The Final Countdown 



Twelve days to go and preparation for this year’s garden opening feels like one of those bad dreams where, try as one may, one never reach the finishing line. I can usually let go of the reins a little during August, but with the opening happening at the end of the month I have to keep it looking pristine for what feels like an eternity. Gardens Illustrated could arrive on my doorstep at any given moment and I’d be ready, not a leaf or petal out of place. The Bank Holiday cannot come soon enough.

Hindrance number two (number one being the builders, who have had enough air time already) was a tummy upset. This brought down my usual cast-iron defences and exiled me to bed for the early part of last week. When one is busy it’s amazing just how disruptive a couple of days out of action can be. Feeling rough, I limped back to Broadstairs on Wednesday evening to quickly sweep up, water and inspect two very large, remote-controlled Velux windows that had been installed in the roof of our new garden room. I am not your typical gadget man but am nevertheless easily impressed by anything that has a sleek little box to control it. When the windows might be operational is anyone’s guess: November has even been mentioned, which does not bear thinking about.


Dahlia 'Firepot'

Dahlia ‘Firepot’


After another prolonged cold spring I reckon the garden is only a week behind last year. This is a help rather than a hitch. My bellwether is always Hedychium ‘Stephen’, a ginger that I ruthlessly divided this spring lest it burst out from the sides of its black plastic tubs. I now have six huge plants in place of the original three and they are in rude health, some approaching 8ft tall. All are coming into flower right now, precisely seven days later than last year. I so wish it were possible to transmit scent via the Intranet. Alas the flowers last only a few days, so they will be gone before our visitors arrive. H. yunnanense started and finished blooming in the space of a week, which is one of the drawbacks of not being at home every day to experience these fleeting events in nature’s unpredictable timetable. Next will be peach and coral H. ‘Sorung’, flowering for the first time at The Watch House.


Dahlia 'Darkarin' - more blanc than burgundy!

Dahlia ‘Darkarin’ – more blanc than burgundy.


A disappointing lack of flowers in the main border is something I have to address, but a lack of colour is more than compensated for by the pots that are slowly taking over the terrace. I was bemused to discover a new dahlia, named ‘Darkarin’, sporting pure white flowers instead of the rich burgundy blooms I was expecting. Then another opened the correct colour with a highly pronounced Mallen Streak, making me think I may have purchased a rogue tuber. It’s curious rather than pretty and will perhaps settle down, producing solid red flowers once it gets going. Him Indoors is happy as he likes white flowers and they don’t generally have a place in my summer planting schemes.


Still not quite what I was expecting.

Dahlia ‘Darkarin’ and friend – still not quite what I was expecting!


Meanwhile D. ‘Totally Tangerine’ is proving to have lots of flower power and D. ‘Mambo’ is pleasing me much more than ‘Blue Bayou’, which I find a little too heavy in the centre of the bloom.


Dahlia 'Mambo'

Dahlia ‘Mambo’


Officially the garden at Polegate Cottage was handed back to us in a usable state this weekend, although a good downpour is required to shift the dust from the surface of the paving stones. I tried, in vain, to make something of it using plants purchased for 50p from the local garden centre. I have green rather than magic fingers and am not sure anyone is going to be convinced by a load of pot-bound begonias shoved quickly into containers. Hopefully points might be awarded for trying.


Potted plants by the kitchen sink

Potted plants by the outdoor kitchen sink


I endeavour to find a positive in the most challenging of situations so I’ve suggested to Him Indoors that we theme our teas this year around construction: builders’ tea, rock buns, fruit slab and something I have just invented called an RSJ cake, which is a Victoria sponge with raspberry and strawberry jam inside. Any other suggestions to expand on this theme would be most gratefully received. And, if the lyrics of Europe’s 1986 No. 1 hit are still running through your head, all I can say is that I’m very sorry.


And still it grows....

And still it grows….