Restoring a Neglected Rose Garden

I’ve recently been employed in a new garden. Despite a few of years of neglect it is a spectacular one. The woman who lived there invested in some breathtaking roses which now, although a little overrun by weeds, still flourish.

Some self seeded oriental giant poppies glow from the front bed – I am quite certain they are Papaver Orientale Goliath Group ‘Beauty of Livermere’ – their sumptuous glory distinct from the beddy mass of Geranium Magnificum ‘Rosemoor’.

I plan to get to know and photograph the roses in this garden over the coming weeks but I’m going to have a good session of tidying up, staking and supporting first, so stay tuned.

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The Benefits of Growing From Seed

img_4160This is the first spring and summer that I’ve managed to spend actively working in the garden. Last year I successfully sowed 30 or so cayenne pepper plants, bringing them up to maturity and eventually, when it all got a bit much, forcing them upon friends and family members. For me, this was a taste of paradise. Caring for something from conception and watching it grow, flourish and fruit is one of the most simply satisfying experiences. Looking at the black earth after you’ve watered in a seed and knowing that a process has begun on which all life depends.

Checking on your plants encourages a kind of intuitive mindfulness. I find that if I panic, get frustrated or stressed, I can see it in how I care for my plants. Perhaps I am anxiously watering them more than they need so that a few of their leaves yellow and drop, or perhaps I am too stressed and busy to remember them and they begin to slump sideways, hungry for water. Luckily, plants are usually forgiving and will almost always recover from a bit of neglect if given the right care.

I think that growing from seed is one of the best ways of getting to know a particular plant, what it likes and what it needs. The advantage of growing in pots is that you can always move your plants around. Perhaps they are growing slower because of a draft, perhaps they need more light, more water. You can entirely control their environment and this means you can know more about where they will thrive in your garden or house.

Even if you buy your seeds from fancy catalogs, it’s always cheaper than buying them from a nursery or market and it is always more satisfying. Personally, I’ve bought the main bulk of my seeds from Wilco and they’ve always germinated. This year I’ve branched out into herbs; doing oregano and chamomile, basil and dill as well as the red million tomatoes ___ cucumbers, ___raddished and rocket, some of which are coming into flower or shooting into their adolescence as I write. I often don’t need to do much more than buying some all-purpose potting soil from Wilco, some vermiculite and some own brand seeds – all priced between 50p and £1.50 (if you’re feeling bougie) – and away you go!

Watching all of them transform; from the potential of a brown speck held carefully in the palm of your hand, to the tender seedling leaves barely held to the soil by translucent roots, to the adolescent plants with thickening stems and new mature leaves. It makes you feel so effective in being able to look after something and knowing that when it comes to harvesting it too will take care of you, nourishing you and tasting better than anything you could have bought full grown. Its a kind of parental love, caring for something, and when it’s full-grown, letting it take care of you. This is the best and most rewarding kind of responsibility.

All in all, I cannot recommend it enough, and if you’ve been trying your hand at gardening and have been apprehensively bout growing from seed; don’t be. The worst that can happen is that you waste a fiver.

The Garden in Late May

This is much a magical time in the garden. It feels like nothing is the same two hours in a row. Everything grows and flowers so fast, I had to take some pictures on a particularly beautiful day.

My mother has left part of the front garden as a meadow where wild flowers and tall grasses grow.

It has attracted all kinds of creatures.

The raised bed at the front of the house is filled with herbs, wallflowers and self-seeded nigella.

Just this week all of our rose bushes have opened their blooms.

Making Executive Decisions: Breaking the ice and taking inventory in a new garden

Today I begin my first job on my very own garden. I mean, it belongs to a woman named Claire but I will be its sole gardener. As a mixture of excitement and encroaching responsibility grab hold of me, I am grateful to be shown the ropes by its previous keeper Jacqui.

Taking an Inventory

First thing’s first. We have a good, slow walk around and I name what I can, taking an inventory of what I’m going to be working with. I can see luscious and overgrown boarders humming with yellows, pinks and purples.  Behind May’s dwindling bluebells sprout a few bright magenta Allium’s that I make a mental note to rescue as soon as we begin – but not yet – this precious time at the beginning of a visit is for thinking and surveying. A slate path leads to a shed at the back of the garden, I see the majestic points of Echinops leaves spread proudly in the shade, they promise amethyst thistles later in summer. Hellebore and Ferns occupy darker corners beneath a blushing Weigela coming to the end of its bloom. The garden is strewn with splashes of yellow from rape, the occasional foxglove and a healthy hypericum. Between these louder colours, a sparkle of white whispers in subtlety from ground covering daisies and lulling heads of wild garlic to the delicate Hawthorne flowers at the top of the hedgerows.

There is a lot to get done here but for now, it feels important to enjoy the garden as it is; brimming with wildness.

Breaking the Ice

There’s nothing like weeding to break the ice with a garden you haven’t worked in before. I also feel I ought to know my enemies if I am to keep them at bay. So Jacqui and I get to work on the beds. The main culprits always vary depending upon location but in this garden, they are bindweed, dandelions, chickweed and a seriously invasive ornamental grass.

I feel the soil. It is quite clayey and rather stony in places but looks like it will hold moisture well.

What Kind of Garden is it?

I notice a significant amount of trouble that has gone into making the garden a varied habitat for all kinds of local wildlife. It is full of hidden corners and piles of leaf litter for little creatures to hide in, there is a gap in the fence to encourage the return of a fox, there are little nests for sleeping hedgehogs and a bird table where a mother starling and her two adolescent chicks are squabbling.

I go in for an initial mow and edge of the very overgrown lawn and hear a voice call out: “Be sure to keep it on a high setting we saw a slow worm in here the other day.”

In addition to the rich wildlife in the garden is the occupant of three beautiful cats.

I hear a loud rustle and the rip of tearing roots to see Jacqui holding a deracinated and leggy lavender bush.

“That was an executive decision, Miranda. When you’re in charge of this garden you’ll get to make your own executive decisions,” she announces as she tosses the decrepit shrub into the waste bin.

I drink my post-shift tea with a feeling of hope and anticipation.