OCTOBER - A Spike of Green

Happy Hallowe'en


My garden is a bit chaotic. It is full of life. Very little room given over to things that are not living. In late winter, spring, and in summer, tiny spears poke through the soil. They grow a little wobbly and then they have a greenness about them. Sometimes they develop what we call leaves. They themselves don't care what we call them. For them the green things are their lifeline. I watch and I wait. Sometimes I give a little excited squeak of recognition - like when I thought we had lost the clump of lily of the valley planted under the rowan tree and then I saw a spike of pale green. And, a little bit later, another, and, after some gentle rain, a few more. The feeling of delight at finding this treasure trove cannot be explained.  I have been sitting with my fingers over the keyboard - searching for words - and finding myself lost. When I consider how I feel for the growing things in my garden, I am in a world of wonder. As I grow older, the wonder never dulls. I thought it might - but it stays - thankfully.
The area where the clump of lily of the valley grows was planted in an haphazard way to emulate a hedgerow. It runs along the kitchen which means we are able to watch, not only the growing, blossoming and fruiting things, but also the insects and birds, and sometimes the small mammals. The window is set in a very old wall which means the sill is deep and I have filled it with serving dishes and platters so the visitors to the feeding station, set amongst the trees and shrubs, don't normally notice me. I have been up very close to the most beautifully dressed of small fluff balls and then I am able to see the layered feathers, tiny claws, sharp eyes and beaks as various as the contents of a box of Quality Street. We took down the panel of secondary double glazing. I am cooking every day and the kitchen never feels cold. Now, without the inner window, there is no trapped condensation - and - far more importantly - I can hear the exquisite vote of thanks from my special friends. They continue to sing when I am outside working in the garden and sometimes, on taking out the rubbish or emptying the ashes, I just stand and listen. The sound is a gift. I might identify some of the blended voices but mostly I simply enjoy the mix.

Vibrant nature


I'm not a tidy gardener. To be truthful, I'm not fond of manicured gardens. There is a sterility about them which is not appealing. They may have a charm though. Our neighbour to the left has a fairy garden with little models and lights in the trees. I find myself wanting to show our wee granddaughter over the wall. What's not for a baby to like? Our neighbour to the right has a neatly planned and cared for garden. No weeds. No fun. He will never know the thrill of watching a newbie develop in his patch. I love that moment when I realise what I have been watering for a couple of weeks. Sometimes it's an undesirable alien so it has to go before it seeds itself and suffocates my old friends. But often it is a welcome relative of something already in our garden. Don't you just love it when things happen underground and surface many inches away from their parent plant?  Just what crafting has been going on there - unseen and unheard through days and nights, weeks and months? And those dahlias - the ones you left in situ rather than keep them in the shed over winter - you didn't really expect them to grow again this year, did you? They didn't, didn't, didn't - DID! You walk out in the garden one early summer morning and you spot it - them. I love how glossy the dahlia leaves are as they bush out in the days that follow. I have them in the long border and at present, in the folding days of October, I'm checking daily on one remaining red and white fluted flower. The petals are in generous layers and fading fast - but they still make me smile.

