Sylvia Clare’s Column – Whether or weather

Published: July 31, 2022


These two words seem to dominate my gardening life greatly, and I have done little in regard to writing this diary, as in whether I have anything new to say, or to show you in photos, and regarding this latter point, I almost felt that I had reached my loquacious limit.

and Ophiopogon under a Rowan tree

But then another ‘whether' earlier last year has led me to decide to put fingers to keyboard once more, followed today by a ‘writing eye' wander around the garden. That former ‘whether' was whether or not to open for the NGS again this year after some not so happy or successful attempts much earlier on in the history of this developing garden from the derelict. I decided yes, but early on in the year, to share my love of hellebores and early springers. So that decided, I was delighted to find a reader of my blog from Ontario, Canada was over here and wanted to come and see my garden, so she did and has inspired me to write more. One never knows who reads this if anyone at all and if they like it or think it is boring etc. So. Thank you Karen.

Overfilled compost bins near planned seating area

And that decision (NGS) has been very interesting, as in it has dominated my feelings and decisions about my garden for the last three months. Not for the better or worse I hasten to add, but it has focussed my emphasis in places that might have ‘normally' differed, especially to the tidying up stages of late winter and early spring. I have always been a dedicated ‘leave alone until as late as you can' chopping back person, following the dictates of nature as much as possible, the motto being that if it is still standing then let it stay longer, when it truly gives up the ghost then help it out of the way to make room for the spring rush. But we have been assiduously trimming and cutting back until we have so much stuff needing space in the compost bins that they are over flowing. I am using old builders sacks as temporary holders until I can do my spring clear out of last year's beautiful compost into the garden for the veggies to make best use of, thus in trying to clear up the garden for visitors, we are left with huge heaps, and I mean huge heaps of woody and straw/grass-like material waiting until it is dry enough to chip and toss into mulch rotting sacks or form the basis of next year's two full compost bins which will accumulate over the coming year. Now I have found an interesting thing. Our temporary bank of clippings has become so huge that it is a fantastic home for all manner of insects and things that crawl and creep around my garden. I have already seen very tiny slow worms emerging into the sunshine to bask. We have grass snakes that nest in the compost bins each year which is why I still use cool composting methods -they still get pretty warm anyway, but not so hot that they cook baby grass snakes before they are even born. So the decisions one makes can affect so many things in the garden. I think that on balance I have provided much needed shelter by loading everything en masse, even if the thought of doing all that chipping seems utterly daunting.

Ready for chipping

Now the other weather has also been interesting, very mild down here, although I know some parts of UK have been very cold and even that has nothing on Canada as my own beloved husband will attest to since he was over there in February with close friends. Minus 28C has so much more bite to it than minus 5 – 8C. It has been quite mild, quite wet and quite windy, but nothing like the previous year, so everything remains intact and upright. Relief! Living in a wind tunnel valley has its interesting moments! But the spring has been lovely and very long. My hellebores started late last year and are still in bloom at the end of March, four months is very good value even if they are expensive to buy. But a few times in the last few years I tried a bit of pollen mixing, not isolating or anything but just in situ, and waited for seedlings to appear in the ground around my parents. The fruits of my labour are starting to pay off and I am getting some lovely speckled Picotees and gentle veining on the flowers, also some interesting green veined bruise colours, which some people may say are washed out, but I really love this part of the colour spectrum. I am now collecting them into little nursery areas to grow on and see what they come out as, before I finally place them. I am not and never will be able to be an immaculate and precise gardener with breeding skills, but having some fun and waiting to see what came of it all has been a lovely adventure and I have had some goodies. So, more photos of hellebores this year but only those I grew from seed this time. The other weather thing is how what is in flower together has changed yet again and also what gaps are around.

Whilst out taking snaps for this blog I realised that some previously planned seasonal plant successions had not worked out. For instance I have a lovely south facing steepish bank, which is largely pretty poor chalky clay sub-soil with some limited improvements and mulching added. Its soil texture keeps it fairly stable and most things chosen for this spot thrive well, especially Geranium Bill Wallis and Euphorbia martinii. I had originally also planted out lots of later tiny Daffodils Hawera and species tulips but to come before those I had placed some Anemone Blanda to bring early spring colour but they did not emerge -ever.

Slightly bruised looking greenish pink self sown Hellebore

Now I have some successful patches of Anemone Blanda with Ophiopogon around the base of a Rowan tree, in a nearby similar but flatter area, preceded by golden yellow crocus, and these little blue daisy flowers have wandered into a nearby main bed, but never where I put them. Was that just bad corms, or bad luck or bad weather, or whether I put them in the wrong place -I don't know, but now I am thinking if I plan to open my garden again next year as early as this, I must find more ephemeral gap fillers, so what to put in that will cope with the rush and flush of what follows? I am especially partial to native primrose as well as some of the more cultivated varieties, and am thinking some of these would shine out well in the spring sunshine and fill this bank with colour whilst coping well with the over shadowing later on from tall Asters etc. also maybe, some more Blanda started off in small pots and then planted this time next year, already blooming, to see if that works long term. I do love their cheery little faces and beautiful shades of blue that vary with age.

Soft pink speckled Hellebore – self sown

One other project, started a couple of years ago, is also coming on nicely with the spring sprinkling of hellebore seedlings and primroses, and it is this developing sense of garden that makes it such a joyful way to spend one's time, seeing plants I put in a couple of years ago finally growing to a size that creates a presence.

Taking the photos to match this account has been more difficult because this morning the sunshine is so bright that all the colour has drained out of them so I shall try again later on today when the sun is a little less vivid, but for now I shall go and dig out my compost heap. The joys of gardening cover so many aspects of life, and mindfully I enjoy them and embrace them all. It is such an adventure from day to day to be a gardener and I do love mine.

Sylvia Clare

Text and photographs by Sylvia Clare, who has been an HPS member for more than 10 years.