In My Back Garden…

Living as I do in the North of Scotland, spending time outside in the garden is very much a seasonal thing.

Our front garden faces south, so gets the best of the sun all year round but is always in public view so tends to be a space I walk through (or garden in) rather than sit and relax in. This is where our many mature roses grow, as much for our neighbours or passers-by to look at as for us to enjoy. Our beautifully private back garden faces north, so with the low winter sun in this part of the world it receives virtually no direct sunlight at all from the end of November through to the middle of February, but I strive to make the most if its changing fortunes over the rest of the year and I must admit this is our outdoor space I love being in the most.

Life in my back garden begins in earnest around late February, weather permitting, clearing away the last of the brown protective debris of winter slumber and watching in anticipation for any tell-tale signs of new green growth. Snowdrops always appear in the garden first, maybe as early as January, often breaking ground through hard frost and icy snow, so have always come and gone by the time the weather is warm enough (and dry enough) for me to be outside any more than is absolutely necessary.

Then in early spring come the crocus, and the glory-in-the-snow, then later the daffodils and hyacinths and fritillaries and primroses, and the honesty plants flower and gain some height. The tulips do their spectacular blazing thing but are generally on their way out by the time the bluebells start to flower and the azaleas burst into bright colour. This is when I really start to spend time sitting outside on the garden bench, enjoying the fresh air even if I often have to stay wrapped up warm throughout much of March and April.

By the beginning of May the peony greenery is flourishing and their tightly-wrapped flower buds are preparing themselves for their big blowsy entrance, as are the rhododendron. The hostas have pushed through the ground and are unfurling their swirly ribbed leaves, the lily plants are showing they mean business and the allium have developed their tight green buds. The strawberry plants are flowering, the apple tree is blossoming, the ferns are unfurling their tightly-coiled fronds and the garden is truly feeling beginning to feel properly alive again. My garden bench becomes my go-to seat for enjoying a cuppa, and I like to sit and look out in pleasure over the fruits of my labours.

Over the lush vibrant summer months through June, July and August I hope to spend as much time as I can out in the back garden, sometimes gardening and sometimes just relaxing, watching the biggest and brightest of the summer flowers come and go, watching the riot of colours change, enjoying the sights and smells and sounds of nature in my own little patch of paradise. This is only going to be my third summer here in my garden, so overall I’m still learning, still exploring and experimenting and finding my feet, but already I feel quite closely attuned to the ebb and flow of seasonal adjustments as the garden expands and contracts over the course of the year. Gardening grounds me, it is fast becoming my new passion in life.

Looking ahead to this coming autumn, this year I hope to plant more chrysanthemums in different colours, and intend to source a few more late-flowering beauties to complement the more muted autumnal palette of soft coppers and golds as summer leaves lose their green and start to fade and fall. September and October for me are the more contemplative, quiet months in my garden, perhaps being in the autumn of my own years gives me an affinity with finding new meaning and beauty in the changing garden as it evolves from one seasonal state to another? I find the autumnal garden can still be richly beautiful, just in a different way from spring or summer.

But all too soon (or so it feels) a chill wind will blow once more and the garden will withdraw almost in its entirety for the winter months. Things will stop growing, and will start disappearing again into the cold dark earth. Hopefully the hydrangeas I planted last year will have flowered well and will still hold their desiccated blooms throughout, keeping the allium and honesty company in their skeletal finery into the colder months of relative hibernation. And in turn I will withdraw, too, covering over my garden bench and keeping to the cosy warmth of the house for the duration of the cold Scottish winter, until the promise of spring comes again and my garden and I can be reunuited once more… ❤


