In two weeks time my garden opens to the public for the first time as part of the NGS. Two things in particular are keeping my awake at night. One, that the absolute gloriousness of the garden right at this particular moment will have come and gone by the time we get there. And two, that the ****ing slugs will have eaten everything by then and there will be nothing left to see but a few slimy stalks.
But I’m trying to live in the moment. Because at the moment, the moment is pretty darned good.
This week I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the issue of whether it might be better to live in blissful ignorance. This has been prompted by the whole online photography course thing, and realising that, before I took part, I happily went out into my garden and snapped away with my iphone, and felt really pleased with the results. And now I’ve come over all professional, and I’m thinking about backgrounds and where the light is coming from and which lens to use….
AND IT’S DRIVING ME MAD.
So I can’t help thinking about how – before I started looking into all of this stuff, finding out about apertures and exposures and f-stops and such – I was perfectly content, and looked at my photos with a sense of pride and pleasure which at the moment is escaping me. Because now it feels like much more of a challenge, and I’m aware of how much I don’t know, and I’m frustrated by how much there is to learn. And would it have been better if I hadn’t started the whole thing in the first place?
Breathe Jane, breathe…
Because, of course ignorance isn’t bliss. And I’m conveniently forgetting that I signed up to do the course because I wanted to get more proficient at something I really care about, which is taking better photos of the plants and garden I love. And the better I get at it, the more pleasure I will get from it.
My sister told me this interesting thing about the four stages of competence. You may know of it already. It goes like this:
This is the stage when we don’t know how to do something, and either don’t know or don’t care that we don’t know how to do it. In order to move on to the next stage we have to recognise we can’t do the thing and realise that it’s a useful thing to be able to do. Otherwise we just sit in blissful (or not!) ignorance.
This is where we realise that we can’t do something and recognise that we really want to. This stage is often all about making mistakes and realising that there’s much more to the thing than we realised when we started. Which makes it the most painful stage. Which is where I am on the photography front (and lots of other fronts) right now!
This is where we are beginning to understand and know how to do something. However, doing it takes a lot of hard work and concentration. It doesn’t come naturally or easily. Phew!
Unconscious competence Hurrah! This is where we all want to be!! We’re so adept at the skill that it becomes second nature and we do it without thinking.
But do we ever get there?!?
Well ,of course we do. But you know what they say about practicing making perfect. And I have to keep on reminding myself that getting there is as much part of the experience as the arriving. (Which reminds me of one of my favourite poems by C.P. Cavafy introduced to me by one of my daughters – click here if you want to read it.)
All of which is a very long lead into the purpose of this post which is to give you my (slightly late) weekly update on what is happening in the garden. As is so often the case with the wayward month of March, last week we enjoyed days of blissful spring mixed in with days of murky gloom. Blissful spring saw me out in the garden with the macro lens taking a photo of what I have learnt from Steve at Glebehouse Garden is Crocus Pickwick.
It also saw me potting up my dahlia tubers, having gone a bit mad on the ordering front this year after falling in love with Otto’s Thrill and Cafe au Lait and Chat Noir and… and… and… You get the picture? (What would I do without Peter Nyssen, bulb and plant supplier of the very very best kind!) And let’s not forget Jescott Julie and the Bishop of Llandaff, who have been tucked up in newspaper together under the stairs for the winter!!
And there are viola glowing in the sunshine. And winter flowering honeysuckle – Lonicera fragrantissima – whose scent spills out of its corner behind the garage in waves, and whose scent also fills my entrance hall, but who drops its flowers in an infuriatingly negligent manner which makes me slightly lose patience with it.
And last but very much not least are the goldfish on the bird table. (Forgive the poor photo but taken through the window with the iphone in a state of great excitement.) I’ve had a seed feeder hanging ignored in the tree for months with absolutely no interest shown in it by any bird apart from those using it to queue for the peanuts and fat balls in the other feeders. I was on the phone to my daughter a few days ago when out of nowhere two… yes that’s two!… goldfinch (finches? finchii?) turned up.
Shows the level of excitement in my kitchen. So incoherent am I that my daughter thinks I’m telling her that there are goldfish on the feeder! Now to her that does sound exciting!! She’s a little disappointed when I explain. But not me. I am thrilled!
This week in the garden it’s been more slow build than mad dash. The snowdrops are filling out splendidly, the scent of the sarcococca is noticeably gathering in the air, the hamamelis buds are beginning to show their spidery finery. And this is all good stuff. But the muscari…
This is the week that I curse the muscari.
