You thought I’d forgotten, didn’t you? Anyone who lives in bluebell country, however, can tell you that it’s pretty difficult to miss bluebell season—if your bluebells are happy they spread enthusiastically. The wood I took most of this year’s photos in was drastically cleared out at one end some few years ago—they were dorking around with pylons and super-cables and things. The bluebells had only started colonising that area and that stopped them flat. But except for a narrow chop-through most of the trees were left standing and the bluebells regrouped and made another sortie . . . and they are now dazzlingly winning. That bluebell wood is a good, I don’t know, my sense of size is about as reliable as my sense of direction, sixty or eighty foot longer than it was twenty years ago.
I know bluebells are generally endangered or at least under pressure by deer, hikers, global warming and the Spanish invader, but as I’ve said before (at least once a year), not around here.* Around here they are ebullient and thriving—and may they remain that way—even if they are total thugs in your garden. One of my rose-beds at the old house was taken over by bluebells. It was a tending-to-be-dry border in strong sunlight, for pity’s sake, a few bluebells couldn’t possibly hurt, they’ll be too busy struggling to survive. You’ll be sorry, said Peter. He was right. I went through and dug out buckets of the wretches** one year and I had bluebells in that bed the next year anyway.
I have bluebells in my garden(s) now. But I guess I’d better be nice to them. Just in case.
* With the possible exception of the Spanish bluebell. But I’m not sure I can decisively tell the one from the other: proper English bluebells bow over farther and farther as their flowers open. A very rounded-over bluebell is definitively English, but a more sticky-up one may still be English if it’s early in its flowering. The Spanish bluebell photos I’ve seen look more like Scilla than like bluebells: proper bluebell flowers are graphically and unmistakably tubular.^ The bluebell woods around here are (a) fairly out in the sticks, to the extent that Hampshire is ever out in the sticks^^ and (b) old, so they have a good chance of being pure; also Spanish bluebells apparently don’t have much smell, and our bluebell woods are nearly eye-wateringly fragrant. Particularly strong this year too, I think, possibly because of all the winter rain.
^^ which to a Maine girl isn’t very
** I couldn’t face hauling the lot up to the ridge, but I couldn’t face putting them all on the compost heap^ or the bonfire either, so I took some away and threw them around in the wild where they had a chance to engulf more woodland. I’ve told you this story, haven’t I? This blog is too old. I’ve told most of my stories at least once.^^ Since it’s illegal to pick wildflowers or dig up bluebells bulbs I was terrified I’d be discovered and someone would leap to the wrong conclusion.
^ Yep. We had bluebells growing in the compost too.
^^ Except KES, of course.
We have roses. We’re not supposed to have roses—it’s only the end of frelling April—and we don’t have many, but we do have roses. And they’re not even the so-called species* roses which are often the early ones, but proper overbred garden roses. Peter’s is even an Austin for pity’s sake, although she is on the front wall of the mews, and that courtyard is a heat sink, but I’m used to Austins in Hampshire starting up in June. My two, Sophie’s Perpetual and my beloved Old Blush, AKA (among other things) Parson’s Monthly, are certainly human bred roses, but they are also known for starting early and going on and on.** But THIS early?*** Never mind . . . I’m not complaining.
* Botanical nomenclature makes me lose the will to live really fast. I acknowledge the need for precision, including that everyone talking about this plant rather than that plant can feel sure they’re all on the same page blah blah blah blah blah blah blah BLAH BLAH BLAH but I don’t want to hear about it. I have one perfectly practical, working response to plants, in a catalogue, on a web site or at a nursery: (a) roses = want^; (b) shiny = want; (c) meh = don’t want. I don’t care what you call them^^. ‘Species’ roses, or ‘species’ most things that have a large cultivated-garden presence, are, for my money, and you purists out there look away now, the ones that haven’t been endlessly messed with by plant breeders and look more or less as they did when some stalwart explorer first found them growing out of a hillside or a cliff top or a river margin or the roof of the local priestess’ temple and brought them home in the hopes of material gain.