April A-Z: G is for Gardening

My eventual aim in life is to become an old lady who potters about in her garden, enjoying both the activity and the outcome in equal measure. I’ve always really enjoyed spending time outside and it’s been fun over the last couple of years finding out what works and what doesn’t in our garden, I’m quite keen on growing the traditional, old-fashioned cottage garden plants in a rather informal layout – think Jane Austen’s Lizzie Bennet in her ‘pretty-ish little wilderness’ and that’s basically the overall look I’m going for, or perhaps Mary Lennox’s ‘Secret Garden’ as imagined in Frances Hodgson Burnett’s children’s book?  Add a couple of homely garden benches and suchlike, peaceful, restful places to linger in the fresh air, and I’m all sorted… Well eventually I’ll be sorted, because of course a growing garden takes patience and time to evolve…

Life events have conspired to pull me away from blogging over the last couple of months, and the idea of taking part in this year’s April Blogging from A-Z Challenge seems like a good way to try to get back into the habit of reading and posting regularly. Originally I thought of just using any old random words to go with the particular letter of the day, but realistically without a clear theme to work towards I’m not sure I’d be able to keep my focus for a full month… So instead I’ve opted for a relatively simple, if slightly self-indulgent work-around: This year I’ll be posting 26 things about me, nothing too taxing to write about yet still fulfilling the brief!

Little Red Pelargonium

Last year I had two supermarket-bought pelargoniums growing in pots indoors, but after a while they really weren’t looking happy wherever I put them. Eventually all their leaves yellowed and fell off and they just looked bald and sad, so earlier this year, worried I might kill them off altogether if I wasn’t careful, I finally decided to plant them outside in the garden instead and just wait and see what might happen.

They both limped on bravely until all their remaining leaves totally disappeared, but still I left the ailing plants where they were. For the longest time my pelargonium plants appeared to be nothing but wizened brown stumps in the ground. However come early summer, although one of my plants was most definitely dead and already disintegrating back into the earth, the other was showing the tiniest stirrings of life and so I left it where it was to see if it would begin to grow properly again.

Over the next while it just sat there in an odd kind of stubborn limbo, a bit green and a bit brown, neither fully alive nor fully dead, so after much deliberation I dug it up a few weeks ago and moved it to a different spot in the garden… And here it is today, no more than about 3 inches high, but with healthy green leaves and red flowers again! 🙂

Flower of the Day

Nourishing and Flourishing

So many of my blog posts over this last year and a half have included images of or references to my garden, and I worry that I might be boring everyone with my growing personal passion for my outdoor space.

But to be fair, in an effort to survive emotionally on our pandemic-ridden planet my garden has necessarily become a huge part of helping me feel grounded in reality as the seasons progress. My daily world has effectively shrunk to the size of our property boundary, and I must admit that now I’ve got used to it, I find that’s perfectly OK with me.

Since 23rd March 2020 as a country we’ve either been in full stay-at-home lock-down mode or alternatively in varying degrees of Government-imposed restrictions (greatly reduced for now but still not fully lifted), and with the continuing rise in numbers of the Delta variant here in the UK, it may be some time yet before any return to any real semblance of ‘normality’ as we knew it.

Like millions of others I’ve had no option but to learn to live under whatever set of necessary restrictions are currently imposed on us, although thankfully it seems that some of us have been blessed with the wonderful circumstance of finding ourselves being nurtured by nature right on our doorsteps, in the privacy of our own gardens.

So for now I spend much if my time in my garden in a mutually beneficial relationship based on nourishing and flourishing, and I am content. Happily it looks like my garden is quite content with the arrangement, too 🙂

Weekly Prompt: Garden

Two years ago we didn’t even have a garden, we were living in a one-bedroom first floor flat in London with no outside space at all.

And now here we are in a three bedroom bungalow in Inverness with garden front and back, and find ourselves slap bang in the middle of a pretty steep green-fingered learning curve. There are multiple really old rose bushes in the front garden just coming into bloom now, so I’m learning (generally by trial and error) how best to look after them and everything else plant-wise we inherited when we bought the house.

