For I smell of the earth

I’ve been busy, having “saved up” my energy for what the Met Office promised would be a relatively sunny weekend. They delivered, too – what rain has fallen, has fallen just when I wanted it to. I feel I ought to be slipping someone a fiver.

The result is the final conquering of the bottom bed.

It’s a funny old bed, that one. It’s deeply shaded, faces pretty much dead west, and half the bed is a clay seam. The other half is gorgeous loamy loveliness! Mmmmm! But that’s the half with the big cherry tree in it. So you stick a fork into the gardening equivalent of a big chocolate cake, and discover that some arse has baked it full of thick bits of springy wood.



I can’t dig it. I’ve never been strong enough to dig it, even when I was perfectly well and fit – now, it’s just a no-hoper. But I’ve got techniques now that I didn’t have when I was well. Now, if I find I can’t do something, I do an inch of it and don’t call that “failure”. I come back the next day and do another inch. And another. I don’t stop (well, I may take breaks of several weeks, but that’s not the same as stopping). Eventually it gets done. This approach is frustrating in almost all contexts, but it works peculiarly well with the garden, which – let’s face it – is never in any particular hurry unless we count the lawn’s unseemly scramble towards heaven.

In the context of the garden itself, the bottom bed isn’t that important. It’s small, sits between the bottom terrace and the summerhouse/shed, contains a biggish tree and is almost always too dark to really make anything out. But in the context of the house and the things you are most likely to end up inadvertently gazing at when on the top terrace, or when staring idly out of the living room, or when you look up from doing the washing up, or even when you walk into the house and look through it, the shady, no-event bottom bed is centre stage.

This is the bottom bed before.

Bottom bed before

Well, that’s actually the right hand side of it. Imagine the left carrying on in the same vein. Gloomy, isn’t it? The big half-barrel is full of water. It isn’t a water-butt in the sense of me drawing from it for the garden (though I do); despite its high, steep sides, it is actually there for the wildlife. It has plants in it. A lot of insects use it as a small pond or stopping-off point, and tons of birds come down and drink from it.

The rest was basically a few odds and ends I’ve planted, and a ton of muscari or grape hyacinth. Oh, and dandelions you could club someone to death with. Ah, and brambles. And ash saplings. Have I mentioned how much fun it isn’t, digging brambles and ash saplings (both of them are the stringiest, toughest sons of bitches in the botanical world, and both root deep), out of a bed that is latticed with thick tree roots? Yeah.

I did quite a bit yesterday, and this morning pulled myself away from this sort of thing:

Henny sunshine

And now that bottom bed looks like this:

By the barrel

Except that’s still only half of it, so here’s the whole thing:

Bottom bed after (awaiting plants!)

The green fringe of grass-looking stuff at the front of the bed is all muscari leaves, which I’m not going to disturb yet as they’ve only just finished flowering. The rest is ready for plants. I got the saplings out. I got the brambles out, and honestly, after that I just sat for a bit and giggled to myself, because it was sort of the same as walking to the moon, in terms of things you start your day thinking “I’m not going to be able to do this,” and then find that actually, yes, you have. It is done.

I was surprised – considering the amount of rain we’ve had – to discover that the garden isn’t anything like as wet as I expected it to be. Dig down a little and the soil is still bone dry. It’s a worry.


In front of the barrel, that tall, twiggy treeling you can see is my lovely acer “shirasawanum aureum”, bought for me by my dad when it was just a wee toothpick. It has vivid golden/lime leaves (the “aureum” in its name means “golden”). I’ve been bringing it on in a pot for five years, moving it about and trying to establish which conditions it needs to thrive. Last year during the landscaping the poor thing got set aside in the sun and was so badly scalded it dropped all its leaves in August, and I thought: “Lumme, that’s the end of that.”

This is how it looked in happier (and more shaded) years:

Part of my acer collection

Anyway, I kept it moist through the winter and felt its stems, which told me it was still alive, and I hoped that it had enough energy to make it through the winter, having lost its leaves so early in the year and not grown any others. I was pretty thrilled this year when the buds all fattened up, and now the first feathery edges of leaves are poking through. It’s going to make it!

Acer shirasawanum aureum

I’ve chosen a spot where it will get a few hours of sunlight a day, as that seems to be what it likes best. The same is true of most soft-leaved plants with that colour foliage.

To the left of it in the above photos of the bottom bed you might notice what looks like a load of little red fists, or rhubarb, pushing up from the earth. That’s a white paeony (or peony, both are correct). I’ve just moved it – hope it does alright. They’re pretty sturdy plants.

The rest is going to be foxgloves, ferns and heuchs – there just isn’t enough light there for most flowering plants. When I look out from my washing-up now I have a big grin on my face.

What a very happy weekend this has been.

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