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.
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.
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.
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.
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.