These are the muscari that I chucked into the edge of a couple of borders one year after they had done their lovely thing in my containers.
Let me tell you that this was a big mistake! Because around about now is when they pop up where they aren’t wanted, looking all grassy and meh. They hang around in tatty clumps and annoy the hell out of me. Last year I had a purge and thought I’d got rid of them all. I moved a whole heap of the little blighters to fill the area under the espaliered apples in the veg garden. But here they are, back again in the borders. And particularly annoying, they are mustering right outside the kitchen window.
So I’m staring right at them, right this very minute.
My advice for what it’s worth is to be cautious of anything described as vigorous. Invasive is self evident; we all know to steer clear of invasive. But vigorous can sound like a really good thing. The problem is that once you’ve got vigorous in your garden, it’s going to be with you for a very long time. So you’d better be sure you like it.
My current offenders are the aforementioned muscari, an acid yellow primula that popped up out of nowhere and at first I rather liked, an alstromeria I innocently bought at a plant fair. There are others that turn up a bit later, like alchemilla mollis, centranthus ruber, valeriana officianalis, verbena boniarensis and tellima that I like enough to forgive their overenthusiasm. But you can have too much of a good thing and liking can turn to loathing when there is an overabundance.
In my opinion muscari are best in containers or borders where their clumping habit is acceptable. This is not in full view of where I sit to eat my breakfast.
Apart from muscari madness we have had another bit of excitement in an otherwise quiet week in the garden. This morning saw the arrival of…
If you are a regular reader of this blog you will know that I wage constant war with the rabbits in my garden. And nine times out of ten – actually make that ten times out of ten – they win. A couple of weeks ago we noticed that a mound of earth had appeared in the corner bed on the drive side of the house. Seemed like the demon bunnies were tunnelling their way in. Quick call to the pest control people who have helped with a rat problem in the past. Vanessa the pest lady pops round and tells us that this time round we have a rabbit problem.
Now I don’t need this spelling out. But under the house is a new one on us. Vanessa suggests that ferrets could be the answer. My favourite ever answer phone message is the one that begins: ‘Hello, this is The Ferretman speaking…’
So Martin turns up with his ferrets. And it’s all very exciting. And he gets going with nets and ferrets. But the rabbits are too clever for us. They appear to have gone elsewhere. For the time being at least. I know full well that they will be right back the moment that The Ferretman has gone.
So the week outside has been a source of irritation. Inside I’ve been much happier. Inside I’ve been obsessed with my hippeastrum.
Last year my sister Lucy and I each bought a hippeastrum bulb from Petersham Nursery. Simply described as ‘orange’. We planted them at the same time in the middle of November. Hers went ballistic, grew about two foot tall in what seemed like a matter of days, and was flowering by Christmas. Mine did pretty much nothing. For weeks I thought it was dead. Until it showed a little tongue of green. And grew. And grew.
And then last week it began to flower.
I’ve been recording its progress.
First one flower began to open.
It opened a little bit more.
Then another flower got going.
I couldn’t take my eyes off it.
At night, under a spotlight, it glistened and gleamed. It was hard to believe that it was real.
This morning it was in full flower. Taking up so much space that my problem was a lack of a background to shoot it against. I tried black velvet – not a large enough piece to fit in the whole flower head. But enough to give an idea of its fabulousness.
I’ve had more pleasure from this one bulb than from a million muscari. But they will have their chance to redeem themselves when they start to flower. Then I will forgive them anything.
What am I saying…? I’m not in the Big Brother house. I don’t watch the Big Brother house. I have no interest in the Big Brother house. But, since I started these weekly posts, whenever I start to think about the next one I hear a booming voice in my head saying ‘Week Five (or four or three or whatever week it happens to be) in the Big Brother garden.’ And I know it’s time to get writing.
Maybe it’s the weather that’s making me hear voices. This week it feels colder and greyer than ever and I’m beginning to feel a little bit stir crazy. I’m looking out at the garden, and I have absolutely no desire to go out there. Which is making it something of a challenge to come up with what to write.
But, luckily for me, there was a day this week that the Great Garden God smiled. And the day he did was Tuesday, which happened to be the day that Chris, the Rose Pruner, was coming to help me with pruning the roses on the pergola that are too high for me to get to on my own. It was the day that the wind dropped and the the sun shone, and we were able to get on with pruning, and I tidied up the apple trees which have been nagging me for weeks. And apart from discovering that the pergola that holds up the roses and wisteria is rotting away, which is one of those one step forward, two steps back moments that go hand in hand with being a gardener, it was a really good garden day.