^ This being why I have to chain myself to Wolfgang’s steering wheel when we drive past the one semi-local rose nursery: when you have a small garden you can do a lot of damage in a rose nursery even if you only go there once a year.+
+ Penelope, Harriet and I are planning a field trip that will involve passing that nursery but Harriet is driving. This is ostensibly because Harriet of the three of us minds driving the least and she has a much nicer cleaner car than Wolfgang.# But I haven’t told them about the chaining myself to the steering wheel tactic or they might insist on my driving for the entertainment value.##
# People given the choice of firing squad or death by dog hair inhalation will probably choose the firing squad. Even if I remove the dog beds and sweep out the back seat it’s still a Guinness Book of World Records situation back there.
## Most of my friends have a strange sense of humour, yes. That’s why we get along, innit?
^^ Except insofar as it pertains to whether or not I can grow the sucker. If it’s going to get eight foot tall and is frost tender, no, I can’t.+
+ Which is why the one fabulously successful stephanotis floribunda# I once grew in my office at the old house and which was significantly bigger than I am when I had to move it into town, croaked the first winter. Both of us couldn’t fit in the cottage kitchen at the same time, and I didn’t get it indoors soon enough one night.##
# Botanical nomenclature AAAAAAAUGH. It’s a lot harder to avoid in England, however. You Americans can call it Madagascar jasmine, I think.
## I killed another little one this winter I have no idea why. It had been doing pretty well, I thought, on the kitchen windowsill, and then it suddenly said, bored now, and died. I’ll probably get another one. . . . ~
~ And I think I haven’t told you about the Hibiscus Forest. Peter had a very, very, very, very badly neglected hibiscus houseplant that I tried to kind of fatten up for the chop so I could get some cuttings off it before/when I pruned it because I suspected the pruning would kill it. It did. I had about eight viable cuttings which to my total astonishment struck= which I therefore had to pot on and figure out what to do with. First winter they all fit on the same windowsill, no problem. And then the gardening books always tell you to put your houseplants outdoors for the summer because all indoor plants are ipso facto dying== and this will make them happy and strong to survive another winter on your windowsill.
The hibiscus cuttings hated being outdoors. I kept trying to find the hibiscus sweet spot and they kept saying, no, this isn’t it, waaaaaaah, we want murky daylight through glass, we want house spiders and dust, we want dog hair. I lost three of them. I thought I was going to lose a fourth, but it was still semi-clinging to life by early last autumn when I gave up and brought them indoors long before frost would become an issue. All five of them have shot up and out over the winter and I’m going to have to pot them on and . . . you know, common-or-garden-variety hibiscus get kind of large.
= Ie grew roots and looked like living.
== Although if you want to get technical about it everything alive is dying.
** I’ve told you before that in a mild winter Old Blush will have a flower out for Christmas.^ I haven’t had Sophie in town long enough, and at the old house she was in a dumb place and shut down flowering with the majority.
^ Mythology states that Thomas Moore’s Last Rose of Summer was an Old Blush. Mind you, what exactly is going on in that poem is, perhaps fortunately, a trifle obscure. If he’s really tearing up a rose so it doesn’t have to be alooone, he’s a dipstick with a tendency to vandalism and it’s no wonder he doesn’t have any friends.
*** Apologies to the forum member whom I told quellingly she would not see roses when she was over here the end of April. I hope there are banks, walls and gazebos of blooming roses wherever you are.
I never finished my earlier spring-in-the-garden post and everything has moved on, the way everything does this time of year. Including the frelling indoor jungle which I am still hauling in overnight occasionally THANK YOU WEATHER GREMLINS. THANK YOU SO MUCH. And I went to the ironmonger’s* yesterday for silver polish and came home with a tray of snapdragons. Which will have to be brought indoors if it turns cold again. And the sweet peas are getting to the twining-up-your-arms PLANT ME PLANT ME stage. Arrrrgh. Also I’m waiting for the early bulb greenery to die back a little more before the (tender) summer bedding goes in. Even daffodils will lose the will to live if you don’t let them soak up some rays after they’ve flowered. I am having a daffodil tragedy however–the only daffs I had this spring were the ones in pots. Not a single one of what is usually the stealthily expanding army of daffs in the ground came up. With the cottage garden’s all-the-plumbing-in-Hampshire drainage system I doubt they rotted, even in the winter we’ve just had; I think I must have some extremely fat mice. Whose mutant gene allows them to eat daffodils which they are not supposed to do.