Smiling - I do a lot of that when I am in the garden and when I look out as I scrub potatoes at the kitchen sink. Our garden - a blessed spot - has the power always to make me smile - even in the depths of winter when the winter jasmine buds up on the tall, tall and very leaning wall between us and Neil. Sometimes I feel I should apologise to Neil.  He has a very tidy plot and works hard to keep it nice. We allow the jasmine to poke through the mouse-size gaps in the wall - but - it gets worse - also the honeysuckle, the climbing white rose - and the IVY! I hear you saying - "Not ivy!" Oh I've heard the horror stories about how ivy messes with the walls of houses. I admit I'm being a bit irresponsible allowing the variegated version travel from its pot up the chimney wall by the back door.  I'm keeping an eye on it though - just in case.  But the ivy which is growing on the tall, tall garden wall is something else. It supports an unbelievable number of creatures - from bees to the cuddling,  wintering wrens in the purpose-built wren box.  The cats from down the road can't get them there - amongst the ivy. The intense deep green of the ivy's  leaves and its curious flowers are often smothered in smaller flying things - pollinators to those of us who rely on wild creatures to help us run our green spaces. And mice run in and out and up and down. I can't do with them inside - we leave humane traps in the house - but they are part of the circle - and just a bit cute. The ones we catch indoors are taken up to the Castle of Old Wick and persuaded to make their home in the old stone walls nearby. Once, a blackbird started to build in amongst the ivy - but you know what blackbirds are like - they are such non-thinking, half-hearted nest-builders that it just didn't work. They eventually nested somewhere close by though as the entire family sings its heart out on bleak autumn days and the warm-brown plumage of a juvenile regularly bounces through our kitchen-window-hedgerow. The blackbirds like the trees at the other end of the garden too. There are two old maples there. They worry me a bit because, although they are still healthy, one day they will lose their vigour and become a bit of a liability - a bit like me really. They define that end of the garden very nicely just now and I have planted small-will-grow-tall trees to eventually take the strain off the old guys. When we lived, in the sixties, in an old house on Epworth High Street, we had a mature tree - I think it was a beech - which marked the corner of our plot and I have since thought how generous trees are in outlining our boundaries for us. I was glad we inherited the two maples to do the same here. Mum and Dad had a garden planted when we moved from the Epworth house and they had specimen trees down both sides of the large plot of the new house. There was also a long line of poplars at the back. They seemed, for the young me, to have been there forever. Now, when we take a nostalgic drive down Belshaw Lane on visits to the Isle of Axholme, they are depleted in number and magnificence. It is a few years since we went so I'm wondering if there are any there at all in 2019. Their sinewy dancing entertained me in a gale and the shelter afforded by their lower trunks were a source of natural treasure trove. I recall one late summer when I found a nest of baby mice exposed by the harvester. I carried it home and set it down amongst the poplars. I know now that it wasn't the cleverest thing to do but, at the time, I thought I was saving them all. 

Best buddies - nasturtium and pear


This Caithness garden is on an old map as having trees. When we bought the house ten years ago - it was October 2009 when we had our offer accepted and December that year when we moved in - it was because, for one thing, it had a garden which would be easier to manage than our last garden was. Incidentally, the previous garden was a paradise - there was just too much work in it. One of my daughters said we should get someone in to help with it but I couldn't do that - nobody would understand my "wait and see" policy. So we chose a house with an easily managed garden. But easily managed meant very sparse with a lot of grass and ribbons of bought-in stones over tarpaulins. To start with I planned to use many containers filled with flowers to sit on top of the stones. They just weren't enough for me. Now most of the pots are in the back yard, creating a colourful area for my early morning tea and for coffee later in the day. This only happens in Spring and Summer. One simply doesn't sit out when the weather turns!

The character of the herbaceous border is in a constant state of flux. I try something, knowing that it did well in Lincolnshire/Yorkshire, and wait a while before being a) satisfied or b) disappointed.  Some things delight. Others disappear. The dog roses are a joy but the dog daisies just take over everything. The iris are temperamental - sometimes they flower, other times they stubbornly refuse to produce anything other than leaves. The oriental poppies are stunning but the hollyhocks are too apologetic by half. I'm getting to know my garden flora but there are some individuals which prove a little too enigmatic.

The treasure that follows the flowers


The wildflower plot in front of the two mature maples is too square.  I need to make the shape more interesting. At present it looks like we couldn't be bothered with it. And there is ragwort in there. It will have to go.  This summer and last summer we had a good crop of clover in the little wilderness. The bees just love it. Adjacent to the wild area we have an almost accidental rockery. It started as a few pots with alpines. They did a Topsy and growed and growed. They cascaded from their pots, took root - some with a little help once I realised what they were up to - and spread and spread and bloomed and bloomed.

The grass is still there and runs the length of the garden - it just doesn't cover  all of it.  I've cut out two tiny gardens and plonked a bamboo in the grass. For two years now I have sown the bamboo round with cornflowers and sunflowers. Last year the sunflowers did best. This year the cornflowers have been amazing.  In one of the tiny gardens a laurel fills one end with a new lilac settling in amongst the flowers at the other end. The flower mix is quite something in variety with marigolds holding their own amongst geums, dianthus, forget-me-nots, lupins, Spanish poppies and others. There is lungwort flowering there early in the year and, later on, its splodgy leaves fascinate by the side of the shamrock. The shamrock is legendary. It once belonged to my great grandmother and came to me by way of my grandma, my aunt and my mum. Some years it does better than others but it always makes me warm inside. That's the thing, isn't it, when everything around us seems uncertain, we need to connect with something more powerful. While I can watch something grow, I can overcome the negativity of the destructive human greed for power which appears to surround us at present. Being at one with my garden is me in the presence of real power.


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