About a year ago I wrote this post:
It was an ironic post because at that stage, the garden looked a bit like this.
It was a big bare patch of earth ripe with possibility or as the cats and foxes of the neighbourhood seemed to think, a massive toilet.
But I am not a woman who lets excrement get in the way of her dreams. I have a gigantic bottle of cat repellent and I am not afraid to use it.
So over the winter, I kept looking out of the window at that strip of earth and tried to channel my inner Capability Brown. Everyone’s got to start somewhere and I bet he had to deal with his fair share of feline faeces.
Winter gave way to spring and I watched with envy as neighbours’ gardens bloomed with crocuses, daffodils and fat-budded magnolia trees.
I was resolved. It was time to stop dreaming and start planning.
I am an eternal optimist when it comes to dreams. I approached this particular project with the starry-eyed wonder of a young puppy and the words,
‘How hard can it be to build raised beds? It’s just railway sleepers and possibly some concrete. Tis a mere weekend project.’
It took five minutes of me watching some chirpy Australians building very neat, very precise raised beds on You Tube to reach the following conclusion:
‘This is actually very hard. The ground is full of bricks and stones. You will need a pick-axe to break them and you’ve never used a pick-axe. You are also scared of spirit levels, not to mention concrete mixers. You have a dodgy back and both you and your husband have limited patience. It would take you approximately two years to complete and would probably look a bit crap. It’s time to call in a professional.’
You see, if there’s one thing I’ve learnt during forty two years of being me, it’s the ability to recognise my limitations. I am never going to win Wimbledon or become chief chocolate taster for Waitrose. Similarly, I am never going to build my own house or indeed flower border. Accept the truth and move on.
The professional was called Steve. He was friendly, efficient and had the work ethic of the chief ant in the world’s busiest ant colony. He brought three men with him. They worked solidly from seven to four every day with about four seconds off for lunch. It was astonishing. By the end of the week my dream looked a bit like this.
I know. I did a little horticultural swoon at the sight of it too.
All it needed was the addition of some carefully-sourced plants. We spent a long time considering what plants to buy. We already had a good stock of potted herbs which would populate one tiered section and three miniature fruit trees for the large end bed. My husband was particularly excited about these trees and has since taken to caring for them with the tenderness of a father nurturing new-born triplets.
We decided to split the remaining beds between flowers and vegetables and set about making a wish-list.
Wish-lists are wonderful things aren’t they? They are flights of fancy that bear little or no resemblance to the wet face-flannel of reality.
This wish-list had headings such as ‘plants we love’ and ‘likes clay’ because our garden sits on heavy clay soil. London clay to be precise – it is as dense and unyielding as a crowd of London commuters, hence its name. Actually, I made that up but it sounds convincing.
The list of plants we loved featured anything that my husband or I recalled with fondness from our childhood gardens, although it has to be said that my husband can be a tad sketchy with names.
‘I like those yellow ones.’
‘That’s the fella.’
‘Fuchsias,’ he said confidently. ‘Every house I’ve lived in has had a fuchsia in the garden.’ Then his face clouded with uncertainty. ‘Actually do I mean fuchsias? They’re sort of bright pink with dangly bits.’
I fetched a gardening book and flicked to the fuchsia section. ‘Do you mean these?’
He took the book and nodded happily. ‘They’re the ones.’ He leafed through a few pages. ‘These purple ones are nice too.’
So fuchsias were added to the list, along with rudbeckia because my grandad and mum always grew them and I love any plant with a silent ‘d’.
Actually, I love all plant names come to think of it. Unlike my husband, I want to learn them off by heart and recite them like a pro. I want to know the Latin names and the common names, I want to embrace words like ‘perennial’ and ‘half-hardy’ and use them correctly. I want to become a regular watcher of Gardeners’ World and understand what they’re talking about on Gardeners’ Question Time. I want to be best friends with Carol Klein and have Monty Don on speed-dial.
Okay, I might be getting ahead of myself there but I felt that the list was a positive step towards gardening nirvana. By the time we’d finished, it ran to three pages. I went to bed that night excited at the prospect of tomorrow’s plant-buying trip.
I’m not sure if you’ve ever visited a garden centre clutching such a list with two fidgety children in tow. I’ll be honest. It’s not the most relaxing of experiences.
The two main problems were that the garden centre wasn’t set out in the exact order as my list. In fact, the garden centre actually had the audacity not to stock some of the things on said list or if they did, I couldn’t find them. The second problem was that bored children simply don’t believe that searching for a heliopsis is more fun that playing hide and seek in between the conifers. In truth, I’m not sure I do either.
As a result, my husband and I pretty much abandoned the list and set about grabbing whichever plants seemed to like sun but weren’t fussy about drainage. On the plus side, we did find a rudbeckia and a fuchsia but the heliopsis remained the plant equivalent of a unicorn. Still, we bought verbena, cirsium, crocosmia, osteospermum, hermerocallus and a lupin.
I know. Like real gardeners and everything.
We also bought beetroot and radishes to plant and our proper gardener friend gave us an abundance of tomatoes, courgettes, cucumbers, peppers and fennel along with some unidentified plants, whose names my husband forget during the short journey from his house to ours. As I’ve said, plant names aren’t his thing.
We spent the whole of the next day planting. It was hard work and I can’t say I’ve mastered the art of garden design but we felt pretty proud once we’d finished.
We were worried that some plants would die but over the summer we have watched them spread like a miniature invading plant army. It’s been really rather wonderful.
We’ve eaten red and green lettuces, white cucumbers, sweet beetroot, courgettes, fat juicy tomatoes and all manner of herbs fresh from the ground.
We’ve also grown the plant equivalent of a gigantic smile and we’re leaving it on the plant to see just how big it will become. Watch this space.
We’ve learnt how to deal with fat slugs and fruit-tree bugs, how to dead-head flowers, feed vegetables and that courgettes have male and female flowers (who knew) and are the bullies of the vegetable patch.
We have also found that cats and foxes have no respect for a truly beautiful garden and to them it’s just a toilet with plants now.
No matter. Our dream is taking shape and yes, we need to stock up constantly on cat repellent, slug pellets, bug spray and plant food.
But on the plus side, we can always buy new plants while we’re there and who knows, we may even find the illusive heliopsis in the process.