I’ve always loved spending time in nature and absolutely love having a garden, both in the passive and active sense, and our intention long-term is to grow some fruit and vegetables as well as flowers and shrubs so that our outdoor space can be practical as well as pretty. I’ve already added several herbs – lavender and thyme and rosemary and lemon balm – and intend to add a lot more scented plants as I go along.

Over this last year and a half since the Covid pandemic changed everything I’ve really appreciated having ready access to so much outdoor space, and my garden has become my little sanctuary in more precious ways than I could ever have imagined. I regularly cut the grass and pull the weeds and prune and dead-head and generally look after everything as best I can, only to find to my delight that as I nurture my garden it nurtures me in return.

British horticulturalist Gertrude Jekyll (1843-1932) said that ‘The love of gardening is a seed once sown that never dies’ and that’s exactly what I’m experiencing here – my plan for the future is I’m definitely going to become an old lady who potters in the garden, and I’m happy to report it’s a healthy habit I’m already starting to build now ❤

Weekly Prompt: Garden

June Strawberries

We’ve got some lovely strawberries growing in the garden this year – perhaps a little later than we had expected after such a cold wet spring, but today the first fully red berry has finally ripened and has now been picked.

We’re still very much fledgling gardeners so we’re really pleased with the results of our labours. Big smiles all round – Yum! 🙂

Weekly Smile

Buried Treasure

We’ve recently been working in our garden, and have been tidying up the rather ramshackle unloved space right at the back corner around the old compost heap we inherited from the previous owner.

When we first moved in the compost heap was not just full but absolutely overflowing with a precarious mound of garden debris – it was clearly no longer a properly cared-for usable compost heap but the whole area had become little more than an ever-growing garden waste dumping ground, with bits of bark, weeds, piles of rotten fruit from the plum tree, an over-abundance of grass cuttings, and with random weeds and discarded raspberry plants growing out of the top of it!

We’d already removed the worst if the surface debris from the space last year, and underneath it all had found a manky old rotting carpet that had been used back in the day to cover the working compost heap proper. We disposed of that, too, and tidied up a bit around it but left our internal exploration of the full contents of the heap for later on as we weren’t at all sure what we would find or what we would be doing with it all in the future.

But the time has come to address that back corner so this week we’ve dug over and cleaned out the old flower bed beside the compost heap, and yesterday we removed and potted up the raspberry plants growing on top of the compost heap to see if they’ll maybe grow enough to produce fruit. We wanted to try to use some of the compost to pot the plants up in, so decided that probably required using a garden sieve to remove any suspicious material before use, just to be sure. We could already see there were loads of roots and weeds we didn’t want in the mix.

My husband dug it all over, and I sieved only what we needed for now. We successfully create enough good, clean compost to pot up four tubs of raspberry plants, which we’ve now caned up, so we’ll see what happens. But while digging we also found several bits and pieces that really didn’t belong in a compost heap at all. There were a few broken roof slates, several discarded broken plastic plant pots, a couple of broken terracotta pots (the sherds of which we can re-use as pot drainage) and a couple of plastic fertiliser bags opened up and laid out flat like sheets of lasagne or layers of wafer in a biscuit.

We also found even more rotting carpet layered deep in to the mix, and a whole colony of dead tea-bag skins peppered throughout – instead of opening them out to use only the leaves in the compost heap it looks like the whole used tea-bag has been thrown in, bag and all, time after time, and although the tea leaves themselves have composted down nicely over the years, the bags definitely haven’t. Hence the collection of gossamer-thin tea-bag skins, soiled and stained and ripped and now thankfully picked out of the mix by hand.

Further down in the heap we hit something hard and metallic, and out came an aluminium roasting tin, buried upside down but still in one piece. And also an egg… Whole… Well, with a wee crack in it. It literally just popped up in a shovel-full of compost, white on brown, and it bounced along the surface before coming to rest. We thought initially it may be one of those old-fashioned darning eggs for using inside a sock or something, or maybe a decoy egg, but on closer inspection it still seems to have something inside it, and it smells a bit.

