Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Planning on Gardening

The ground is soggy after the snow and nothing looks appealing in the garden. Surely no-one enjoys gardening in the cold, wet, winter weather anyway. I know I don't. Fair weather gardener, me. But it is the perfect time for planning. For looking at your plot and seeing the bare bones. Because the structure is obvious now, not overshadowed or softened by billowing plants.

The structure in many an urban garden may be the hedges, fences and walls, the paths and pond. But in my country garden it is trees and evergreen shrubs that constitute most of the structure. Sure, there is a wall, and a stone and gravel terrace, but the clipped box and yew are just as important.

Here hedges mark the boundary, trees give the sense of enclosure. But lest I mislead, darker forces are at work threatening this idyll of nature controlled. It is now, in the depths of winter, that all the evils – in summer covered by leaf and deciduous shrubs – are apparent. The bank of brambles that has got out of hand, self-sown saplings grown into trees, hedges too large, shrubs too leggy.

So, waterproof, thorn-proof gear donned, we go as if into outer space, pruning saws drawn, secateurs pocketed, to battle with the triffids and enormous green monsters. Slashing and burning, hacking and chopping we grapple with the overgrown shrubbery and the vicious brambles. My romantic little border of ferns and lily of the valley has been ravaged by ground elder. Sneaking in undercover in some alien pot plant.

Rubus cockburnianus, which looks so wonderful with its frost blue white stems, has taken cruel advantage and gone where not intended. Sambucus, common elder to most of us, has multiplied and magnified to terrifying proportions whilst Clematis montana, which flowered so prettily and pofusely for so long, is now a mass of twiggy stems. All my fault for not pruning hard enough.

And that under appreciated evergreen, Eleagnus ebbengei, has somehow grown to take up three times its allotted space, completely smothering some shy little shrubs close by. I love its glossy silver green leaves, and the perfume from its retiring flowers, but it's time it was cut down to size. Slash and burn. Hack and chop.

And whose bright idea was it to plant Euphorbia characias, in the Pet Cemetry. Meant to be a quiet corner – only white and pastel pink flowers allowed – where beloved dead pets could be assured they'd not be dug up. Get this, plants chosen: the tiny white rose 'Little White Pet', a pink and a white bleeding heart; the above mentioned ghostly rubus; snowdrops; geranium; lilies; heavenly scented philadelphus and lilac and a Kiftsgate rose climbing over the pear tree.

Should be the sweetest place. Pretty, perfumed and subdued. Instead it has become a battle ground with the euphorbia and Geranium sanguinem fighting for supremecy. The euphorbia is not only the wrong colour (though I love the acidic green), it is a positive thug that looks like overpowering everything in sight. And the Kiftsgate rose – a wonder for two weeks in June – has decided to wage war and send out its vicious thorny shoots over everything including the fence, the wall, the lilac and the veg patch, quietly minding its own business on the other side of the hedge.

It is a relief to get inside to the gardening books and warm fire. To plan and dream that my jungle will look like the beautiful photographs of tranquil gardens where shrubs are pruned to perfection, lawns roll smoothly out into the distance and borders display the most wondrous, tastefully chosen flowering plants. Fat chance.


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