Autumn has kicked in this week in a whirl of golden leaves, scattering over my lawn like sweet wrappers. The fun hasn’t started yet; backing onto woods and with a number of tall deciduous trees in our garden and the neighbouring gardens, means we will soon be spending every weekend raking up. However, there is something immensely peaceful in looking out onto trees; a reassuring comfort in their marking out the passing of seasons and time.
The beautiful artwork featured is from a project called Spaghetti Maze. It was run by Arthur+Martha in Bury, at Penfold Lane Dementia Centre and supported by Arts Council England and the Text Festival (Bury Art Museum). These pieces were made by participants in response to discussions about family trees. I find the fluidity and colours of these ethereal pictures poignant and compelling.
As a little girl I remember it was fashionable to have pampas grass (Cortaderia selloana) in your garden. It was perceived as the height of sophistication back then; a nineteen-seventies mark of taste. Somewhere in the nineties, pampas grass took a dive in desirability, along with flares and paisley shirts. Pampas grass is rarely seen at garden centres anymore so clearly its not the sort of thing your discerning customer wants. I still like it and surely, it must be retro chic by now? I found a website selling pink pampas grass which would be popular with my five year old daughter (not sure if she’s just been brain-washed by toy-shop shelves heaving in pink plastic or whether she genuinely likes the colour). My patio garden hankers back to the seventies with one of the beds featuring decorative grasses. I cut them down last year and they’ve grown like crazy over the Summer and now, kind of resemble hair.
In the large alpine bed I’ve planted Festuca glauca Intense blue. It’s a striking electric blue-green-silver shade.
The spiky Cordyline australis Red Star, photographed below, I must admit I bought four from B&Q simply because they were on sale and I enjoy a bargain! They resemble creeping red spiders when the breeze rustles their leaves; I have three in the top patio bed among strawberries, lavender and a huge rosemary, while the other crouches slightly menacingly at one end of the large alpine bed.
We have an apple tree just outside the back door, at the top of the Kitchen Garden. It is not a huge specimen but produces a reasonable number in relation to size. Dan will, no doubt, turn this crop into something tasty: a sweet pie or sauce to be served with pork. Hmmm, I can’t wait…
‘Apple pie, sweet taste of Autumn, All the dreams that I once had, Now they are almost forgotten, Sun fades, nothing can last.’
Lyric for Apple Pie, by The Gingerbread Tree.
The apples below usually sit prettily on a windowsill in my living room. They were created by my poet brother, Philip Davenport and I’ve photographed them on the steps that are beside the Kitchen Garden and nestling in a blue grass which is in the larger alpine bed. Phil’s apples were originally part of a Ritual Bodies exhibition in Liverpool’s Walker Art Gallery. His Heart Shaped Pornography series was hand-written onto hundreds of apples. The haiku-like poems scribed onto the ones I own are surprisingly delicate. My favourite reads:
‘The even horses to the rising sea’.
I’ve been attempting to get this large border into shape but it still needs a lot of work. The intention is for it to have a cottage style. I want it to be bursting with flowers, shrubs and quirky sculptures. For a while during the Summer, the half closest to the house had a stellar moment. However, the section nearest the climbing frame which is at the far end of the garden never quite came together. As plants have died back and, where I didn’t completely fill with flowers or shrubs, the weeds have taken liberty. The edge of the bed has virtually disappeared and is blended into the lawn. Sleeves need to be pulled up. A lot more effort is required.
I absolutely love the bright fiery red geraniums that I have planted in the patio beds. They remind me of the Mediterranean, particularly Spain: white-washed walls and narrow streets with pretty geraniums in terracotta pots balanced on windowsills, crammed on balconies and stuffed in hanging baskets. The vivid red draws your eye in. Their appearance is gaudy but the colour breath-taking and non-apologetic.
They grow well where I have placed them as there is plenty of sun and the soil is fairly dry, which they like. Slugs have attacked the leaves but the flowers remain intact, riotous splashes of crimson.
To the left of the garden is a large, curved bed. I’m attempting to give this a cottage style but, at present, at least half of it is full of weeds. I planted various shrubs over the Summer as well as the violet-blue geranium pictured here, called Rozanne. I have three clumps of it and the pretty flowers have maintained their beautiful colour throughout the Summer and into these early days of Autumn.
