Every winter I study gardening books and magazines, determined that the coming summer will be different from previous ones. The area which I like to think of as my herb garden will be recognisable as such, and the remainder of the garden will be in cunningly designed drifts of planting, colours and shapes artfully selected so as to complement each other. While still maintaining the unstructured look that I prefer, I’ll ensure that each plant knows its place and stays there, leaving me room to get between them for essential weeding and maintenance. This year, I’ll be in charge.
And every year the same thing happens all over again. In March, desperate for spring to begin, I stand outside staring at the ground, brown, bare and depressing – even worse than usual this time due to the extreme cold of last winter. I remind myself that nature will perform its usual tricks and perennials will appear as if by magic out of nowhere, while other plants will suddenly double in volume. But even so, there needs to be some selective new planting to fill these huge gaps. So, very disciplined, I plant just a few small plants and sigh when I see how large the gaps around them are still. In April, seeing that not much appears to have grown, I conclude that my memory has played me false, and desperately move clumps of the tougher perennials from elsewhere to hide the gaps.
But then when I pay my usual early morning trip to inspect the garden, I see that at last things are happening; plants which I’d thought had died off during the winter are putting out new growth. Amazingly, a couple of things which had “died” two years ago have been reincarnated with amazing vigour, and I spot several plants which have just arrived, apparently overnight and by their own volition; I certainly didn’t plant them as I haven’t a clue what they are! And a few days later there are more, and then even more.
And now in July you could almost get lost in my tiny garden. Self-seeded bamboos, golden angelica, bronze fennel and mauve verbena bonariensis have taken over and form a thicket standing six feet high. Marjoram and mint have grown into bushes, joining large clumps of prickly eryngium to form an almost impenetrable barrier, behind which lavender, rosemary and pink lavatera romp away. A solitary runner bean plant is growing into the overhanging ceanothus, raising the prospect of the sight of bean pods suspended among blue flowers. On a sunny day, bees are everywhere; at night it feels and smells like being in a wood.
Tidy it most certainly is not, in fact you could describe it with justification as messy. A friend kindly pronounced it “very lively”, and it’s undeniably full of life but who’s in charge this year? Not me, that’s for sure … maybe next year …
Janet Harmer Contributing author
www.ourfrontgarden.com is the website we write about the ongoing renovation and care of a front garden in a garden city