Saturday, March 24, 2007
The wonderful weather that we had a week or two ago tempted me out into my garden and, in spite of all my good resolutions, I ended up with an ache-y back and some tired muscles because I'd overdone it rather. I'd been working in the wild part pruning back elder and hawthorn and raking up all the thousands of beechnut shells that fell last autumn - and probably several other autumns too as it's a job I rarely get round to, there's too much else to do once the garden gets started. I'm about halfway across that bottom area now and my next job is to cut back the yew which has got decidely out of hand. The general idea is to try to create a piece of topiary out of it but how succesful this will be remains to be seen. Topiary was, in spite of its formal look, very much a tradition in old cottage gardens and that is the style of garden that I love and try to achieve here. Not that I plan anything very exciting, if I can manage something reasonably round I shall be happy, peacocks, boars and other exotic images are way beyond anything I can manage. I've always loved cottage style gardens, they are full of plants that have been grown for centuries. They vary from the wild plants that the old cottager would dig up from a nearby wood or hedgebank and tuck into a corner of his garden to plants with more exotic backgrounds that came to England with the Romans when they extended their empire to include Britannia, or with the Crusaders when they returned from the Middle East and so on.
Daffodils and snakeshead fritillarys - last year's photo, the daffodils are out but the fritillarys will be another week or two yet.
Of course, the original cottage gardens wouldn't have been the romantic places that we visualize now, they were extremely practical places which were vital in providing families with both food and medicine and would often include a pigsty for the pig which was being fattened and would have hens scratching around too. There would have been little room for pretty flowers grown for their own sake apart from maybe a few primroses tucked into a hedge bottom. Happily though, many herbs are attractive as well as useful and the pot marigolds that everyone grew would also provide large patches of colour - but they were there for their usefulness as pot herbs and as an ingredient in homemade healing ointments.
The small border by the side of the steps leading up to the terrace.
The garden at the front of the house.
I have an old book published in 1939 which contains a passage of prose and a poem which describe precisely the kind of garden I am trying to achieve, though I'm afraid I shall never have the lovely old stonebuilt house on the South Downs to which the garden belongs:
' The door, I remember,stood open when I arrived that quiet spring afternoon; opened wide, as if in welcome, letting in all the sweet airs and breaths of May and giving me a glimpse,as I waited there,of a stone-flagged hall and a dusky staircase; of a long passage between panelled walls leading to another open door,with a garden beyond, sweet and sunlit, where lilies stood like queens,all white and gold,among the wallflowers and the lupins and the great red peonies, like a garden in a fairytale.'
The poem is short but gives a vision of a perfect English summer garden:
Soon will the high Midsummer pomps come on,
Soon will the musk carnations break and swell,
Soon shall we have gold-dusted snapdragon,
Sweet William with his homely cottage smell,
And stocks in fragrant blow.
Roses that down the alleys shine afar;
And open jasmine-muffled lattices,
And groups under the dreaming garden trees,
And the full moon, and the white evening star.
Doesn't it make you long for summer? The book by the way is called 'Greensleeves' by a lady called Beryl Netherclift, it is one of my personal favourites full of lovely descriptions of an England and way of life that is sadly long gone.