We needed yesterday's rain. Today, everything was washed clean, and practically growing in front of my eyes in the sunshine, and it was a pleasure to be outside. I pressed on with the gravel behind the long bed, planting out the rest of my tray of alpines, and most of the second large lump of sempervivum, before being distracted by the temptation to go on weeding.
There is something compulsive about pulling weeds out of gravel. It must trigger ancient monkey grooming instincts buried deep within the human psyche. After the rain, the roots of the creeping sorrel pulled out in satisfying long threads, and the tufts of grass parted company effortlessly from the soil. I do want to get the sorrel and the grass out before their seeds can ripen, but the appeal of weeding went beyond the rational.
I trimmed a fair amount off the ivy hedge while I was at it. The trouble with ivy as a hedge, if it is growing well, is that shoots run out over the ground at the same rate as they grow in the hedge. You have to go round both sides of the hedge, pulling them up and cutting them off. By the end of today I'd almost filled the big garden trailer, and I hadn't even started on the side of the hedge inside the flowerbed. Another issue with ivy used in this way is that eventually patches of it shift to the mature, flowering and fruiting form. The ivy then sends strong shoots upwards and outwards, which disrupt the smooth line of the hedge compared to its early years when it consisted entirely of juvenile foliage. The mature shoots are difficult to trim to give a regular outline, and occur only sporadically, so the hedge assumes an increasingly motley appearance.
Probably box would have been better. Assuming I'd ever managed to keep it trimmed, which I almost certainly wouldn't have. I haven't even finished cutting the small box hedge around the hybrid tea roses, which has got much too fat on one side, and the two topiary yews have got whiskery tops. I need a day when it is not blowing a gale to trim them.
I dosed the alpines in the gravel with a dusting of blood, fish and bone, and sprinkled some round the Malus tschonoskii. This is a narrow, columnar crab apple, chosen for that position in the gravel for its shape and its ability to tolerate poor soil. The leaves go a good colour in autumn, but the flowers and fruit are both negligible. Ours has proved a good tree for a tricky site, and on that basis I'm grateful to it, though it isn't a plant to set your pulse beating faster. In my early years as a gardener, the seductive lure of the special plant was very strong. Now that I'm middle aged, and have been gardening in a serious way for more than a quarter of a century, I'm more inclined to think in terms of what will do well here. The answer might be something not often seen in gardens, or a deeply prosaic bread and butter plant. Something common, grown well, is more satisfying than a struggling rarity that's barely living.
The Malus 'Red Sentinel' need the blood, fish and bone treatment. One in particular is in a vein of particularly bad soil that you can see run through the boundary hedge and on into the long bed where poor 'Professor Sprenger' died. So do the ivy hedge around the bed by the entrance, and the thin patch in the boundary hedge. I'd better do that tomorrow, since by Tuesday it's forecast to be raining heavily again.
The Systems Administrator kindly offered to make up some more beehive frames for me. They come as boxes of machined wood components, which fit together with a sheet of wax with wire embedded in it to give it strength when you lift it out of the hive to inspect the bees. It's a slightly fiddly job fitting all the little pieces of wood into their right slots, and tacking them together, and I was resigned to having to stop gardening mid afternoon to have time to do it. The SA made only one trifling miscalculation, which was to leave the workshop door open. In due course a bee turned up, presumably having smelt the wax, and after ten minutes there were three or four bees, and then six or seven in the workshop, and the SA realised it was time to beat the retreat and put the wax in the house with the doors closed. This is why the beekeepers' candle making day has to be held in winter or fairly early spring, before the bees are flying.
Addendum I was sorry to read of the row about judging at Chelsea that has broken out publicly between one of the judges, the other judges, and some of the exhibitors. It is very un-British, like challenging the umpire at cricket. And Northampton rugby club had to play the whole of the second half of their league final with only fourteen men, after their captain was sent off for swearing at the referee (they lost). Keep a stiff upper lip, and keep mum.