Anyway you have to imagine everything in this photo about a foot taller. And a couple of the hippeastrums are in ginormous flower. They were supposed to flower at Christmas, of course, but I . . . forgot to plant them. The bulbs are surprisingly hardy; I’ve rescued two or three from secret corners of the garden where they were having a nice summer outdoors from last year which, having been fed and apologised to, are good-naturedly producing leaves. I have no idea when they might flower again. The flowers, however, are fantastically tender. It gets below about 50 degrees and they shrivel up and fall over. Sigh. Live and learn.
This will, I hope, look a little more artistic later in the year when things start coming up and being themselves and I can move stuff around for maximum impact.** And just by the way there are a good twenty roses in this shot. Maybe twenty-five. The [mumble-mumble] new ones are still heeled in in a single big pot just out of frame at the front.
Well, it is very exciting. I didn’t have any for a couple of years–they can be fiddly to convince to settle down and be happy and grow, and the Evil Red Lily Beetle eats them. I’ve turfed out my remaining lilies and the ERLB have apparently gone looking for better accommodation.
As regular readers of this blog know, in my pantheon roses are the business. But I’m amassing kind of a lot of camellias. If they ever invent a repeat-flowering camellia I’ll be lost. As it is the fact that they’re only fairly briefly in flower–and tend to be biggish to GIGANTIC shrubs–keeps me a little under control. One of their great virtues however is that they’re pretty trouble free. Anything in a pot you do have to be pretty faithful about feeding and watering, but beyond that you can stuff them in any corner–including dark corners–and they’ll just get on with it.***
After mentioning here that I didn’t even know there was such a thing I received an email from a friend saying, er . . . those might be the cuttings of my rust-red cowslip that I gave you when I was there last year? Oh. Well, they’re doing really well. Turns out I planted another little tuft of them in the dark narrow bed beside Wolfgang’s space where the standard yellow cowslips do very well, and it’s rioting away there too.
I’m pretty sure I post a photo of Markham’s Pink every year#. It grew up the shed outside our bedroom window at the old house and was one of those things that I had to have even in a tiny town garden. But the one at the old house was a delicate little item; Peter muttered every year that it was in a very bad place, poor thing, and it was surprising that it kept coming up. Well, I have it in a medium-sized pot and it gets fed every year AND IT’S FRELLING HUGE. I have several clematis throwing themselves around over the little low picket fence around the Hellcritter Relief Station Courtyard and I keep having to be creative about where to twine the extra 1,000,000 feet of clinging-tendril stems.
I don’t ordinarily like the big frilly vulgar## garden centre pansies but I think these are a hoot. They’re in a hanging basket because . . . because. Stuff goes in where I’ve got a gap at the time that whatever it is is ERUPTING out of whatever it’s been in. Plants grow. Plants are supposed to grow. You’re happy that they’re happy and growing. But . . .
This was another garden post I didn’t get around to organising . . .
* * *
* Which is more of a general store than just hardware. You can buy teapots, tourist tat, slug bait, batteries and pet food at our ironmongers’. And silver polish. And for a few weeks in spring, snapdragons. I may have bought those frilly pansies (see below) there too, last autumn.
** Metaphorical impact.
*** Although for your sanity’s sake, WATER THEM A LOT the end of summer. Or all the flower buds will drop off . . . not at the time, so at least you know immediately you’ve screwed up, but just before they would have flowered, the following spring. This is deeply traumatic. It happened to me once or twice at the old house because the garden was so frelling huge it was easy to forget stuff, but I’ve had flowering camellias every year so far in my tiny town garden(s). ::Pours a libation over the compost heap to the Camellia Gods::
Also, if they ever do invent a repeat-flowering camellia, it’ll probably need more sunlight to crank itself up for the second flush. I have as many as I do because they’ll thrive in shadowy recesses where roses wouldn’t.
# . . . Probably including the following story . . .
## Since when did vulgar ever bother me? ::Looks at feet, wearing black and brown sequin tiger striped All Stars::
. . . to force BT to put a landline in, since there isn’t one in this centre-of-town, eighty-year-old house with the phone jack in the kitchen.
