My Garden Book

A recent visit to a charity shop had me browsing through the usual collection of  cast off books with those hyperbolic titles like: ‘A Perfect Border this side of Eden’, ‘Sumptuous gardens on a shoe string ‘, ‘Brilliant ideas for shade gardening’.1 None of them were of interest but then this small, yellowing A5  journal caught my eye:-

‘My Garden’ – ( ah! if only I had one!)

It was the date that drew my attention, January 1934, and reading further, soon realised that I’d stumbled on a piece of gardening history – a First Edition – and all for the princely sum of £2.99

I suppose at this point I should have donned white gloves, cellophane wrapped, and e-bayed it but the contents were intriguing and in turn they drew me into reading, from cover to cover. The articles were written in that faded style, which combines the slightly pompous with the learned, in a breadth of English language that we have almost forgotten.

The contributors range from friends of the editor to influential writers including the very popular Beverley Nichols, darling of ‘The Woman’s Journal’, best-selling author and garden journalist supremo. 2  One can snigger at some of the spoof-like titles and  names: ‘Irises on a Chalk Garden‘ by Sir Arthur F  Hort, Bt, V.M.H., 3  or ‘Roses – My First Love‘ by W.C. Thorn, whilst the advertisements raise a smile of nostalgia for a time of lost innocence. Here Pratten & Co Ltd invite us to learn more about their sun & slumber chalets. Note how polite and non pushy adverts were once upon a time!

From the very Personal Foreword the editor and owner, Theo  A. Stephens, outlines ideas and ambitions for his ‘Intimate Magazine for Garden Lovers’. Intended to fill the gap between weekly gardening papers and the learned encyclopedic journals of horticulture, it is aimed at the middle to upper echelons of the income bracket, priced at 1/- per month. 4 Or as Courtney Page, the Hon. Secretary of the National Rose Society, and obviously a very grand dame, puts it:

“This little book will not only tell us all about Gardens, but will go a long way to produce a wholesome interest and help to create not only a new England but the revival of the glories of the countryside and the stately homes of England”

It may not have revived Elysian fields in old England but interspersed with mono prints of grand gardens and flower portraits, the articles would have both entertained and informed. They still contain nuggets that may have been lost in the annals of time and thus I feel it’s worth digging through and creating a regular posting of  Leaves from ‘My Garden’.  Watch this space.

Courtyard Garden

Plant #7: I love Astilbes. Perhaps because they are flowers that pretend otherwise. Instead of blooms they have plumes held aloft over toothed, ferny foliage. First come the pinks and vermillion series, to be succeeded by the brilliant white of A x arendsii ‘Deutschland’. 1 The clay soil here retains moisture but much more humus is needed for their ideal damp conditions. This year has been a wet, wet Summer so the Astilbes took care of themselves and only now require regular watering. Although renowned for being free-flowering, I think they are briefer than their reputation. The seedheads are kept  for winter interest but truthfully look quite scruffy unless a deep frost with spider webs decorates them – which is not very likely in a sheltered courtyard.

Given that courtyards tend to be shady, I felt that these dwarf Astilbes were a good plant choice and I was rather pleased with their clumped colour display this year – that is until I saw an image of hundreds in a lakeside setting. Nevertheless it is Autumn now and time to divide them, making  more for next year. I had already planned to remove the Sulphur Clover growing here to a container, 2 leaving space for the expansion of Astilbes further along this narrow border. Which reminds me, Astilbes also look magnificent as potted focus plants. It’s the in between bedding I’m not so sure about now.

Growing in dense wide clumps Astilbes are greedy with space but as deciduous plants inevitably leave behind unsightly bare areas of soil. As I lift and divide them, I shall be adding humus and planting masses of Spring bulbs. Something has to fill the gap before the first of the lovely foliage returns. Any other suggestions please?

Courtyard Plant #8: The  first  plant I featured was the very fragrant Japonica 3 but since courtyards invariably have as much, if not more, vertical than horizontal space, several climbers are de rigueur. This one is Schizophragma hydrangeoides ‘Moonlight’ , a Japanese climbing hydrangea with mid-green heart-shaped leaves that are deeply veined. The mature leaves have a silvery sheen to them and I am not sure if this illumination accounts for the  ‘Moonlight’  name or whether it is reference to the large white creamy lacecap flowers of summer. The deciduous leaves turn an attractive yellow before falling.

These hydranagea vines are supposed to excel when planted against a North facing wall as I’ve done here although as with other climbing Hydrangeas, it took a while to become established. I ‘d assumed the vine had not flowered again this year when chatting with the neighbouring office workers, I noticed  three  large  flowerheads ornamenting their stairwell, over on the sunny side of the wall.  I suspect this vine would prefer its shade more dappled than dense.

As with all walled corners, especially North and East facing, the rain shadow results in very dry soil hence I keep a decorative container filled with water here especially for the benefit of the ferns and the Moonlight vine.

September Plowing

“For seasons the walled meadow
south of the house built of its stone
grows up in shepherd’s purse and thistles
the weeds share April as a secret
finches disguised as summer earth
click the drying seeds
mice run over rags of parchment in August
the hare keeps looking up remembering
a hidden joy fills the songs of the cicadas

two days’ rain wakes the green in the pastures
crows agree and hawks shriek with naked voices
on all sides the dark oak woods leap up and shine
the long stony meadow is plowed at last and lies
all day bare
I consider life after life as treasures
oh it is the autumn light

that brings everything back in one hand
the light again of beginnings
the amber appearing as amber”