I haven’t taken my long johns off for months: thank goodness! Had it not been for my aforesaid undergarment, this persistent dry, cold would have set up house in my very marrow by this time. As I write, in mid-March, my February Gold daffodils are holding on to tight buds with grim fury, and there isn’t a hint of a sloe’s green flush in the hedgerow. Spring is at least three weeks late.
But it is, of course, the dryness of the recent months that has prompted my local water supplier to enforce restrictions. I’ve been harping on for years about the importance of saving rainwater in butts because it’s so easy to organise and plants far prefer sweet water. I have four butts dotted about the place, one being inside my potting shed to enable me to fill my watering cans when it’s freezing. Before watering, I leave several full cans for 24 hours at room temperature, because a plant’s growth is slowed down if it’s drenched with chilly water.
We used to get gravity fed water from a little reservoir at the top of the hill by the Roman barrow above the village. It tasted delicious. Now, our water finally gets to us having been pumped from miles away in newly lined pipes. So, with the hosepipe bans, we are to be prevented from watering our parched borders with heavily chlorinated water. Perhaps this will come as relief to our plants. I shall mulch the beds like mad while the soil is still damp, using semi-rotted cow manure and straw, which I buy from a local farm in bags. My roses will be given priority, and, once they are covered in fresh shoots, I’ll feed them with a potash rich liquid feed.
Damp leaf litter that has been blown into neat piles into corners by winter squalls is also a useful mulch and will be tucked into places where it is unlikely to be blown away, for earthworms to pull back into the soil. I have found that a 4in-deep mulch does a good job of retaining moisture in the soil well into summer. After that, we will all have to pray for wet weather.
What is a garden? It is surely an outdoor room, or a series of rooms, that needs to be ‘furnished’. Plants with good flowers and foliage act as the furniture, climbers as curtains, the lawn as a carpet, and so on, but is this enough? Just as we all include objets d’art in our house rooms, so the garden becomes more interesting with eyecatching ornaments. I have always included a mirror in my own gardens. They make very effective vista-stoppers, especially if you angle them ever so slightly towards the sky. At the other end to my ‘mirrored vista’, I have positioned a model of the village church, the actual church being clearly visible a few hundred yards away. Through a small window of the model, you can see the mirror at the very end, viewed first through a pergola tunnel and a garden gate. The penultimate treat is a bird bath.
At the end of another vista, I have positioned a giant tulip painted off-white. The reverse view reveals a wooden bench at the very end, set within a semi-circle of clipped Portugal laurel and flanked by two tables. Elsewhere, I have a giant pair of spectacles sitting on the roof of the house (which never fails to raise a titter), gothic windows in my beech hedge, and a plain, rounded wooden arch at the end of one of my cross vistas.
My house is on the market. I have no intention of digging up any plants that will spoil the structure of the garden. I am planning to pot up a self-layered piece of Jasminum officinale Aureum, the golden leaved variety of common jasmine, a useful climber that scrambles in among, and gives extra life to, neighbouring plants growing in full sun. I will also be taking with me some nerines, including N. bowdenii Stephanie with pale pink flowers fading to white, that loves my dry borders on the south side of the house.
I will slice a root off another South African, Phygelius Salmon Leap, dig up self-sown seedlings of Erigeron karvinskianus, nigellas, various euphorbias and valerians. I’m planning to colect as much seed as I can, and take cuttings of shrubs the minute they have flowered. There will be neither rape nor pillage. Friends and neighbours will not be forcibly separated. Harmony will remain.