Today I started weeding and mulching the island bed in the back garden, feeling like a general trying to fight on too many fronts simultaneously. The term island bed seems to have fallen out of popular use in garden literature. It was coined by Alan Bloom back in the 1960s and 70s, to denote a freestanding bed surrounded by grass, as opposed to a border backed by a fence or hedge. His Wikipedia entry says he invented them, though I suspect that overstates the case. I can't believe that nobody ever thought of growing plants in an area not bounded by a wall or other vertical divider until Alan Bloom came along. Kidney shaped beds had their day, and Beth Chatto laid out her vast amoebic shaped ones, and then the concept slipped out of fashion, along with the term. A Tom Stuart Smith designed garden has areas of freestanding planting, generally of rectilinear design, and I imagine he and his clients would be quite startled if you maintained that their gardens contained island beds.
Ours is roughly triangular, not kidney shaped, and its shape reflects the origins of the site, in that it sits along the edge of what was the garden when we bought the house, while the area that is now garden beyond it was originally part of the orchard. The grass on the far side of the bed, looking at it from the house, was laid by me on what used to be a farm track running down the side of the orchard, using thick slabs of turf cut from the original lawn to make two large borders. I barrowed in extra topsoil as well*, to improve the track as far as I could, but drew the line at attempting to dig the track over. It is a marvel the grass path has done as well as it has.
The island bed formed a very pleasant, self-renewing community for years, with Cistus, Stipa gigantea, Verbena bonariensis, tree lupins and asters. About three years ago the Cistus started to succumb to old age, and the bed has since gone through three programmes of renewal, each one in turn being hit by the cold and wet winters, so that the planting is still nowhere near as dense as it should be. When the garden plants are crammed in good and thick you don't see that the self-renewing community also includes generous measures of creeping sorrel and horsetail. Now the race is on to pull up the speedwell and cow mumble and get the bed fed with mushroom compost plus fish, blood and bone, and Strulched, before the plants grow up too much more. Already the foliage of the self-sown alliums is waving around in wispy, hard-to-weed-among fronds.
A pot of Coronilla varia that I planted in one of the renewals is running about prodigously, so much so that I am starting to wonder if I have unleashed a terrifying weed upon the garden. But its little pink pea flowers are pretty, and go on for a long time, and in a garden of this size with no paid gardener or eager horticultural students or volunteers, I need ground covering plants. The Cistus and tree lupins can rise above the Coronilla, and it can fill in the gaps.
Crocosmia 'Lucifer' is spreading splendidly. Some Crocosmia are of doubtful hardiness, while others fall into the terrifying weed category, especially in mild gardens in the south west. 'Lucifer' hits the happy median, reliably surviving the cold and wet, seeding itself to make useful increase, but not so much it threatens to take over. The sword-shaped leaves are taller than may of its relatives, mid green and attractively ribbed. The spikes of flowers are a rich, fine red with a hint of orange, while the strings of bobbly seedheads last until autumn, and are a good architectural feature. It was bred, fittingly, by Alan Bloom.
Meanwhile, the bed by the entrance also wants weeding and mulching before the Euphorbia cyparissus grows any more (another terrifying but pretty spreader). So do hunks of the long bed, and some remaining patches of the sloping bed, and the top half of the near rose bed. Definitely action on too many fronts. Growing any vegetables this year now seems a very distant prospect.
I am mystified by the scattering on the grass below 'Tai Haku' of what look like leaf buds. I don't remember it ever doing that before. I opened one up, to see if it was simply a cast-off bud coating, but it seemed to be an entire bud containing small leaves. Have they been randomly pulled off by some mischievous bird or squirrel? I haven't seen any creature messing around with the tree. Did one of the recent cold nights check and damage some buds that were at a critical stage of opening?
As I was not being followed by any cats at the time, I went and had a quick look at the blackbird nest. The bird was still sitting, and looked back at me. It was difficult to say if she was afraid, since she didn't move or make any sound. I left her to it.
*Harvested from a very unfortunate incident involving an unsupervised builder and a digger. I have learned a few things in my years, and one of them is never to leave a builder alone on your property with an excavator.