An Olympian Task

 

As my plane to New York taxied down the runway this morning, I received a message alerting me to a missed call from the builder. So much for pre-empting all the questions he might have, I thought. Judging by the frenzied messages that promptly followed from Him Indoors, there is something not quite right about the radiators I ordered, despite them being precisely the ones the builder instructed me to source. I am not remotely surprised, and for a fleeting moment I do not care: I am ‘out of office’, not quite foot-loose and fancy-free, but just for a few hours, at 35,000ft, I am very glad to be ‘out of the loop’.

As the building project crawls to a conclusion, the parallels between our trials and tribulations and what one hears about a nation’s preparations for the Olympic Games have become increasingly apparent. The project begins with great ideals – in our case a botanical library, soft light filtering in from every side of the house, an airy garden room for experimenting with tropical plants and enjoying gin and tonics – and ends wildly over budget and perilously close to disaster. No one has died, it’s true, but there have been occasions when I’d have gladly strangled someone. Yet, as with each and every Olympic Games, the work miraculous gets done, the show goes on and we’re all dazzled by the resulting spectacle.

 

For the next two weeks I will be out of the country on business. Last weekend, as well as pressure to have my house in order, there was a need to make sure the garden was ready for the cold snap. On Sunday I cleared away the spicily-scented stems of my dying hedychiums (a job I love), at the same time as pruning fuchsias and tibouchinas down to a manageable size and stashing anything vaguely tender in the greenhouse. Our cellars are now packed with dahlias, still in their black plastic pots, cheek by jowl with cautleyas, roscoeas and colocasias, none of which demand light during the winter months. Although I go through the same process every year, it’s strange to see the terrace looking so bare and empty. It reminds me of the importance of good structure and tidiness, to keep the garden looking attractive over winter.

 

Even though it’s late November I have thousands of bulbs left to plant. Most of the tulips will have to wait until I return in mid December, but the narcissi and fritillarias won’t hang on. Snug in their bags and boxes they are either producing roots or starting to shrivel. Starting in bright sunshine and ending in steady rain, I managed to plant up four large pots on Sunday; two crammed with as many Narcissus ‘Winter Waltz’ as I could fit in, and two larger ones layered with Fritillaria ‘William Rex’, Tulipa ‘Dom Pedro’ and Narcissus ‘Salome’. Despite keeping the narcissi cool and dry, several bulbs had withered into lifeless, papery parcels: a pity, but, as I have said before, it’s always better to plant the few that have hope rather than abandon them altogether.

 

Somehow in December, between writing cards, wrapping presents, making beds, cleaning, decorating and working, I must plant the remainder. It feels like a gargantuan task, but the thought of not seeing T. ‘Princesse Irene’, T. ‘Rococo’ and T. ‘Slawa’ in spring will spur me on like an Olympian going for gold. These flowers will be to our building project what fireworks are to the end of an Olympic opening ceremony – bright, colourful, exciting and a taste of great things to come.

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7 thoughts on “An Olympian Task

  1. Sorry your builders are being builder-ish; like artists and decorators, they always seem to need to see the item “in the space” before they can be certain it will work. Funny, I thought that’s what measuring tapes were for. Sounds like you had a frantic weekend; the unfortunate thing about being a gardener who covets at least one of everything is that, very quickly, you become the hort equivalent of the Little Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe. I envy those gardeners who can say “I only do alpines” or “I grow South African bulbs and begonias.” (Granted, I did know a guy once who only did milk-and-wine lilies–I forget the Latin–and he had a couple of thousand of those, so maybe that’s no help.)

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  2. This is one of those posts I would need a sympathy button to press, were it not for the fact that you’re visiting one of my favourite cities. Have a wonderful trip and travel safely. Hopefully him indoors will sort the radiators out and the bulbs will hang on in there until you get back. My fingers are crossed for you. There’s something very wonderful about the bulb shooting picture.

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  3. If my terrace were to look like that in Winter, I would be over the moon – think that is “Maderense” looking absolutely great in the foreground. My two, grown from donated seed, are thriving albeit in a coldish conservatory. Have only just acquired two small tibouchina so they too are in the same conservatory. Managed to finish my bulb planting last week-end but … the garlic is still not in! I love New York, very envious of you even if it is business – enjoy.

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  4. Welcome to the States and the season of brown. 🙂 You will look forward to seeing all that lush green once you get home. Building anything never goes as planned, and it sounds like you have had more than your share of challenges. I know it will be gorgeous because the bones look lovely right now. Take a deep breath (not so deep you breathe in all our pollution though), have a cold one, and a break. We’re about 5 1/2 hours apart with you in NYC. 🙂

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  5. We have the plasterers and bathroom fitters in (both lovely though) and four rooms to decorate before Xmas and the new carpets arriving. I’ve been on DIY duty since March 2015 on and off and it seems like forever. The bad bit is that the garden is sorely neglected – no tulips ordered or planted, plants still in pots rather than in the ground, greenhouse a botrytissy mess. Oak tre leaves everywhere. #gardenfail

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  6. I am now thrown by you pruning your tibouchina now. I spoke to an exhibitor at the RHS Autumn Show and was told to do it in the spring. I would be happier to do it now as you have done as it would take up less room in the kitchen. What do you think?

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