Bergenia ‘Wintermarchen’ and self seeded polyanthus. A good combo if ever I saw one.
Off on my adventures for a few days, hold the fort whilst I’m away.
I spent my day at The Farm helping Young Master G construct a bug hotel at the edge of the meadow. The aim of this salubrious establishment is to provide a comfortable, safe place for everyone. Everyone, that is, as long as you are an invertebrate or perhaps an over-wintering amphibian. Reptiles (of modest size) are also welcome. Our most popular apartments include, bark packed with woodchip, terracotta pots softened with straw, bamboo pure and simple, drilled out branches and blackcurrant prunings. The penthouse (with balcony and sea views) boasts fragrant pine cones with aromatic needles. Each extremely desirable. Unfortunately we cannot guarantee that your neighbour won’t eat you.
Is it really true? I think it might be!
This Iochroma australe has a long way to go before it fulfils its destiny. If all goes well, if its benefactor is vigilant, it is fated to become a stunning shrub covered in pendulous lavender bells. Everyone has to start somewhere. And this is an excellent start.
About an hour’s drive from where we live is Hartland Quay. If you sailed westward from our house, close following the coastline, you would pass Morte Point and Grunta Beach on the way to Woolacombe and Putsborough, then round Baggy Point to Croyde and Saunton, skimming the estuary where Appledore and Insow nestle and the rivers Torridge and Taw find their way to the sea, then onto Westward Ho! and Clovelly, past Barley Bay and the lighthouse, turn the corner and you will have reached your destination. We forgo the dingy and took the Ford Fiesta.
My dear-dear friend Daisy-Daisy and her wonderful Chain own a caravan on a site close to the village of Stoke, a mile or so above the quay. Several times a year they venture down from the big city to enjoy the countryside. Sometimes they bring half the city with them. Yesterday, however, they were alone. So we visited. It is a lovely site, run by considerate folk. The camping and vans are confined to the edge of the fields, the grass is left long in the centre allowing wildlife and wildchildren to run free amongst the wildflowers.
After greetings and a quick cuppa we headed off on our quest. We began our journey negotiating a field of nursing sheep, with an unusual preponderance of black triplets, who were intent on resting on the footpath until the combination of human and jack russell caused a bleating retreat. We carefully traversed a vertiginous cliff path, past coconut scented gorse and diverting views, then shuffled down steep rugged steps skirted by sea thrift and kidney vetch, eventually reaching our destination. The pub. Here we gossiped, supped and ate chips. Bliss. Then malted milk ice cream. Double bliss. Then the climb back, considerably slower, to coo once more over the lambs, occasionally pausing to look back and smile.
“Don’t punch the plants Nancy!”
A couple of weeks ago we reached the heady stage of planting out Nancy Nightingale’s new border. We laid the specimens in position, carefully considering potential clashes of colour or foliage before we commenced. As NN is a complete novice I gave her a quick planting tutorial before retreating to a safe distance for her to continue unhindered by my critical eye. “What do you think?” she asked after her first attempt. The plant was 1cm proud of the top of the soil. “It isn’t deep enough” I said. To my horror she then curled her hand and thumped the plant down with her fist. “Don’t punch the plants Nancy!” I cried. We then fell about laughing. I explained that the accepted technique is to carefully dig it back up, make a larger hole and try again.
Later she messaged me to say that she had made a formal apology to the geum and given it some extra water to make up for “their little misunderstanding”.
I’ve got my work cut out here.
On the whole builders and gardeners don’t go. Far be it for me to generalise, but in my experience they are counter- rather than productive partnerships. They are not “cheese and pickle”, “strawberries and cream” or, let me wrack my brain for another, oh yes “gin and tonic”. They are more “the black death and 14th century Europe”.
Ends however must be reached, and the means are not always negotiable. There is a new lodge at The Farm and very smart it is too. Installing it involved preparing the area, soil shifting and lots of JCB action. Craning this new structure into position necessitated a huge amount of nerve and skill by the driver. And a certain amount of spontaneous hedge pruning in the lane. The upshot of this operation was that the large border in front of the new building was repeatedly driven over by the digger, had shillet subsoil spread across the top, assorted builder paraphernalia buried throughout like a perverse treasure hunt and lots of general steel toe-capped stomping. None of these actions are Royal Horticultural Society approved.
Through all this, the sapling magnolia has held firm. Mrs G threatened pain of torture by pruners to anyone who dared come close. It worked. And it has rewarded us by flowering its little heart out. A rose in the desert.
Research Scientist, National Centre for Atmospheric Science
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