It’s not been a great month really, January. There’s the weather – incessant rain and quite a lot of wind. There’s the whole “recovering from doing too much”, which combines really badly with “so much to do”. But since part of the enforced downtime has been due to a wonderful Christmas/New Year with friends and family, I don’t have too many complaints.
I love meeting new people, making new friends, but there’s something really special about old friends, the people you have known for years. All that shared history means that when you meet up again, even after years, you can pick up where you left off.
When I first started work in my early twenties it turned out there was a small group of us who all started together, and unsurprisingly we tended to hang out together. J and I soon became really good friends – his outrageous sense of humour frequently had me convulsed, and as we progressed from being the new kids on the block to being old hands, even, in my case, management, humour and shared values helped us both navigate the ups and downs of life in a large company. We stayed close after I got ill and had to give up work, J & TNG also being close friends by this point, and then J left and went to start a new life in Canada. TNG and I visited *cough* years ago, and later met J’s wife-to-be JC and her son. I helped reassure JC that J was good husband material – happily I was right!
Living on different continents and both living busy lives, contact has been sporadic, though when we do talk on the phone it is for hours. Literally. So when he got in touch to say he was going to be in the UK and could he come visit just before Christmas, we were both thrilled. He was only here two nights, but we didn’t stop talking from when he got of the train to when he got back on again. I know, I know, what does this have to do with gardening. Not much, to be honest, except that I find, 18 months after moving here, and much as I am enjoying learning my way around lots of new plants, there are still one or two plants from my old garden that I miss.
Some are perennials, and given time I will probably get new ones – Aquilegia ‘Lemon Queen’ springs to mind. They cause a slight pang when I come across them in old photos, or on somebody else’s blog. As it turns out though, one plant causes me rather more than just a slight pang. To the extent that I struggle to say nice things about them when featured on other people’s blog posts. Shameful but true. The identity of this much loved and much missed old friend of the plant world? The silver birch.
I had a trio of Himalayan birches, planted as maidens, now beautiful mature trees with brilliant white bark and pretty catkins. I miss them terribly, but I just couldn’t work out where I could put them – well, not “them”, as such, but others, new ones. Besides, I had promised myself that I would branch out and try new plants. New opportunities etc. etc. And then this happened:
That sad specimen, all brown and almost dead, is Ceanothus ‘Puget’s Blue’. It was supposed to grow in to a beautiful evergreen shrub, screening us from the house across the road, and provide a dramatic mass of deep blue flowers in summer. Turns out, it really, really doesn’t like cold northerly salt-laden winds. I thought it might struggle, but hoped the mild climate and good drainage would make it happy. They didn’t. So it had to go. Leaving a gap. Well, you can see where I am headed, can’t you. I read up again about planting trees near houses – and looked at the three huge sycamores a mere two meters from the house on one side, and the mass of willows almost as close in the park. And I ordered myself a new trio of Betula utilis jacquemontii. I almost went for a single multi stemmed specimen, which was what I had originally wanted when I planted my first trio nearly fifteen years ago, but these were cheaper and smaller, and I prefer to plant trees young.
It turns out that a lot seems to have changed in the tree growing industry in the intervening years. Way back then, I bought bare rooted maidens – birches and a lovely rowan. They were a lot cheaper than container grown trees and the advice was that they would establish better and soon catch up and surpass larger and pricier container grown specimens. So I hunted around for bare rooted birches. And found very few. Which was confusing. Until I learnt that nowadays the best way to grow trees is in containers which essentially air-prune the roots, encouraging lots of bushy growth and stop that terrible circling round and round which is part of the reason container-grown trees can take so long to establish. The company I bought my trees from actually describes them as being container-grown, but these were not conventional containers.
I was delighted, my trees came beautifully packaged, in these weird root-training pots, covered in promising buds and nicely shaped. But I do think the company should explain the advantages of growing in this type of pot, I was disappointed that all the bare rooted Himalayan birches I found were considerably more expensive than what I bought, as I thought I was, in a way, buying second best. Unless I have the whole thing wrong, that is. Anyway. Back to the trees.
I know it will take a lot of years before I have a mini grove again, but I love planting trees, it is such an optimistic thing to do, and it made today the best day of the year so far. As they grow they will change the planting conditions in this corner too, which will be fun to adapt to, and in the mean time a combination of forget-me-nots and snowdrops around the base, perhaps with some pulmnonaria, will be quite magical.
My tree planting was the first “proper” gardening I have managed this year, and I followed it up with a quick bit of weeding. If it doesn’t get dramatically colder in the next month or so it looks as if my Verbena bonariensis will be coming back with a vengeance, which is a nice bonus.
I also seized the opportunity to swap the quite disgusting coir compost I had used to mulch the dahlias for the far more attractive mushroom compost left from mulching the trees. I ask you, does this look attractive?!
It my be cheaper to deliver because it is so light, but I found it a faff to reconstitute, turning a quick job (potting up tulips) into a chore, and boy does it look horrid…
I was knackered by the end of it, but buoyed up to have planted such elegant trees, and by the sight of snowdrops beginning to open, ‘E. C. Buxton’ still flowering away, and the wonderful witch hazel.
Are there any plants you really couldn’t live without?