During the Summer I gradually added to the alpine beds I’d planted and, I’m pleased to say, they are spreading and looking fuller. The picture to the left is the smaller bed which, is doing very well. I love the resilience of alpines in the face of the mares’ tales. But even so, I find mares’ tales poking in-between the leaves and the flowers of the alpines I’ve planted. Of course, I pull them up but the roots are incredibly long and tend to snap. One gardener I know recommended digging up all the plants, putting them to one side and, literally, sieving through the earth to remove all traces of this particular weed. Apparently, its millions of years old. No wonder its lasted; is everywhere.
The picture below is of the larger alpine bed which obviously requires a lot more weeding. It really is an ongoing battle with the weeds. Sometimes, I find weeding cathartic. It is more cathartic when I’m weeding the patio beds as they are a manageable size; I can complete the process and, for a while, at least, it all looks as I intended. The borders, however, are a different matter…
Alpines, (or succulents as they are otherwise known) seemed an obvious solution for the raised patio beds. So far, I’ve filled two beds with alpines but, as you can see, I’m still in the process of covering the larger one with gravel. Both beds had an abundance of weeds; my Dad, very kindly, did some digging for me. But the mare’s tails are continuing to pop up. I get rid of them and, like Arnie, they always come back! I guess elimination is going to be a long process, especially as I’ve decided to avoid pesticides wherever possible. I’m hoping as these alpines spread, then the weeds will be submerged by them.
When we first moved here, over a year ago now, the patio area was in a poor state: cracked and unsafe. The water feature didn’t work (still doesn’t) and the walls, originally painted white, had turned that shade of grey my kids’ school shirts go after a couple of washes. My Father-in-Law suggested replacing all the wall tops with wood which had gone through a boiling process. This process, followed by staining, should ensure the wood is waterproof. It is also a material with a bit of ‘give’ in it; much safer for the children and even makes reasonably comfortable seats. That job was completed last Summer.
This Summer I decided to tackle the raised beds. I started off by weeding the dreaded mares’ tails and planting alpines. Then a couple of days ago, Dan and I decided to get on with fixing the patio itself. He filled the cracks with concrete while I tackled the sandpapering (Dan is not fond of sandpapering). A shade of cream was decided upon and Dan eagerly set to work with a paintbrush. About a third of the way through, Dan was busy with other stuff so, I continued the job. I’ve still got a long way to go but I’m getting there. The idea is to create a Mediterranean oasis. The children’s plastic toys kind of get in the way of the peaceful image I have floating around in my mind but, you know, what can you do? They love their plastic.
It makes sense to grow herbs and, some fruit, in fairly close proximity to the house. That way, if you’re cooking, you can just nip out through the back door and grab whatever you need: a handful of mint for the roast lamb, a few leaves of thyme for chicken, dill for salmon.
The first plants I put in my kitchen garden were chives. They were from my parent’s garden and they’ve thrived; haven’t been at all bothered by the pesky slugs and snails. I’ve heard that slugs avoid onions and garlic; as chives are part of the same family, maybe that’s why they’ve survived. I don’t use slug pellets so I’m always pleased to find plants that are less likely to be attacked by the slug population. I’ve tried planting dill but that was eaten within days; so then I put dill in a small pot but it was nibbled down to the stalk.
I am also growing strawberries, lemon thyme and rhubarb in the Kitchen Garden. Last year we tried carrots and giant pumpkins from seed; they didn’t work out. The kids were really looking forward to the pumpkins so I might try those again. The radishes, however, grew in abundance but, no one wanted to eat them!!
For me, this fruit is just so evocative of Summer; there’s nothing like biting into a soft, sweet strawberry, particularly when you’ve had the satisfaction of growing them yourself. I purchased two different kinds of strawberry plants from the garden centre this Summer. They produced a small but, steady, harvest. To stop the fruit rotting, I placed nests of straw around them (presumably, that is where the name strawberry came from). Straw seems to put the slugs off; broken egg shells are also a deterrent. In the top bed of the patio, are three strawberry plants with lavender in-between. I love the purple of the lavender, it’s such a pretty colour but I haven’t noticed much scent. To suppress weeds, I’ve added a layer of mulch; it also keeps the soil moist. Our patio area gets very hot (the garden faces South) and, the strawberries have loved the heat. My eldest son is ten and, experimented with making jam from the strawberries. It was not the most palatable but, it’s lovely to see him embracing the Good Life! Now it’s September, I’m already looking forward to the strawberries we might have next June.