Regular readers of this blog could be forgiven for thinking I am not particularly fond of my back garden, as I seem to spend all my time obsessing about the front. Not so. I love the challenge that the front garden represents, the opportunity for experimenting with new-to-me plants, the wonderful view, but it is also a demanding project, and by its nature when I am working on it – physically rather than just in my head – I am on view. It’s a bit like when I nip up to the High Street to buy something from the butchers, I try to remember that I am “in public” and that I really should check for smudges of dirt on my nose, have approximately clean hands, and preferably not wear clothes covered in dirt. I do allow myself the dirty clothes when I am gardening out the front, and I enjoy the chance to chat to neighbours, but I am not always in the mood for that kind of experience.
The back garden, in contrast, is quite private, very sunny, and sheltered from the wind, so that on days when popping round to the front garden or up the High Street requires a fleece, I can sit in the back garden in a t-shirt. It is an altogether relaxed space, the horticultural equivalent of that really comfy pair of jeans that you love to put on, but wouldn’t wear to impress anyone. The planting is thought about but tends to proceed in a more evolutionary, rather than revolutionary, way. It helps that the aspect is identical to my old garden, it even has an acer – the same kind of acer, no less – in the equivalent spot. It is comfortable, feels like a known quantity. It is where I potter, hang washing, chat to TNG (although we prefer to chat whilst bobbing around on the sea in the kayaks), rest in the hammock listening to the magpies arguing with the blackbirds. So here is a bit of an update on the back garden.
Coming round the side of the house from where we keep the compost bins, the Park border is beginning to fill out, and I am delighted with my rescued and repainted half-barrel, now full of mint.
We have a hawthorn growing, rather inconveniently, along the side path, but I can forgive it the occasional scraped knuckle when squeezing past with a wheelbarrow when it is in full flower. I adore hawthorn blossom.
I love the back garden because although there are always plenty of things that need doing, many of them are quite small jobs, that give quick satisfaction and can be fitted in around other things. Like planting up the rhubarb and comfrey in the area where I had to remove the jumbled mass of ivy, decaying trellis and choked escallonia.
I am really enjoying the kitchen garden too, despite the challenges the cold Spring presented us all with, though I will be even happier once the wretched strimmer finally arrives and I can neaten the edges!
The park border is gradually filling out. I have replaced the black bamboo I brought with me from the old garden, which was struggling and just didn’t look right, with an escallonia ‘Apple Blossom’. This should provide evergreen screening and lovely pale pink flowers. I’m gradually adding in perennials brought with me or sown from seed too. It takes a lot of weeding at the moment, thanks to all the bare patches, but I am enjoying seeing it gradually fill out.
I am particularly enjoying seeing the black elder I pruned back so ruthlessly rewarding me with a mass of dark purple, deeply dissected, foliage, and the astrantia major ‘Hadspen’s Blood’ is adding a touch of class.
Still lots to do here, the well-established waterfall of dark foliage from the acer looks magnificent, but a little isolated.
I am delighted that the removal of the two enormous conifers behind it, not to mention the three spotted laurels, have not meant leaf scorch due to increased exposure. The trellis and the gymn building in the park beyond provide enough shelter.
In the back right corner I have planted up a native hazel, rescued as a seedling in my last garden, and have underplanted it with wild garlic. I have dreams of harvesting pea sticks from the hazel in years to come, and of wafts of garlic-scented air and tasty fresh leaves and flowers. The reality is more likely to be a desperate attempt to stop the garlic from taking over the garden, but hey, I had to try!
There are also tulips. Which were a surprise. They were supposed to be tete-a-tete daffs. I was really disappointed when earlier in the year, one of the two clumps of daffs came up and put on a good showing whilst the other just did nothing at all. Then the pot that was supposed to have the tulips in suddenly sprouted – yes, you guessed it, daffs. So I now have ‘Havran’ tulips growing alongside wild garlic and hazel in what is supposed to be the wilder corner of the garden. You know, full of natives.
Ah well, the best laid plants, etc. I think I may leave them to it, just to see what happens next year. Plus I am rather amused at the idea of tulips and ferns. I have lots of ferns, they have self-seeded all over the place, and I will be moving some to fill in the gap behind the acer, but I can’t help thinking they will look better with bluebells, even Spannish ones, than they will with the rather posh and classy ‘Havran’…
I’ll do a proper post on the kitchen garden another time, including admitting to my brazen land-grab resulting in another raised bed! I have to say though, I love being able to just nip out the back door and pick something or do a little weeding, so much more convenient than heading up to the allotment, which always meant a more major session. I loved the allotment, but with my health issues this works much better for me, and although the decorative side of it is something I will work on over the coming years, I already love the contribution that the delicate flowers of mange-tout ‘Golden Sweet’ and the contrasting colours of the lettuces make.
But the are of the garden that most epitomises the feel it has, and why I love it, is Daisy Corner.
Originally dominated by an enormous Olearia macrodonta, or ‘Daisy Bush’, removing it has brought in so much light and increased the sense of space dramatically. I was really enthused by the idea of a Daisy Bush when we first arrived. It is a plant with an RHS Award of Garden Merit, and often recommended for coastal gardens because it is tolerant of wind and salt, the tough slightly serrated bluey-green leaves provide excellent evergreen screening, and in summer they are covered in a mass of small daisy-like flowers loved by insects of all kinds. What’s not to love? Well, what they don’t tell you is that the seedheads that follow the flowers last for months. As in July to March and, for all I know, beyond. And they look really messy, and if you are daft enough to go anywhere near the plant, they leap off and cover you, hair, clothes, shoes. Add in that although they tolerate partial shade ours was planted in a north facing bed right under the shade of three sycamores and you have a recipe for a trunk that leans out into the garden desperately seeking light. It had to go. The daisies are now to be found in the wildflower lawn we are experimenting with, along with some violas I moved from elsewhere.
I plan to add crocus and fritillaries, yellow rattle and ladies smock in due course, it is a damp area, but even as it is it makes me smile.
The daisy border itself has a backbone of white rosa rugosa, hebe, bamboo, sweet box and a rather pretty fuchsia I saved from the front garden, all of which is too small to be worth a photograph as yet. At the front I indulged myself and bought white ragged robin and geum rivale, which hopefully next year, with purple cow parsley and possibly some white astrantia will be really pretty, but at the moment only the geum is doing its thing. I love it.
However the area that works best does so by pure serendipity. Where I have re-shaped the bed under the purple beech there is a mass of Saxifraga x urbium otherwise known as ‘London Pride’. It isn’t a plant I know, in fact I mistook it for a sedum, and I certainly hadn’t ever seen it flower. I had already planted a persicaria in there, to help screen the utility area behind, but then I found a lovely Dicentra spectabilis at a local hardware store and with fil’s encouragement popped it in the trolley. They work beautifully together, and I am going to have to think carefully about what I put under the beech to complement them.
Perhaps some of the pretty lamium maculatum I have inherited?
What happy accidents in your garden are making you smile at the moment?