So the egg is a bit of a mystery. It’s far too big to be a hen’s egg, is about the right size but the wrong colour for either a duck’s egg or a gull’s egg. I’ve got absolutely no idea what else it might be around here, or how long it’s been sitting in the depths of our compost heap doing… well, whatever it was doing. And how amazing the digging spade didn’t go right through it, or smash it bringing it up. Anyway here it is, our buried treasure – the aluminium tray with the egg in it, alongside a dice and a marble dug up from the neighbouring flower bed for scale.

The last picture is the egg in my hand – it has a bit of weight to it, and when you shake it you can feel a bit of movement of whatever is inside… I’m intrigued, but not intrigued enough to break it open to find out – the unpleasant smell coming from the small crack is quite off-putting, as if whatever is in it has been dead for some time. My suggestions were it may be either an alligator or a dragon or a dinosaur egg, although admittedly none of these creatures tend to roam around freely here in Inverness, so it’s probably not any of those. But other than reptiles I’ve no idea what else buries its eggs until they hatch…

Has anyone else ever dug up a buried egg from their compost heap? 🙂

Fandango’s One Word Challenge: Ramshackle

Almost a Rainbow of Colour

I’ve been feeling a bit down lately, physically and emotionally, so spending time pottering around in my garden most days is proving to be one of life’s greatest pleasures for me at the moment.

In spite of some really intense weather for this time of the year – last week saw extended periods of pelting rain, intermittent hail, and even a sprinkling of snow – I’ve still succeeded in dodging the spring showers for long enough to get some weeding done, break a sweat digging out a few stubborn rhizome root-stalks that needed some serious excavation to remove, and of course cut the grass. The garden always looks so much more cared for with the grass cut, even though keeping the flower beds weed-free remains a constant work in progress!

Maybe not a huge amount achieved, granted, but with all the bad weather we’ve had so far this month it’s been enough to warrant a very welcome smile of satisfaction on my part. The plants certainly seem to have enjoyed the refreshing rain, and I’ve enjoyed photographing them too – this week I’ve almost achieved a rainbow of colours to share, with a little artistic license allowed as to the exact colour of the orangey-yellow meconopsis! 🙂

Weekly Smile

Pottering, Pondering and Planning

I’ve spent a good few hours of every day this week outside in the garden, just pottering about, pondering and planning. I’ve been feeling really low lately after recently having been made redundant when the department store I worked for finally closed down for good due to ongoing financial difficulties exacerbated by continuing Covid restrictions.

So in order to try to keep any lurking depression at bay I’m spending some quality time clearing away the last of the winter debris and detritus in my garden, letting nature soothe me and start to heal my hurt, just thinking things through and letting my troubled mind wander, deciding as I go along where my garden plans might take me this year…

When we first moved in to this house in the autumn of 2019 we inherited a mature South-West facing front garden and North-East facing back garden that had previously belonged to an elderly man who had clearly loved gardening and had spent a great deal of time looking after his plants. But it seemed that as time passed he had also clearly grown too old to notice the slow decay of his pride and joy, or to care for it all properly by himself.

Family had kept it ticking over and tidy for him, stopping it from looking completely neglected and preventing it from becoming too obviously overgrown, but they had not loved it in the same intensive way he had in the past. On the surface and with only a cursory glance all looked fine. But behind the scenes the garden too was starting to feel its age, infrastructure crumbling around the edges, losing its integrity a little like a fading bloom. Recognisable still as the garden he loved, but no longer so robust.

The garden had been laid out to suit his personal planting preferences – formal rose-beds set around a rectangular lawn in the front garden, and in the back garden there were two sagging greenhouses for propagating bedding plants, a rickety old wooden potting shed, and a modern metal shed for storing garden implements. The pale ghosts of myriad circular marks on the patio and pathways showed a predilection for plants kept in large pots as well as in the flower beds edging the central grassy area.

