Sweet pea

Above: Sweet pea, July 2004

Garden diary: June

12 July 2006 - clearing spaces

I've just had a whole day in the garden - the first time for a while that the time and/or energy has been available to do that. From about 9am until dark.

Last week I watched Gardeners' World - first time for ages - and Monty Don was talking about a themed area that they'd planted that didn't quite hang together. I knew what he meant as my garden felt like that recently. I've done tidying and planting and pruning out there when I've had chance, but it seemed like a mis-shapen mess. I've moved pots around, and cleaned up the paths, and weeded areas that looked a bit unkempt, and cut things back that looked a bit neglected, but it didn't look like I thought it should.

It's ten years this year since we moved here, so many of the plants are now well-established, and the walls are well clothed with plants. I didn't start planting immediately - I guess most of it was planted from 1998 onwards. But that does mean that some things have been in place for eight years or more, and the garden certainly looks 'well-established'. Verging on overgrown, in fact.

Today I tackled the planting that grows on part of the house wall in the area near the kitchen - the 'tunnelback' common to many Victorian houses. Since we moved in there's been a Clematis montana growing up that wall, and since about 1998 a climbing rose I planted, and some Virginia Creeper which I also planted. At some point too I put a small piece of ivy in there. The ivy has been creeping its way up the wall, clothing it beautifully in green, and providing, I hope, a place for birds to nest, but I noticed this spring that it was growing rather out of reach, and I noticed this summer that it was nearly up to the guttering.

I do like Clematis montana, but this one was growing a fair way out from the wall, entangled in the rose, and obscuring the ivy, which I needed to get to. So I started pruning this morning - and - to cut this long story short - I cut a lot of massively long growths back and decided to keep going, and in the end got rid of the plant entirely. There's now a large space by the back door where a big tangle of clematis used to be. Its planter has gone too. There's a lot more light coming into the kitchen.

As it's such a well-established garden, I don't get as much chance to make big changes now. To make a big change was very satisfying - though at the same time I felt sad to be removing a healthy plant. It is though striking how removing the ungainly tangle against the house wall has made the whole garden seem refreshed - and spending a whole day in it meant a lot to me.

Looking and thinking

After the 'what I've been doing' post, what I really wanted to report on was the time after that, looking and thinking. Because looking and thinking are, of course, just as important as doing - all that busy stuff we have to do. And in a garden there's no point being busy and doing things unless you can sit quietly for a while and look and think.

Around 9.30pm, a full twelve hours or so since I set about the clematis with my secateurs, I was standing by the back door from our kitchen with the open space to one side of me that its removal had left. New limestone chippings covered the area where it had been.

In front of me was a wall of green. Beyond that, the sky. Without the foliage above my head and crowding me in all around the door, it was a new view, like the sky suddenly got bigger.

The rest of the garden looked different too - just right. I used to spend ages moving pots around, organising things so they looked right. I've tried to do this recently but couldn't quite get it. But today, when I was pruning, I had to move a lot of pots out of the way, and just moved them along to the nearest space. Tonight, standing by the back door, the garden looked perfect, with its collection of pots haphazardly placed. Sometimes, I think, we can try too hard. This applies to gardening and probably to everything else too.

So I was watching the sky, on this fine and fabulous summer evening. The swifts have been filling the sky with their screaming flight. They leave in early August, so it's important to appreciate their presence now - they travelled so far to reach this area of sky. I don't know where they nest, and I don't know why they'd want to come back here each summer, but I'm so glad they do.

The sky, tonight, was full of swifts, a huge group of them swooping low and calling out in all their joyful noise. The sound of summer, to me. With the horizon cleared of that overhang of clematis and other foliage, that was all I saw, the sky and the swifts.

The sky tonight was dotted with clouds - wispy summer clouds with blue inbetween. Not just blue, but the pinkish tint of a sunset reflected. Many dimensions. The swifts flew in front of the clouded parts and then into clear blue, and then across the pink of the clouds hit by setting sun. I could see why when we think of heaven we think of it in the sky above us.

Back to July highlights and diaries


Crocosmia 'Lucifer' in bud, July 2004

Above: Crocosmia 'Lucifer' in bud, July 2004

Garden diary: August