This is so eye-wateringly insane for me as an outsider that I can only imagine
No, no, you don’t want to imagine. Really you don’t.
how you can manage to prevent yourself tearing strips off the wall and frothing at the mouth over it.
Hey, I’m not going damage my walls. But the hellhounds and I do hunt down carelessly parked BT vans and write things like BT DOES NOT RULE on the windscreen in blood-red lipstick.
What did the electricians find behind the phone jack in the kitchen?? (presuming that it is the same system there in that the phone jack has a plastic plate and socket over the hole in the wall where the wires come in to)
Oh you poor creature, hampered by rational intelligence and an assumption of logic. There has been no electrician/BT technician. They’re making all these pronouncements by reading their computer screen and making patronising noises at me down the, er, phone. If they sent a BT operative to Third House it would cost me over £100. Just to say hi and let him/her in the door. It costs extra if he/she actually looks at plate and socket . . . and I’d probably have to get a second mortgage if they took the illusory phone-jack plate off the wall and examined whatever is behind it, before declaring that it’s all a fever dream and I should try to get more sleep, sign here, the invoice will follow.
. . but eventually I managed to find the very small print in the handbook that SAYS you can’t turn the ring off the portable handset. It does not, however, tell you why.
There is a radical solution. Next time you want to turn the ringer off (like at night etc) – take the battery out of the handset….
MESS with the thing? Give it MORE EXCUSE to misbehave? And besides, dropping it on the sofa and then flattening a heavy blanket*** over its face is strangely satisfying.
Although for hysterical-making LOUDNESS, any of you have back-up batteries for your desktop computers?
Mrph. We have a whole office full of them. I have insufficient words to explain the delight of them all going off at once.
Oh . . . my. Sympathies.
… There aren’t bluebells yet, are there? My mom and I carefully planned our late April/early May England trip to try to intersect with bluebells somewhere – south or north, we’re not fussy. ::chews nails:: But we’ll be happy with whatever we get. I bet there will be, you know, flowers. Maybe even roses by then…
There will certainly be flowers. I’m interested that Rachel recommends Gloucestershire for bluebells the beginning of May, but they are that little bit more north than us—ours are mostly going over by then. But for breathtakingly fabulous spring gardens down here in the south I recommend Wisley http://www.rhs.org.uk/gardens/wisley . . . camellias . . . mmmmmm . . . camellias. And also Savill Gardens and Windsor Great Park http://www.theroyallandscape.co.uk/gardens-and-landscape/the-savill-garden which will certainly have bluebells although I’m not sure what stage of out or over they’ll be in. Unless April is 80°F all month—which I pray most earnestly it will not be—you’re unlikely to see roses yet: a few of the first species or species-type roses maybe. Oh, you may have them in London! London is crazily early—all that ambient fossil-fuel heat brings stuff on. You can get roses flowering all winter too sometimes.
But have a spectacular trip. It’s rather a nice country, England†, I’m very fond of it . . . and it’s pretty frelling amazing for gardens.
And in small personal garden news: my snakeshead fritillaries are coming out. http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2012/sep/07/plant-offer-snakes-head-fritillary Yaaaaaaaay. It doesn’t get much better for a fumbling amateur gardener in the south of England: now if only my mysteriously-alive meconopsises stay alive and produce flowers . . . oh yes and all my roses rush out dazzlingly. . . . It’s hard to remember sometimes that I’d only put stuff in the ground for the first time that very last summer in Maine before Peter happened. Nostalgia? Not really. I’d rather be here.
