Friday, 15 July 2016

the innocent eye

A friend came over for lunch today, and we were able to sit out in the garden, starting in the Italian garden in front of the house before retreating to the back garden to eat.  The gravel plantings in the front are looking colourful at the moment in a joyous, wild and weedy way with lavender and butter yellow evening primroses, arcs of pink Dierama and spears of candy pink and brick red Watsonia, and blue orbs of Agapanthus.  There are white flowers on the variegated myrtle and the pots of geraniums are blooming.

The olive tree has loved the rain and made masses of new growth.  It looks fat and rampant and makes you realise how much better they do growing in the open ground than in pots, if only they can survive the winter.  The crown of ours must finally be back to the size it was when we bought it just before those two very cold winters, on the other hand it has its roots down now so if the top growth should get cut back this winter I'd expect a relatively quick recovery unless the trunk were killed outright.

There are quite a lot of flowers in the back garden too, various Clematis viticella scrambling through earlier flowering shrubs and a brave 'Kermesina' making it fifteen feet up the willow leaved bay.  There are great masses of a tall growing Campanula, largely self seeded, mounds of magenta flowered Geranium 'Ann Folkard', Crocosmia 'Lucifer' is just opening, the Penstemon have enjoyed the rain this year, and the established clumps of Alstroemeria are putting on a really good show, though one badly needs staking.  The first flowers on Romneya coulteri are opening, fully two feet above my head.  Most of the foliage is still looking pretty good, apart from the old roses which have been badly blasted by blackspot.  There are quite a few spent flower stems which I need to go round and remove, great trails of goose grass growing over the borders, and some of the lawn edges have got so tall they have gone to seed.

My friend really likes the garden, which is kind of her.  She says she is no gardener herself, with an air of combined regret and slight embarrassment.  I tell her it doesn't matter and not to worry about it, one can't do everything, though she has a better eye for a plant than she gives herself credit for.  Anybody who enquires what that cabbagey thing is when confronted with Crambe maritima, AKA seakale, or correctly hazards that the bright pink flowers and trifoliate leaves of Fragaria 'Red Ace' appear to be some kind of strawberry is clearly paying attention to the plant world.  But she does not enjoy the act of gardening, or feel confident about it.

It is nice when other people like something you have spent so much time and effort creating, and quite salutary.  My friend notices the flowers and the foliage and appreciates the tumbling air of romantic ebullience.  She does not see the waving grass seed heads along the bottom of the rose bank or the goose grass climbing over 'Ann Folkard', or at least she does, but they are not freighted with meaning in the same way as they are to a keen gardener.

It is impossible for me to look across the full width of the front garden, as I am doing now in glancing up from the kitchen table, and not instantly register the two self seeded ash saplings in the end of the long bed I never managed to weed last winter.  The rain has sent all those hard-to-remove tree seedlings into overdrive, and I've been working my way around the beds cutting them down to ground level where I can't dig them out, but I still haven't got to that end of that bed. They don't ruin it for me.  I still appreciate the contrast of the soft mounds of Santolina with its little yellow pom pom flowers against the slender vertical spikes of Verbascum nigrum, but I can't not see the ash.  To my friend the ash seedlings are nothing more than a few strong green shoots, signifying nothing, no failure of maintenance, no reminder that without constant vigilance the garden would rapidly tumble down to woodland.  Just plants in a garden full of other plants.

The flip side of garnering admiration from a non gardener is that they are not impressed by the rarity of any of the plants.  No brownie points to be had for the obscure or downright difficult to grow.  My friend liked the Romneya because the white flowers are beautiful and the taller than human height glaucous stems dramatic.  Its notorious trickiness to establish in the garden did not sway her at all.  The Watsonia were taken on their own merits, and the fact of their being fairly difficult to get hold of and quite tender did not make them any prettier.

Tomorrow, once the Systems Administrator is around to keep an eye on the kittens, I must disappear into the back garden and do something about the goose grass, though.  And the edges, before the kittens make it that far and I have to start worrying in case they pounce on the moving blades of the shears.

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