Posted by: Linda Proud | June 6, 2009

Gardening for free

On this rainy Saturday in June, I’ve been sorting out papers and came across something I must have scribbled in May 2008. But it’s relevant to this year, too, except for the weather pattern which has been quite different.

As the primroses appeared in March, I stood on the garden path and scratched my head, for I could not remember planting them in the lawn. Granted ‘lawn’ is now a misnomer for that side of the path which I’ve surrendered to the wild. A golfer would call it ‘the rough’. I have the leather jackets to thank for it, and the birds. The plague of craneflies a few years ago left a generation of grubs that ate the grass at the root. The next time we mowed, half the lawn disappeared into the mower like a wig going up a vacuum cleaner. I put down grass seed and the birds came to gorge themselves.

Looking up ‘ground cover’ on the internet, I found I already had a couple of the recommended plants growing in the rockery so I transplanted some pieces of bugle and dwarf comfrey and left Nature to it.

Nature is a consummate artist. Much of what has happened since has been through the agency of seed, so the snowdrops and primroses and species tulips are being spread about – but how is it that they grow in just the right places, as if by design? And who is it who plants the bulbs? Several years ago we dug a shrub out of the other part of the lawn – that word again, which just about qualifies in this case – and filled the hole with home-made compost. The following spring saw a bunch of red tulips in the place. ‘Well,’ we said, ‘they came from the compost.’ Except I hadn’t composted any. Over the next couple of years, the tulips were joined by daffodils. This year neither appeared apart from a few leaves spearing out of the grass. ‘Well, that show’s over,’ I thought. Two weeks later, a bunch of bluebells appeared. Just behind them, in what you might call the border, only it’s more like a frayed edge, an iris suddenly bloomed.

This spring has been a discovery, of the violet under the rambling rose, the centurea I’ve always wanted but have no recollection of planting, the border in the front garden which I did plant, but not with this result in view, a glorious tapestry of merging plants rising and falling in height.

Someone came to read the meter. He was dull of face and looked as if meters are all he reads, but he suddenly asked me, ‘Who does the garden?’ I gave him the wrong answer. The true answer is ‘Nature’. All I do is crawl about on my hands and kness in an exploration of wonder, giving a helping hand here and there, pulling out some goose grass, live-heading the dandelions, grubbing up the moon daisies for which I have a dislike bordering on superstitious dread – they are so very invasive, so very weedy. Sometimes I trim the grass, and the wheat and barley that grows under the bird feeders, with shears. Mowing is for high summer only, when all the visitors – the toads, frogs and newts – have gone. I divide snowdrops and dot them about. I shake the seed heads of annuals on to fresh ground. There is no cause any longer to go to garden centres and buy plants, so expensive that I can only ever afford one at a time and never the three or five always recommended. As for ‘drifts’ – they are for the seriously rich. I have surrendered to nature and am her willing handmaid.

I went cautiously into the front garden last week. After a spring that has been long, cold and wet, it was the first visit of the season, and I expected to spend all morning writing a list of things to do that would take weeks to achieve. But there was so little to do that would I just did it, taking the seed heads off the iceplant and cutting down the ornamental grasses and penstemmons. No, nothing else to do but crawl about enjoying all the surprise free gifts.

My surrender to nature came when I decided not to have the front lawn treated anymore. Yes, four quarterly treatments did create a handsome lawn worthy of the name, but I missed the daisies. Now the front is turning into a rough like the back, but is there anything quite so glorious as watching your cat chase flies in long grass? My only job for this year is to look after the cowslip seeds chilling in the fridge. I’ve waited five years but they’ve never arrived on their own, so I guess I shall just have to put them in the ground myself.


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