Goodness. If it rains any more I think I shall drown. What was that about the jet stream moving north? No sign yet. And so another soggy summer ensues. Children kicking around the house when they should be outdoors, making mess and clogging up the sofa. Mud everywhere. Wet dogs and cats. So much for picnics by the stream, cycling into the village, reading books on the lawn.
And as much as the weather is not good for parents, it is not good news for gardeners either. What a wash-out it has been. One vegetable-growing guru friend commented that the only thing that the weather’s been good for this year is potatoes. Flowers you can forget too. If any find the strength to bloom, they are soon battered by winds and rain and wish they’d never bothered. England is certainly green, but I’m not sure it’s very pleasant. In fact, it made me smile yesterday when I heard on the radio that Rafael Nadal (he of muscly tanned Majorcan tennis fame) has just announced he will be pulling out of the Olympic tennis team simultaneously as he was photographed lounging around on an expensive yacht somewhere sunny in the Med. I start to understand why he lost at Wimbledon – frankly couldn’t wait to clear his heels of the rain and, as things have deteriorated further, clearly decided that he’d rather have a summer than plod around a rain-soaked depressing London once again. And who can blame him? Even Tiger Woods is struggling with his 4-iron…
But on a brighter note (she says cheerily), I would like to announce that a couple of weeks ago, I took my final gardening exams. Two years of study suddenly over. Will I ever take an exam again in my life? I doubt it, and with that thought, I felt strangely sad. It has been a huge effort to fit it all in, and the relief as I sat, finally, on the sofa and watched a bit of Wimbledon, was wonderful. But it has been a fantastic two years at Reaseheath College where, thanks to two fabulous tutors, I have learned so much and gained so many friends. It has been so informative and such fun too. Unwilling as I am to give it all up in a rush, I have signed up for another year – an RHS Level 3 practical course – but it is continual assessment, rather than exams, which will take the pressure off enormously.
We celebrated the end of the year by all going to Wollerton Old Hall in Shropshire. If this is a garden you do not know, then I urge you to visit. It is a private garden, and therefore a very personal and intimate one. We had the place to ourselves this time as it was not officially open, but our tutors had pulled strings. The rain paused long enough for us to wander around in a leisurely fashion, admiring planting schemes and imaginative layouts. Having only just replaced the camera I left in a taxi in Spain (don’t talk to me about that one – lost all the once-in-a-lifetime photos of N’s 50th birthday together with all E’s photos from our New Zealand trip which were on a memory card in the camera case), I took great pleasure in once again being able to take shots of plants and flowers. Then as I dashed off early to collect children from school, some distance away, the heavens opened once again. The story of summer.
Here is a slide show of the gardens that afternoon:-
(Click on the images to see the album)
Meanwhile, back on my own patch, I have been working on some improvements. A new vegetable garden has been in the making since March. We have cut back hedges to reveal more of the surrounding hillsides , removed some scrubby conifers, severely reduced some invasive rhododendron ponticum and generally improved the levels of light getting into the garden while opening up more vistas of the surrounding hillsides and our own ‘dingly dell’.
In so doing, we have managed to create a lovely light-filled walled vegetable garden where once only dank gloom reigned and the chances of getting a runner bean to flourish were virtually nil. It is now one of the sunniest parts of the garden and gets the last of the rays as the sun sinks behind the hills in the evening. I know I shall be spending many happy hours up there…
I have also created a new planting area where the scrubby conifers once were and, thanks to the reduced hedge height on the other side of dingly dell, we now have evening sun here to. It is a lovely spot in which to sit and contemplate the beauty and peace around me (when it’s not raining, that is).
Last autumn I planted lots more daffodils in the dell and my plans are to add many more azaleas and rhododendrons and other woodland plants to bring colour and interest at different times of the year, to build on the snowdrop, daffodil and bluebell succession that we currently have. I want to create a few more woodland pathways and bridges across the stream (funnily enough in full spate – normally dry as a bone in the summer months!) and new places to sit and think and enjoy. I may even create a small wildlife pond at some point and I want to clear out the old fountain at the base of the witch’s face tree. So, lot’s to do.
I have also been developing my herb garden from a rather scrubby patch to something a little more structured. We have planted box hedging round the edges, but the design is not yet finished. Work in progress.
On Saturday I leave for France, reluctantly leaving the summer garden behind as I feel we have not even enjoyed it yet. No hanging out of washing, no outside eating, no lying on mossy lawns listening to the birds and watching insects gather in the warm air above. I see that the sun is due to come out on Sunday, of course, the moment my back is turned. But that is gardening. That is England. That is life. And in its place I hope to be finding some warming rays, soft sand under my feet, and the sound of the sea searching for the shore. I really can’t complain.
Enjoy the holidays too, wherever you are, whatever you do – and may you find some sunshine, eventually!