St Swithin’s Day

Every gardener must be asking if the rain will ever stop. In Suffolk over the weekend, we had athunderstorm– and sometimes two or three – every day. While gardeners, especially those in East Anglia, shouldn’t grumble at rain, it’s getting beyond a joke. The moat has been dangerously high, lapping at the edge of the coots’ nests, torrents of rain have swept silt into the pond at the bottom of the bog garden to the extent that we’ll now need a digger to get it out, crossing wet fields as it goes and the dog is permanently covered in mud.

Worse, we picked June to August as the time to repair the roofs of a couple of 18th century barns. Well, it seemed a good idea at the time. It has, however, got so seriously behind that the roofers were actually out there, banging in nails at 5.0 am this week. And, of course, it was raining buckets on them.

The main casualty has been the vegetable garden-to-be. We have changed our minds almost weekly on what to do with the generous space produced by taking the roof off a modern barn. It was going to be a plain walled garden with nothing but two lawns and symmetrical walnut trees; it was going to be a gravel garden of self- sown seedlings –Beth Chattomeets formal Italian; it was going to be a garden of scented roses and buddleias for the butterflies. But we have finally decided – it’s those delicious new potatoes we are digging up – that the space will be a decorative vegetable garden along with rows of picking flowers.

One inspiration has been Rousham, in Oxfordshire, where box bushes and sweet peas mingle with the chard and winter cabbage; another has been Audley End in Essex where the HDRA is trying to combine a Victorian 10-acre vegetable garden with organic methods and a third has been the colourful vegetable garden at Hadspen in Somerset along with the show gardens at Chelsea this year and last.

The answer, as always, is to contract the job out rather than do it yourself. The great Chris Griffin, he who dredged our moat, is coming back to do the whole thing. He’s starting this week, what’s more, because he’s been rained off other jobs. So, yes, there is something good to be said about rain after all.

St Swithin’s day, by the way, is on July 15 so we can reckon on a wet August too. He was a bishop of Winchester in 852 and, says the Penguin Dictionary of Saints (a useful tome), ‘the origin of the saying has not been ascertained.’