One of the best things about it was that I got to use my new Niwaki telescopic pruner for cutting stuff that is very high up. I bought it for myself in January after last year’s purchase of Niwaki shears changed the box shaping/pittosporum sculpting task forever. (I find it hard to believe that I am the woman who gets excited over a garden tool. But hey ho.)
So I was too busy wielding my new toy to have much time to take photos for this post. Which is not such a bad thing because as much as I love my roses they are not at their photogenic best when they’ve just had a short back and sides. But I did manage to stop and take some shots of the seedheads of the Hydrangea Annabelle to send in for the last assignment of my online photography course.
This was my attempt at achieving/creating Bokeh. Have you heard of Bokeh? Me neither. (Or maybe you have heard of Bokeh, and it’s just me.) For the uninitiated let me tell you that Bokeh is ‘the visual quality of the out-of-focus areas of a photographic image, especially as rendered by a particular lens.’ It means ‘blur’ in Japanese.
I used to think blur was a bad thing in photography. Which just goes to show how much you can learn in a short space of time.
Each of the four assignments I have had to complete for the course have required me to send in two to three photos. With the lack of flower action in the garden and the inclement weather I had to resort to sending a photo I took last year of Amelanchier blossom shot against Tulip Apricot Beauty as an example of using a contrasting background.
I was worried it might be cheating to use last year’s material. But I’ve just heard back from Clive (did I mention how much I love Clive!) and he loved the combination of white and apricot. And said it was an ‘attractive flower study’. And he thought the ‘Bokeh’ shot was the best one I’ve sent him.
So I’m happy. In spite of the weather it’s been another good week. And who knows what next week will bring!
It’s been another damp and drizzly week in the garden. Until yesterday, when there were proper blue patches between the clouds, a bit of proper sunshine. And for the first time this year I was able to go outside and do a proper shuffle.
I don’t know if you’re familiar with the garden shuffle? It’s one of my favourite things: the slow meander around the garden, usually with cup of tea in hand, not doing, just seeing. It’s when I take the time to properly look at what is happening out there, without feeling I have to do anything about it. (Apart from pulling up the odd weed!) My favourite time to shuffle is first thing in the morning. Ideally the temperature is warm enough for me to go out in my dressing gown. Although we’ve got a while to go before that happens!
Yesterday the sunshine didn’t appear until the afternoon, so a dressing gown would have been entirely inappropriate. But still it was warm enough to wander, and within minutes of being out there, cup of tea and me were shuffling in perfect harmony.
There’s more to see than you might imagine. Snowdrops are opening, yellow aconites are bright against the brown earth under the ash tree by the drive, the unfolding heads of the hellebores are rising up out of the leaf mould.
And yesterday the low sun of afternoon was playing wonderful tricks with the leaves of the Asplenium scolopendrium fern.
This is the week that the green shoots have really started to get going, pushing up all over the place, and as I shuffle I’m thinking about all the bulbs I planted last autumn. (One of the great joys of bulb planting when your memory isn’t what it used to be is the element of surprise!) It’s coming back to me that I crammed the recently re-edited centre bed with tulips, choosing my selection after reading an article in Country Life by Tom Coward at Gravetye Manor… but what were they? I can’t remember and I can’t find the article.
There are the narcissus I planted under the new hornbeams in the field garden, selected following advice from The Cut Flower Patch by Louise Curley that was my bible last year and will be again in 2017. There are more alliums in the front garden, a row of muscari under the espaliered apples in the vegetable garden. Probably other stuff that I’ve forgotten about. I can’t wait to see what comes up!
And this week I’ve been writing lists of plants to buy to fill the gaps I didn’t get round to last year, and I’ve ordered my dahlias, (one of my choices is Otto’s Thrill after seeing it at Petersham Nurseries), and I’m sorting through my seed packets, and watering my pelargonium cuttings. And next week there are roses and wisteria to be pruned, and I’m hoping for another dry day so that I can tidy up the apple trees.
And finally, I’ve been getting on with Assignment 3 for the Photography course I’m doing with mygardenschool. One of the topics set for us was still life sequences, shooting the same subject from different angles. This is a shot of a moth orchid I submitted – now I’m waiting for feedback.