Ornate painted but rusting hanging basked brackets adorned every possible surface. Four fruit trees of varying ages and sizes took up quite a lot of space, but there was no sign of any vegetable plot. There was a rhododendron bush and a large overgrown flowering cherry tree, a camellia, a fuchsia and a couple of unidentified bushes – at that point I still wasn’t sure what they might be. And oddly out of place, one large ten-foot-tall stark tree stump standing sentry to the no-longer-functional-but-full compost heap hiding in the back corner.

Moving in as we did at the end of the growing season, I decided just to tidy things up but basically keep everything as it was for the first full year, to see what the earth had hidden within, waiting for the garden to give up her seasonal secrets month after month. Throughout the winter everything inevitably lay dormant and dull, but sure enough by spring there were snowdrops and crocus and daffodils and tulips.

In the summer deep red peonies appeared along with yellow poppies and wild strawberries, lilies and honesty and golden rod. The roses bloomed and barren bushes became azalea and forsythia. Where clear empty dirt flower beds awaited their usual offering of annual bedding plants I instead added herb bushes – lavender and rosemary – and also a few heather plants to fill the blank space.

By late autumn we were back where we started, so again I cleared up for winter, with far more of an idea emerging as to how to begin to transform the garden to become fully our space, discarding what is not ‘us’ while still keeping as much of the original as we could. Winter passed cold and wet, and here we are in spring again. I’d carefully watched the position of the sun over the garden for that first whole year, to see where areas of dominant light and shade suggested one thing over another, and we’ve made some big decisions.

At least one of the greenhouses has to go altogether – perhaps both, as they are old and frighteningly fragile and we have young grandchildren who love to play in our garden. The old wooden potting shed is rotting away beyond remedy, the roof has clearly been leaking for years, and realistically the whole structure needs to be replaced with something dry and useful. We’re going to re-site the potential new replacement elsewhere, as the footprint of the current shed sits slap bang on the sunniest spot in the garden.

Plant-wise, we’ve sadly reached the conclusion that all four fruit trees will have to go. The two really old gnarled and twisted specimens, one plum and one greengage, are both too stressed and diseased with too much deadwood to be safe. Both trees have lost major branches since we moved in, crashing down into the garden with no warning – one see-sawing precariously across the garden wall, one breaking a pane of glass in the greenhouse below, having just missed hitting me on the way down.

Both large trees also badly overshadow the back garden space in too much of an overbearing fashion to be allowed to remain – making the most of the available natural light is so important to me. And the two small my-height apple trees, giving minimal inedible fruit, are just in the way, stuck into the middle of the grass like a poorly-played game of Pin the Tail on the Donkey. Not surprisingly the old tree stump needs to go. I’ve dug up the Goldenrod, as it was far too invasive and was choking the azalea bushes, and have tried to re-site some of the peonies, so we’ll see if that works.

I’ve always been a country girl at heart so really love having a garden again, and have always felt comfortably at home spending time outside, but I’m not a labour-intensive kind of traditional gardener. Ideally I like to work with and encourage nature rather than try to completely control and contain it in too orderly a fashion. I far prefer taming the random wildness of it all rather than planting stuff out in regimented rows like a formally set dinner table.

I like to do my bit to help out, but basically let nature have her way with a bit of guidance from me, creating an easy space for birds and bees and insects and people and plants to live together in harmony. Basically I garden to let me have a lovely outdoor space to relax in, not for the pure pleasure of the activity itself – I definitely prefer the enjoyment of the end product to the actual process of gardening, although to be honest I do enjoy the familiarity of routine tasks too.

So right now I’m off outside again with a cup of tea to sit on my garden bench in the spring sunshine, picturing in my mind’s eye how it will all look once we make all the changes we’re planning. As we haven’t got very far doing up the house yet, either, inside or outside, this vision may take some time to become reality, but I’m sure we’ll get there in the end – we usually do! 🙂