Camassia, May 2005

Above: Blue Camassia, May 2005

Garden diary: April

14 May 2003

This time of year is nature's perfection. What was good in April becomes brilliant in May. Hosta leaves that were unfurling are now fully open, big soft luxuriant things that make you wonder why people make such a fuss about flowers. Later in the season, when snails and slugs have inevitably caused a few holes to appear in the leaves, and there's a darker, dustier quality to them, flowers are probably more attractive. But in May, when new leaves are new enough to startle with their brightness, and big enough to look like nature at its most generous, what more would you need?

Yet there is more - lots more. Every area of the garden seems suddenly full of leaf and flower, while above the tulips and the spreading perennials the swifts dash through the sky above, calling as they go. Swallows twitter. Sparrows cheep from the shrubbery and swing from the soft growth of the climbing roses, delicately collecting greenfly.

And the roses begin. Early this year - a few blooms opened this week on the climbing rose Madame Alfred Carriere that now reaches high on the back walls of the house and has opened two blooms this week just below the bathroom window. Other roses are starting to open too, while the alliums in the central part of the garden are just beginning to emerge from their tight green buds. The weather has been warm, and recently wet, so everything is moving fast out there, responding to the kind weather.

Not always "kind" though - yesterday saw stormy weather, including hailstones. I must admit that I would feel cheated if there wasn't at least one day each English springtime when hailstones didn't appear unexpectedly out of nowhere. Yesterday they coincided with York races, which goes to prove my theory that any time several people are gathered together in April or May for an outside event, possibly involving a marquee - though not necessarily - there will be hailstones.

21 May 2003

I remembered that I'd created Millennium Shed so that I could sit in the garden, under its roof, even in the rain. So I wandered out there with my cigarettes and my glass of wine (must remember to cut down on both . . . "note to self", as Bridget Jones' diary, I believe, often said. Not sure about this as I never got past page one. I agree with the BBC's Darren Waters on this: "Perhaps there is something of Bridget in all women - but I hope it is just a small part." ) Where was I. Ah yes, Millennium Shed. I'd forgotten how difficult it is to listen properly, until I'd been sitting there for a few minutes and realised that church bells were ringing from somewhere nearby. I used to be tuned in to this kind of thing, but I think we all find sometimes that instead our heads are full of distractions. When I listened more carefully I could also hear fluent birdsong from many different birds in many different gardens. And rain falling on leaves.

The garden is lush and lovely, after all the rain. The rain has encouraged the slugs and snails to make incursions onto my hosta leaves, but the damage isn't too alarming. Hard not to share a few hosta leaves, when I have so many.

Over the last couple of days young birds have appeared in the garden in noticeable numbers. A young thrush has been spotted flying rather clumsily into the floppy new branches of the forsythia, then hiding (probably a good idea, with Rosie about). Today saw young goldfinches busily fluttering their wings as parents fed them in the branches of the cherry tree. A large group of sparrows took over the hanging feeder while blue tits and coal tits tried to sieze the occasional seed. There are young sparrows, some of which may have come out of the nest under the eaves at the front of our house, which sparrows use every year.

28 May 2003

I've managed to get around to cutting the mini-lawn today. At last I've got a grassed area I don't feel I have to make constant excuses for. I'll still feel I have to make excuses for its miniscule proportions, but not for its quality. At last, after a few attempts, the grass looks reasonable and has knitted together well.

I've wondered why I wanted a lawn, however tiny. I think it's because on those rare occasions called "a hot day" (this is England), I find it's necessary to lie on the grass for a while and look at the trees against the sky. Lying on gravel - the other option in my small garden - isn't quite the same. Gravelled areas are for putting tables and chairs on, involving sitting upright and not near enough to the earth. It might be just me being a mad hippy, but I believe it's important to occasionally lie on the ground. Obviously you can do this in parks and other public areas, but generally that's a lot more bother, and if you want to spread your arms out by your sides and fondle the grass, people look at you strangely. As I don't drive, or have a bike, if I wanted to find grass to lie on that was away from public view, I'd have to get on a bus. This is far too much hassle, obviously. Hence the tiny lawn, which is just big enough for a couple of people to lie on, as long as they're not really tall.

Aside from tending the mini-lawn, I've been tidying and feeding and potting on. The dahlia tubers I kept over the winter were potted up some time ago and have made good growth, particularly that fine old variety "Bishop of Llandaff". I've planted most of them in the open garden, though the dry tuber bought this spring - a variety called "Garden Wonder" is slower into growth so is still in its pot. I'm impressed by a dahlia called "Ellen Houston", which I bought as a wilting bargain-bin specimen originally. Ms Houston not only flowered well after purchase (just needed watering) but also got through the winter, produced new stems, and already has flower buds for this year.

I'm beginning to favour plants that grow from tubers and bulbs, as I didn't do well with seeds this year - a rogue snail/slug appears to have got into my cold frame and munched the tiny seedlings.

Sweet peas I realise I haven't mentioned yet. After recommending autumn sowing I didn't manage to follow my own advice this time, and didn't sow until spring. So the sweet peas are still a fair way from flowering, but look robust and are growing visibly by the day. I seem to have a lot of them, anyway, in many different varieties.

This year money hasn't been spent on the garden like it has in previous years, so there haven't been new plant purchases apart from plants to stock the pond. When I look at the garden I can see that new plant purchases wouldn't be a good idea, as there's no room at all. From previous experience I know that trying to cram in too many new plants around well-established plants isn't generally successful, so I'll just have to enjoy the plants I have. (Though maybe a few bedding plants will be crammed in somewhere.)

The roses are blooming early, and smell fantastic. The ivy has regenerated from its pruning, and clothes the main wall with fresh green. Early alliums are flowering, with Allium christophii just beginning to open. Solanum crispum "Glasnevin" flowers prolifically against the wall in the south-west-facing corner, while in the shady areas the strange hooded flowers of Arum italicum "Pictum" have appeared and then quickly crumpled, later to form berries. In the small pond the tadpoles swim, waiting for the time when they can venture onto land.

Back to May highlights and diaries


Clematis - The President, May 

Above: Clematis "The President", May 2002

Garden diary: June