The Watch House in Early May

I’m a little bit stuck at the moment. I don’t so much have writers’ block as writers’ constipation; that is, lots of posts backing up that are part written but not yet ready to publish. Like the unfortunate biological condition, I am finding the situation rather uncomfortable. The proverbial prune in this scenario would be the gift of time. My evenings are not long enough to sit and write and my weekends are occupied by gardening, so most of my posts are written during my daily commute to and from London. This amounts to four hours per day, but the environment is not conducive to any subject that requires thorough research. To break the impasse, I am doing what comes naturally and writing about my own garden.

The last two weeks have been marked by unusually cool weather. Having switched my central heating off at the end of March (brave, I know) it had to be switched back on the moment I returned from Miami. Although the garden has not experienced any frost during this time, this cold snap has served as a reminder that early May is generally far too early to be putting tender plants outside for summer. New growth sprouting from delicate plants might tolerate a few chilly nights, but is easily set-back (gardeners call it ‘checked’) by the shock of low temperatures. My grandfather, an experienced Head Gardener, would have waited until the first week of June, or later still to plant out true exotics, gradually acclimatising them to life beyond the greenhouse before that – a process called ‘hardening-off’. Even in these days of climate change, any time earlier than the last week of May is a risk here. So the workshop remains crammed with gingers, colocasias, cannas, bananas and begonias that appreciate a little more warmth and protection to get them going.

Tulip ‘Helmar’ is a long-flowering, Triumph-type tulip

My tulip selection this year was woefully lacking. Individually the tulips were perfectly nice, but a number of my favourites didn’t make my online basket last autumn. Those that did failed to complement one another as I’d hoped. There’s being adventurous and then there’s chucking out the baby with the bath water: I tended towards the latter with some very random choices. Next year I shall be more circumspect and ask The Beau to double check before I check out. What came together reasonably well was the length of the flowering season, which has already lasted six weeks and might extend for another if I’m lucky.

Having experimented with a number of colour palettes over the years I think coppers, oranges and plums work best in the Jungle Garden, whilst yellows, greens, ivories and pinks pick up the prevailing spring colours in the Gin & Tonic Garden. Next year I will create more rhythm and harmony by planting multiple pots with the same variety. I also want to introduce more early spring perennials and annuals to add texture and variety to my display. If I am feeling confident in autumn I might even schedule an opening for the end of April 2020.

Have I discovered any gems this year? T. ‘Yellow Spring Green’ has lasted extraordinarily well and T. ‘Helmar’ has stood proud and long in my bulb theatre, but that’s about it. My favourite new narcissus was N. ‘Altruist’, and N. ‘Baby Moon’ is still flowering profusely now. Both highly recommended.

Narcissus ‘Baby Moon’ is very late flowering, in my garden at least.

Given my garden is relatively compact, I like to play around with some of the smaller spaces, honing them on a regular basis. The worktop either side of the outdoor kitchen sink has become a gathering place for anything small, new, tender or vulnerable. Keeping these plants off the ground and closer to eye level means that I can fuss over them more, appreciating their charm in the process. Some will graduate to larger pots in the garden, others will die down or be relocated, and some may be treated as annuals and discarded once they’ve given their all. The main objective is to keep the picture moving through the seasons, creating new combinations and plant associations as I go. Through April and May the picture has been dominated by hardy orchids, the jazzy flowers of Tropaeolum tricolor and the combined foliage effects of Cyrtomium macrophyllum var. Tukusicola (giant-leaved holly fern), Ginkgo biloba ‘Mariken’, Acacia verticillata ‘Riverine Form’, Eremophila nivea and Pseudopanax crassifolius F. Trifoliatus.

Everything and the kitchen sink

In March I purchased five plugs of a new primula named ‘Ooh La La Blood Orange’ (dreadful name) from Sarah Raven and am excited to see these in flower. They remain very small, but they each have buds forming. Their magenta flowers will help me to bridge the gap between spring and summer.

The Gin & Tonic Garden is filling up fast

Meanwhile the Gin & Tonic Garden has been ticking over. Yesterday it had its second makeover of the year, although I am loath to do too much as the boundary fences are due to be replaced any day now. What’s scaring me is that the space is already almost full, without any of the tender plants slotting in. Time to curb the plant buying methinks …… fat chance of that!

I am enjoying the shrubbier elements in the Gin & Tonic Garden. Magnolia ‘Daphne’, planted in a pot, flowered beautifully this year and is still going strong. I’ve just added a Sinocalycanthus raulstonii ‘Hartlage Wine’ which was purchased with loyalty points I’d accrued at my local garden centre. A treat to myself and a feast for the eyes. What a beauty it is.

Sinocalycanthus raulstonii ‘Hartlage Wine’

Watering has now risen to the top of my list of jobs to do in the garden and will remain a priority until October. I am looking forward to sharing the burden with The Beau in due course since the requirement is unrelenting. I have been busy adding a slow release fertiliser to the top of each pot or container so that my plants receive a steady supply of balanced nutrients through the summer, later to be supplemented with regular doses of tomato food to encourage more flowers.

The gardening season, now well underway, lays stretched out before us like a long shadow. Just about anything could happen and probably will. It’s all in our hands and that of the elements, which is a thrilling and unpredictable prospect. Make of it what you will. TFG.

During this busy season you can also keep up with my gardening exploits via my Instagram feed and Facebook page.

The mission to disguise the greenhouse is progressing well.