Spalding Guardian Gardening 8 September 2011
This week has been somewhat of a milestone for me in that it is thirty years since I moved to Surfleet – a temporary arrangement to get my mother settled at the cottage and then move on to somewhere of my own, but temporary arrangements have a habit of becoming permanent before you know it.
I set up her garden, to be manageable by her alone, or at least with minimal input by me. Then her health began to fail, and I felt the need to remain with her to keep an eye on things. In the end, she needed more care than I could give her, she went into residential accommodation, and to pay the bills I took out the first mortgage of my life and bought the cottage off her. John arrived, and the rest is history.
Anyone who knows our garden will realise that ‘manageable’ is not a word that springs readily to mind now – I can sort things out, but I doubt if anyone else would know what to do with our controlled wilderness. It may not be most people’s cup of tea, but it suits me, and affords the opportunity to have the hands-on experience of most plants and trends that is needed in my job.
There is still the nucleus of plants that went in that first autumn, back in 1981. An Acer pseudoplatanus ‘Brilliantissimum’ to give height; a Cotoneaster ‘Hybridus Pendulus’ for weeping form; several shade-loving shrubs – mainly spotted laurels and skimmias - to sort out a very dark area under a badly neglected, old apple tree, which eventually succumbed to rots and enthusiastic pruning about three years ago; and several ‘dwarf’ ornamental conifers which are carefully managed every year to keep them a reasonable size – one gets fond of plants that have been there for three decades.
The surprising thing is how many of the original roses I planted that original winter are still with us. At one time, the advice was that any rose that had been in for more than twelve years was past it and should be committed to that great compost heap in the sky. But there are at least six surviving floribundas and hybrid teas in the bed by the front door – now mixed up with all sorts of other plants, another definite ‘no’ thirty years ago; bush roses had to be in beds and borders on their own, although it wasn’t a mortal sin to add an edging of, say, catmint or lavender.
There is an enormous, healthy ‘Compassion’ hiding a redundant clothes post by the garage door; and an elderly but still magnificent rambler, ‘New Dawn’, planted to screen what was then a little vegetable patch and is now the site of my pride and joy – a Hartley Botanic greenhouse bought for me by John for one of my ‘big birthdays’. Well fed, watered, and treated for disease, it’s obvious that the life of many roses is well past the sell-by date of many so-called experts.
Even the apple tree is not gone forever. My friend near Leicester, who spends much time budding unknown and forgotten varieties of fruit trees, took bud wood from the aged specimen we inherited and grafted it onto a strong root stock to make an ornamental tree for the arboretum at The Patch. It has already made a sturdy young specimen, and this autumn has produced its first apples.
This piece originally appeared in the Spalding Guardian