Musing in the rain…

A Russian gardener seen near Lake Baikal, Siberia, September 2018

It has been a really long time for the small plants since we had rain- and so this week’s continual and insistent rain, without wind, has saved a ton of bacon. For us humans, rain-watching is less attractive, but I really feel the sense of investment in the future garden that the rain brings. So, musing about this and that sets in, matched by a growing sense of ennui as lockdown continues. We will be freed from the 10k travel limit on Monday, so that’s really great, but non-essential shops are all still closed as are bars and restaurants, and we still have a 7pm curfew.

Morning in the vegetable garden, La Burra Verde, Orgiva, Spain, May 2018

James Wong was interviewed by Krishnan Guru-Murthy on a C4 podcast recently and Andy passed the podcast on to me, and I listened to it all the way through. Listening has had a powerful effect. His conversation chrystalised vague rumblings that have been in my head for ages, about the culture and heritage issues bound up in our views of what a garden is and what the gardening traditions we seem to treasure say about us. James Wong was questioning our love for the traditionally English look in gardening, and our investment in the greatness of the past. It struck a chord with me.

Nona’s cafe garden, Fez, Morocco, February 2017

I love to visit the great, classic gardens of Britain and would never pass up the chance, especially as I live far away now. But these are not the only gardens that matter, nor the only gardens that inspire. And yet the massively prevailing view in the British media and most of the mainstream gardening press and publications world is that unless you are a billionaire, dead in the case of the National Trust, and own or owned professionally landscaped acres, you don’t make the cut.

A small plant nursery, Fez, Morocco, February 2017

How many small town gardens get a spread in ‘Gardens Illustrated’ unless they have been designed by a gold medal winner at Chelsea with a budget to match? I get the magazine every month, mainly for design and plant ideas, but if you look at the range of gardens in the magazine, I would say more than 90% of them belong at the luxury end of the gardening budget spectrum, and most of them would fall into the ‘traditional English heritage’ category.

And yet millions of gardeners all around the globe are creating beautiful, useful spaces which their families and friends enjoy, and which can be every bit as inspiring as any of the classical greats. One of the incredible results of lockdown and Covid has been the use the BBC and ‘Gardeners World‘ has made of short 2 minute videos made by viewers of their own gardens and ideas. They have been fantastic viewing, bringing to life the great knowledge, great enthusiasm, great ideas and huge charm of gardeners everywhere, generously sharing of themselves.

The delicate precision of this Japanese gardener weeding gravel with a small knife, Kodaiiji Temple, Kyoto, September 2017

And what increasingly moves me is the power of the ‘ordinary’ gardener to connect with me, and as Wong says, to waken us up to our fundamental human embededness with nature and life, even if our ’18th century derived rationality’ strives against it.

The podcast lasts about 35 minutes and is well worth it.

Can’t hold back, Alys

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The first, slightly frost bitten blooms on Chaenomeles speciosa Nivalis, Tostat, February 2018

Alys Fowler, a gardening writer who I always enjoy reading, urges restraint in this morning’s Guardian.  She is, of course, quite right, especially if you have heavy soil, but with my stony (mostly) stuff, I have started tidying up a bit, doing the annual cull on bramble, the dreaded honeysuckle, giant dandelions- that kind of thing. But I am only talking about going into the soil about half a fork’s depth to remove the bad boys- which I kind of need to do, because the daffodils are half way out the of the ground.  And, although this may be wishful thinking, a few warm days would bring them out good and proper.  It’s a hard life being a bulb in my garden.  When they are obviously up, even I manage not to dig them up by mistake, but they have a dangerous life if I can’t see them.  I am, however, very good at replanting them straight away, although there are always one or two that get split.

The white Japanese quince, Chaenomeles speciosa ‘Nivalis’, is one of those plants I look forward to seeing at this time of the year.  There is a good article by James Wong on Japanese quince, though I always find him just a bit too boy-scout happy- possibly an age thing.  Back to the quince, it never fruits for us, or it may be that it has very tiny fruits that get lost in the undergrowth at the back of the border.  I inherited it in the garden when we arrived, and although it can suffer sapling invaders being so near to the ruisseau, it really draws the eye especially when everything else is brown and sodden.  The rain has been biblical so far this year.

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Moss on our stone walls, Tostat, February 2018

The sights in the garden are on the miniature side right now.  Bucketing rain, and only the odd sunny day, has fed the moss on the stone walls.  It is so green it is almost golden, and looks like the most expensive velvet fairy coat from children’s tales.  Some nice freckling has popped up on a couple of the hellebores, very dark prominent freckles and also freckles of the finest dust.  I love the surprises that you get when they mix themselves up.

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Deeply freckled Hellebore, Tostat, February 2018

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Faintly freckled Hellebore, Tostat, Fabruary 2018

And the same conditions that feed the moss, also encourages the very tiny maidenhair ferns, Adiantum raddianum I think, to have a go at establishing themselves in the nooks and crannies of the stone walls.

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Adiantum raddianum, Tostat, February 2018

Tomorrow it is promised that the rain will stop and sun will come out.