowering tulips and forget-me-nots. This will provide a good contrast between the home plot, which is very much a managed garden, and The Patch, which is organised as a nature reserve, where cultivated plants are kept to a minimum to allow native species to dominate.
A function of this nature needs at least six months to prepare for, so I have to make a start now. While the event is so far off, it all seems like great fun, between making sure everything is fit for public scrutiny and deciding what refreshments to serve, to contacting appropriate stallholders to ensure the visitors get a good day out and making sure there will be enough helpers when the time arrives. As the event gets nearer, however, some of the joy tends to disappear, but it is a good incentive to make sure both the garden and The Patch are in tip top form – after all, nobody wants to be disappointed with petrol the price it is these days. There’s no point in telling the visitors they should have been here last week, or it will be better next week – it’s now they’re visiting, and now must be good.