* * *
* Also, I am tired. For various reasons I’ve been in Wolfgang way too much today but I found myself in Mauncester before the bookshops closed. And as if sleepwalking I discovered I was striding through a doorway surrounded by bookshelves. I was looking for something frivolous . . . or possibly knitting. Which is, of course, not frivolous. THEIR KNITTING SECTION WAS TERRIBLE. But I was already upstairs in nonfiction so I caromed from ‘hobbies’^ to ‘music’ where I picked up, not without effort, Michael Steen’s nearly a thousand pages of LIVES AND TIMES OF THE GREAT COMPOSERS and from there, all bent over from the weight, lurched to ‘religion and philosophy’ where I picked up over a thousand pages of Diarmid MacCulloch’s A HISTORY OF CHRISTIANITY . . . for balance. I then fell downstairs, paid, and crawled out the door. GET REAL, MCKINLEY. Oh, okay . . . so I stopped at the yarn shop on my way back to the car park and bought TWO KNITTING BOOKS . . . but they were on sale.^^
. . . Also, in my defense, I’ve been listening to the MacCulloch on Pooka and really need a hard copy crib. The subtitle is ‘the first three thousand [sic] years’ and a thousand pages isn’t enough. The stuff just streams by and you’re staring either at your knitting or some assortment of hurtling hellcritter butts and thinking, What? Who? When? Where? . . . What?
^ I should have realised that any bookshop that categorizes knitting as a hobby will have no clue.
^^ I narrowly escaped buying some yarn also on sale . . . I gave up CATALOGUES+ for Lent, I didn’t give up yarn, books or sales. Maybe I need to draw the contract up more carefully next year.
+ Yes. I did this last year. I need to do it again. It’s the negotiating that’s so frelling slippery: a lot of us, myself included, live by catalogues and the internet, and if you’re buying dog food or black cotton socks or The Art of Song Grade Seven for High Voice so you can give your teacher her copy back, it’s fine and great and a time saver and all that. But browsing . . . especially because I hate paying full postage on only one item . . . which of course the evil red-eyed drooling site proprietors are counting on. The latest development, or at least I’ve only just begun seeing it, is these frelling little pop-up boxes that say, Only £1,000,000.06 more and you’ll get not only free postage but an aircraft of World War I tea towel and a stuffed penguin! —GO AWAY. . . . no, wait, I can always use another tea towel . . . STOP THAT.
*** The heavy blanket, in fact, that is still going with me to the monks’ every Saturday night. You know it’s supposed to get up to SEVENTY DEGREES [F] tomorrow? I wonder if I dare . . . noooo, the chapel will still be freezing. . . .
† Barring the politicians, the road signs, the broadband availability, and all the other usual things that are wrong with first-world countries in the twenty-first century.
So I’m cruising a gardening site because I have no self-control and they’re having a HALF PRICE sale* and I come to the description of something under the ‘cottage garden plants’ category. The heading describes it as a ‘half hardy annual’. This means it’ll die if it freezes, but it’ll be toast next winter anyway so your job is only not to plant it out too early now. And then in the description below the heading you are informed that while it is hardy to 18° F—which is pretty seriously hardy—it would be grateful for a little winter protection which if such is provided it will go on rewarding you with a dazzling floral display for years to come. Oh? Yes? Um.
It’s no wonder people think gardening is complicated and confusing.
* * *
* I didn’t tell you I ordered another eight roses, did I? Speaking of sales. Peter Frelling Beales http://www.classicroses.co.uk/ had a loooooong end-of-bareroot-season sale AND THEY KEPT FRELLING SENDING ME REMINDERS. I KNOW. I READ YOUR LAST EMAIL, THANKS. I WISH YOU’D GO AWAY. THE SALE WAS FOR FORTY PERCENT OFF. FORTY PERCENT OFF ROSE BUSHES???? YOU CAN’T EXPECT ME TO RESIST—TO GO ON RESISTING—THAT LEVEL OF TEMPTATION, CAN YOU? Well, I can’t, and it was my credit card. Besides, I have at least a half-packet of that help-the-roots-to-grow symbiotic fungus stuff left . . .
