One Guilty Gardener

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While I am in the mood for confessions, I am going to own up to not setting foot, let along doing any work, in our London garden since the end of September. Our city garden exists purely for the months when we can enjoy it in the morning and evening during the working week, which is roughly between April and September. For the rest of the year it is little more than an assemblage of foliage outside the window, a green moat separating us from our neighbours.


The faded blooms of Hydrangea quercifolia
Faded blooms of Hydrangea quercifolia


Weekends in London are a rarity, but this is one of them. After a lie-in, I donned multiple layers, hat, scarf and wellies, to see what had been happening since autumn. Truth is, the garden is very much less troubled by my absence than I am. I find it hard to reconcile my billing as ‘keen gardener’, with the fact that I have neglected my duties for over three months. I feel guilty: the garden is not remotely fussed. And in leaving fallen leaves and yellowing stems in situ they come away from the ground more neatly now, sometimes in soggy clumps, sometimes in loose, crisp handfuls.


Before .....
Before …..


Reginald the Robin is delighted by my reappearance. He is hopping around under my feet within five minutes, scouring the soil for freshly exposed bugs. He’s a proud, plump little fellow, exhibiting no signs of starvation or shyness: the best kind of company for a chilly gardener.


Reginald 'Reggie' Robin
Reginald ‘Reggie’ Robin


Four hours later, I’ve made significant progress. The garden looks almost respectable again and nothing has suffered from my negligence, not even the tender plants that I’d failed to bring indoors before the cold weather arrived. The raised vegetable beds need topping up with compost in readiness for the first sowings of the New Year, and there is plenty more pruning to do. The snowdrops I planted ‘in the green’ last spring are emerging in significantly expanded clumps, and there are several hellebores about to bloom. I cut away the old leaves to reveal plump buds in shades of puce and burgundy. Over the next few weeks I will repot my burgeoning pleione collection in readiness for their spring flowering. The number of pseudobulbs multiplied threefold after a summer rest under our garden bench.


 ....... and after
……. and after


Next year I shan’t feel guilty about leaving the garden to its own devices. If Reginald could talk I’d ask him if he’d missed me. The plants certainly haven’t.


Our London Garden, January 2017





Categories: London, Musings, Plants

Posted by The Frustrated Gardener

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23 comments On "One Guilty Gardener"

  1. Hello Dan! You always share such interesting things. For instance, the gorgeous Robin is not the gorgeous Robin of Maine; and I’ve never considered the realities of such Pleionies. It is good to read of your adventures. Thank you so much. With best wishes to all, Alda Stich, Freedom, Maine USA. My latest on the Web is
    Our house and garden are near the bottom of the scroll.

  2. It’s nice to see you “neglected” London garden in a good shape. Reggie must have kept an eye on it for you ๐Ÿ™‚ By the way, what’s the name of the plant with the heart-shaped leaves? Have a great Saturday evening and Sunday.

    1. Do you mean the plant that’s growing behind Reggie? That was sold to me as Rubus irenaeus, but I am fairly confident it isn’t. All I can say is that it’s definitely a rubus and it scrambles very nicely across the ground in a shady spot.

      1. Yes, I meant the climber / creeper. just behind Reggie :). It looks nice with green leaves in winter. Is it hardy ? You say it’s a kind of rubus ( blackberry ? ), does it “produce” any fruit ?

  3. I am so pleased to hear your guilty confessions Dan, I don’t feel so bad about not having cut back much in my garden since autumn! I am getting on with it now and it makes such a difference and there is life under the soggy clumps of dead foliage too! Quite heartening to see spring on the way! Thanks!

  4. Your tree ferns are magnificent! What are the pink flowers in the background of the last photograph? They look a bit like Abelia but I don’t have one in my current garden and can’t remember whether they are in flower at this time of year, it seems very early though London may be a degree or two warmer than the countryside.
    Reginald looks a well fed chap, lovely company to have. Hope you are feeling better now.

    1. I am much better now, thank you for asking. The pink flowers belong to Fuchsia microphylla. It never ever stops flowering, even in the depths of winter. Do seek it out. It’s a very graceful shrub.

  5. I can’t claim to be a gardener so enjoyed our garden in London which got weeded/tidied twice a year – spring and autumn. It then more or less looked after itself. I live in Wellington, New Zealand where everything keeps growing all year round, albeit a bit more slowly in winter. This means almost constant weeding and chopping back, and an abandoned garden is soon overrun with creepers, invasive weeds, and things that twine and strangle. We also have to contend with solid clay “soil”, and lots of howling wind storms, either drenching everything for days on end, or drying everything out to crispness during the summer months.
    I remember my delight at spending an afternoon in our London garden, knowing I wouldn’t be required to keep at it week after week after week….!!!!!!!!!

    1. The winter rest period is certainly a welcome break here in the U.K.. Time for cleaning, tidying and ordering plants and seeds. Sounds like you have some very challenging conditions to contend with in Wellington. We get a taste of the storms and extreme weather events in our coastal garden, but London is pretty sheltered. Thank you for taking the time to read my post and leave a comment. Dan.

  6. Goodness – what a beautiful garden. It simply looked like it was sleeping in the first photo not neglected at all. I would be thrilled if my looked like that right now but it’s buried under 12″ of snow.

    1. That’s a lot of snow. We tend to receive no more than a light sprinkling if it snows in London, and the heat from the building means it never lingers. I am looking forward to getting a nice deep mulch on my beds now ๐Ÿ™‚

  7. I deliberately let the garden become, and stay, a winter mess, even though I’m here all the time. Rather than feel guilty about that, I’d feel bad if I tidied it up. When the spring comes, I watch for the hedgehogs, frogs, newts and other critters that emerge before scouting with my little salt water bucket for the overwintering molluscs and only then to I start to tidy up. And as most plant material has started to decompose a bit, it gets going far sooner in the compost bin. And anyhow, your garden didn’t look that bad “before”…

    1. Rest assured John, I pile all the old leaves up at the back of the borders to protect the soil and any creatures that are living in the garden. I agree, the leaves decompose much faster after winter exposure. The main reason for clearing up is to avoid too much debris blowing into the pond and stop the decking getting slimey. Sounds like your garden is a wonderful wildlife haven.

  8. Ah the joys of benign neglect…Enjoyed your post, as usual…Seems if a garden is well designed, with strong bones and good soil, it will carry on quite nicely…for a while ; ) Also from a wildlife point of view, leaf litter and a certain amount of ‘untidyness’ is of course beneficial…

    1. Yes indeed. I think neglect is OK when the garden is shrinking back on itself, but not so much when it’s surging forward. It was good fun uncovering all the emerging bulbs and trying to remember where I’d planted them so as not to crush them under foot.

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