There were points during February and March when I thought my garden might never regain its former glory. The Beast from the East had ravaged every plant with any sensitivity to cold, wet or wind. In the ten years since my garden was built I had not experienced such degrees of damage or destruction. Like me, the garden had been knocked off course. Drowned out by howling gales and silenced by snow, the rhythm of my urban jungle seemed to have ceased. And yet, just over 100 days later I stand at the front door and can hear the drums beating louder and more vigorously than ever.
A rapid recovery has not been achieved without some effort. In my determination to get everything back to ‘normal’, I’ve been patient with plants that needed time to rehabilitate. A few, including Cobaea scandens and Agapanthus africanus, are only just out of intensive care. A handful have shuffled off this mortal coil, including my marguerites and a cherished tibouchina. Such is life. They can be replaced. I have been particularly careful to leave striken plants alone rather than smother them with love. Overwatering and zealous cutting-back can turn a minor calamity into a fatality. Vine weevils are also a problem for me, the tiny white grubs preying on the roots of already weakened plants. I go out daily at nightfall to pick the adults off and crush them.
Clearing the garden of blackened vegetation post the big freeze presented opportunities to repair the garden’s perimeter and install a soaker hose to irrigate the driest parts of my raised beds. This has already extended the range of plants I can grow, in what was becoming impossibly dry shade. Bananas, gingers and colocasias are already flourishing, and my clematis are the best they have ever been. The abundance of Clematis ‘Happy Anniversary’ (purchased because I liked it, rather than to celebrate an occasion), has inspired me to plant four more shade-loving, large-flowered clematis: ‘Wada’s Primrose’, ‘Dawn’, ‘Fujimusume’ and ‘Guernsey Cream’. Given a couple of years they will light up the darkest recesses of the garden just when it needs a colourful boost. The pastel colours I’ve chosen work much better than the plums, limes and oranges I favour for brighter spots.
What I find remarkable is plants’ capacity to pick up the beat as soon as weather improves. Where in April the flowering of narcissi was about a month behind, the time-lag in later developers has reduced to a week, if that. Over the last fortnight the pace of growth at The Watch House has been spectacular, with new plantings settling in and filling out in no time. Long, warm days and balmy nights certainly help, although rain has been scarce. Whilst watering I have started to administer a balanced fertiliser to plants in recovery and tomato food to those that are established which I want to flower their socks off. Tomato food works especially well for gingers, dahlias and agapanthus. Any remaining gaps are closing over before I can wedge in a trowel and plant something else. It’s all rather exhilarating, if at the same time exhausting. On Monday mornings I can barely shift my aching body out of bed.
The beat goes on, hopefully maintaining a steady rhythm between now and my open weekend on August 4th and 5th. By then there will be far more flowers: the slow, sultry rumba that’s just picking up tempo will have transformed into a vigorous, passionate, seductive Argentine tango. TFG