The thing is I got all those roses I bought from the (relatively) local rose nursery planted and then discovered . . . I still had perennial-shrub sized gaps left. ‘Perennial shrub’ is a slightly flexible concept in my garden, of course, as is ‘gap’: it’s surprising what (and how much) you can get to grow in a too-small pot if you keep it fed and watered. This—right now—is also the most dangerous time of year for me—I’ve probably (finally^) done a certain amount of clearing out of winter detritus: of last year’s annuals, last year’s failures, and the pruning you should maybe have done last autumn but I didn’t not only because I’m absent-minded and disorganised but because if you have a hard winter some things, including roses, will probably die back some, so if you have to take the last six inches off a three-foot stem that still leaves two and a half feet of live plant which you can prune later on if you want to for shape and so on. If you cut it down hard last autumn, six inches of dead wood may leave you come spring with three inches of live plant, which is risky. But I’m not a hard pruner anyway: I figure if a rose bush wants to be five foot—or fifteen—you’ll make it unhappy by trying to prune it to be three or six.^^
. . . Anyway.^^^ This time of year there is probably bare earth out there. Bare. Earth. In MY garden. Somewhere I could PLANT SOMETHING. Or wedge a pyramid of pots into/onto/around. This goes badly to my head. Despite the fact that by the end of March I’ve frelling DONE ALL MY SPRING ORDERING. I DON’T NEED TO DO ANY MORE. Except that what I’ve ordered is beginning to fade into the dank dark mists of the previous winter during which you wrote out copious lists of possible plant orders as a gesture of hope and belief in the future and a quelling or at least muffling of cabin fever#. And of course I never get around to printing out the invoices## of my final orders. . . . And then the frelling sale come-ons start appearing in your email. . . .
Coming up ten (gleeeeeeep) years ago, when I bought the cottage, I looked at the Way Too Gardenery a Garden that the previous owner### was leaving me and thought, I am not going to turn this into a Rose Garden. I am going to evolve it a little more toward Old Fashioned Messy Cottage Garden and away from Plantsperson’s Educational Display . . . but it’s NOT going to be a rose garden with a few pansies.
Well, it isn’t. It’s a rose garden with a few pansies, clematis, delphiniums, foxgloves, primroses, fuchsias, begonias, dahlias, hellebores, daffodils, hyacinths, a few tulips, one trillium, snowdrops, crocuses, lungwort, corydalis, epimedium, geraniums/pelargoniums/whatsit, two bleeding hearts, snapdragons, cosmos, one hydrangea, one gardenia, daylilies, irises, dianthus, dwarf Japanese maples, Japanese frelling anemones, camellias, dwarf rhododendrons, peonies . . . some other stuff, including several things I either don’t know the name of or have forgotten the name of . . . and a flowering currant, a corkscrew hazel and an apple tree.% It’s a rose garden with friends.
. . . It’s okay though. You can click on the Peter Beales link, the sale is over. I don’t recommend you sign up for their email list, however, unless you live somewhere Beales won’t ship to.
^ No, no! You’re supposed to leave your rubbish alone over the winter! It gives WILDLIFE SHELTER AND FOOD! ‘Wildlife’ includes the frelling mice I yesterday animadverted, as well as slugs, snails, vine weevils, lily beetles and black spot fungal spores. And my incredibly spoilt local bird populations don’t eat seed heads or berries or rose hips. And the bats are hibernating.
^^ There are fashions in pruning as in most things. Some years I’m in fashion. Some years I’m not in fashion. Feh.
^^^ Buckminster, our vicar, gets quite a lot of stick for being easily distracted. Church services when our vicar is preaching+ have been known to run on quite a while over time because Buck has been chasing hares (again). I was thinking this Sunday while everyone was giggling that it’s a good thing no one at St Margaret’s—so far as I know—reads Robin McKinley’s Days in the Life.++ Especially Buck himself. It might give him ideas.
+ You want to get home on time, pray Buck is not preaching.
++ With footnotes.
# Yes, you can get a cabin-fever equivalent even in the south of England, although in my case anyway the lack of daylight is almost as claustrophobi-fying as not being able to get out the door because of the snowdrifts.+ This winter, of course, the solid wall of falling water that went on for about three months accentuated that shut-in feeling.
+ Pay the guy with the bulldozer scoop on the front of his muscle pick-up who clears your driveway for you promptly. Never mess with a guy with a bulldozer scoop on the front of his muscle pick-up, especially not in a winter with a lot of snow.
## I’d only lose them. So why bother.
### Trained horticulturists. Double feh.
% And I’m TRYING AGAIN with the witchhazel and the magnolia stellata, drat them anyway. And does anyone know how to get a frelling foxtail lily to FLOWER? The beastly thing is coming up for the third year in a row but I’ve yet to get a flower out of it. But three of my meconopsis are alive. YAAAAAAAY.