Thursday, March 28, 2013

Gardening, March.

It's Spring. Let's get that out of the way first with a giant HA BLOODY HA. It was warmer in December. This has really proven to be the year to buy snow boots (which finally arrived by the way, and ohmygod they are the ugliest and most wonderful things I have ever put my feet in. I wear them when it's not snowing just because it's like going outside wearing teddy bears on your feet, waterproof ones.) It has snowed more times in London in the last 4 months than I remember in any YEAR in Scotland.

I have lost faith that anything is ever going to grow, let alone flower in our garden. At the beginning of the month it was mild enough to fool us into thinking that spring was coming. We hired a rotavator and The Menfolk ploughed what existed of the old, bowed, scrubby lawn in preparation for laying turf a few weeks later. That time has never come, it being too wet or frosty or just plain foul. Now after weeks of Winter pt 3 and of us walking all over the freshly turned ground we have a nicely compacted muddy field. We have laid out sticks and string to mark where the beds are going to go and the spaces inbetween are where the lawn will be, one day. If I take my glasses off, squint and down a couple of tequilas I can almost imagine what it might look like. Then I put my glasses back on and it looks like experimental mud and bamboo art again. 

There are a number of triangular fruit and flower beds lining the edges of our garden. I write 'a number' because I can't actually remember the number, maybe 4, maybe 5, possibly 6? Dunno. Only one of them is all planned out and ironically it's the ones we were most worried about, the one we considered turning into a sandpit. It's the one bit of the garden that doesn't and won't get any direct sun, but one unplanned trip to the Secret Garden Centre in Crystal Palace last month found us coming home with a couple of ferns, a periwinkle and a foxglove from their excellent selection of plants specifically for shaded beds. Added to the couple of hellebores we'd bought a few weeks before, our shaded bed was full. Hellebores; why didn't I know about hellebores before? They flower in the winter, THE WINTER! Pretty, delicate, faintly coloured flowers. I love them. 

The blossom tree that we uprooted and put into a pot when we moved in (it was right in the middle of what was the become the greenhouse) burst into amazing, lurid flower last month. Then repeated wind, rain and snow storms beat the crap out of it and now it's a soggy, reddish-brown mess. 

We borrowed the Giant Book of Pruning (or some-such) from the library and I've barely seen Nye since. I had no idea that pruning was a) so interesting, b) so complicated, c) so fun. While I don't love the book (the diagrams make no sense at all) chopping bits of stuff with sharp blades is immensely therapeutic. Nye has pruned the fruit trees we bought, one to become a half standard (I don't know what it means either) and others to become fans or espaliers. Which means growing them flat against a wall or fence, like this. Nye is in love with his fruit trees, he would fill the whole garden with them if he could and sold them to me with promises of free fruit and pretty blossom. Turns out they're unlikely to fruit for the next three years. He did not tell me this until after they had arrived. 

One of the apple trees is called Scrumptous Bush. I'm almost certain he only bought it so he could shout 'scrumptious bush Pix' at me and chuckle every time I walk by it. 

I have fallen in love with the greenhouse. There's nothing much in it at the moment, just a few small strawberry plants which look out at their unfortunate, scrawnier, snow-ridden siblings sitting outside in the raised bed. They're the lucky ones, the ones that won the toss in Nye's experiment to find out if it's preferable to put them in the greenhouse before or after they've flowered. The outside strawberries look so weedy, so cold. It seems cruel to have positioned them just on the other side of the glass from their bigger, better-cared-for litter mates. But perhaps the runts will out-perform them yet, the proof of the neglect is in the eating. Or something like that. 

But the greenhouse; I love it. It's colder than the house but with the added benefit of being 50ft away. So when I'm in there I can hear neither my neighbours or my children, both of whom have been driving me to the edge of reason over the last month. My neighbours with pounding dancehall and my children with being two. The greenhouse is an ideal place to sit, knit, drink coffee, read a book and occasionally lose your shit altogether and have a good sob. 

We're slowly learning more about gardening (me more slowly than Nye, who has been studying the ways and means of plants for the last 3 years, so he'd be ready.) Slowly growing in confidence in both our decisions for new plants and our brutal renovations of the ones that were left behind by the previous owners. We find dirty, faded care tags tramped into the soil and piece them up with the overgrown specimens that hug the perimeter walls. Discovering that that interesting looking shrub in the darkest corner of the garden asks clearly on its label to be placed in full sun and that the small scrubby bush in the pot behind the shed is actually a camellia that with a little care and a lot more light, will give us flowers not unlike the pink tissue ones you make when you're seven and told to make a bunch of paper flowers in art class. 

In learning about gardening I'm learning a new language but for once it doesn't make me want to cry like French, German, Spanish, Gaelic did. It makes me feel eager and excited and curious. Fascinating words flit through my head, play in my mouth and trip off my tongue; mulch, tilth, sessile, vermiculite, ericaceous, a new and beautiful language, at once both science and poetry. We watched Monty Don's French Gardens last month and while the second episode about Potagers, or kitchen gardens, appealed to my gardening style the most, the third episode about French gardens and art was the most interesting to me. It explored the notion of when a garden becomes a work of art, if a garden ever becomes a work of art. That that question can even be asked about something that produces food, flowers and a place to live and rest sums up so much that I'm learning to love about gardening.