There are a lot of people out there who think that gardening is all about pretty flowers and sitting in a deckchair admiring them.
I used to think that a bit when I moved away from a house with a big garden to this one with its tiny flint-walled back yard.
I thought that it would be the end of those hot afternoons when you sit down wanting to relax but all around you are jobs that need doing. Then you decide it is more relaxing doing the jobs than building up that list of things to do.
It is, obviously, easier running a little garden after you have got it right but the planning and the planting is much more critical and you don’t get away with your mistakes.
My garden is now in its second year – time for a bit of growth after year one spent watching baby plants getting established. It was stripped out when I moved in. A pathetically small and pointless lawn was dug up and a similarly useless piece of decking was also jettisoned. Old York stone was put down by two energetic and very strong young men and beds were left for planting all around the borders. With this space to play with the plantings were all designed to go upwards – climbing roses, clematis, passion flowers, climbing fuchsias and various plants with similar habits.
The idea, as always with my ideal gardens, was for a semi-controlled jungle. Everything has to struggle for its life just like the real jungle.
Immediately outside the house though is a tiny lower yard with a brick surface and enough sunshine for it to have been turned into a mini-market garden. My old terracotta strawberry planter is now producing fruits which are practically obscene in their lusciousness and they are being followed on by a pot of ripening raspberries and three aggressive looking tomato plants which have just gone into flower.
This spot is proving ideal for producing just enough fruit to make me feel that I am still just about living within Mother Nature’s realm.
It is also a great place for terracotta flower pots which, as a form of colour segregation away from the reds and pinks of the main garden, are planted out with my guilty passion for marigolds, both French and English. It is the smell as much as the colour that does it for me. That rich tangy aroma when you dead head the old blooms is one of the great smells of summer for me anyway. If you tell me that they are vulgar, I shall just say who cares.
I have always loved accumulations of flowerpots – they speak of potting sheds, practical gardening and, yes, an old television series (see below) where two little “Flowerpot men” live at the bottom of the garden in their very own flower pots. Sometimes it is where I go in my most escapist imaginings so what better than to live in your own little pot right next to the strawberries and raspberries.
Those idealised gardens are far removed from some of the more brutal realities of horticulture – like slugs and snails for instance.
They are not our friends even if they too, well snails anyway, have made it into children’s television shows. They will eat everything if you let them.
Today I experienced just one of those less than romantic gardening moments when in my usual bare feet I trod on something crunchy. Well one less snail I guess.
Actually treading on snails in bare feet isn’t as bad as you might think – from practical experience I can tell you that there is less gunge in snails than in slugs. I looked in vain for that horror movie gore when I realized what I had done.
Sorry to put you off with this maybe disgusting revelation but then gardening is, you have to admit, about nasty things too.
At least I haven’t told you about that late night bare foot walk outside a previous house when I wondered why the paving stones seemed soft. Slugs are a whole different ball game.
Enough horror for now! But if President Obama can amaze a nation with his fly killing powers, I don’t see why I should be shy about my snail splatting success.
Up a small flight of stairs is what has now become a rose garden – fantastically in bloom.
Last year these plants were just babies but now, in year two, I am lucky to have strapping teenagers flexing their muscles and bursting with energy.
It will be year three though before they finally achieve their objective which is to cover the walls entirely in a summer-time extravagance of colour.
Already they are a wonderful sight and they have also fulfilled their potential as far as perfume is concerned. At various times of day each rose takes its turn to fill the garden with its own distinctive aroma. Plants have to multi-task in a small space and so far, the roses have not disappointed.
It is a gamble though.
I have not always been a fan of roses as they can be a one trick show which can also carry a whole lot of problems in their wake attracting more than their fair share of aphids and fungi. Up until now I have tried to an organic (ish) gardener but I am wondering whether roses will allow me to carry on. You can’t just tread on aphids.
The lovely and headily perfumed Gertude Jekyll (above) is the main problem. There is not question that it is one of the very finest of old roses – the colour is an exquisite pink and thge flower formation is a luxurious as any of my favourite roses, the old English varieities. She does though, on previous outings in other houses, have her temperamental side. At the moment those beautiful flowers have been reduced to just one and her leaves are looking decidedly unhappy.
Maybe, like that snail, she will have to be purged. I hope not.
She is certainly not as full of life and vigour as the wonderful Benjamin Britten, my favourite,
with its amazingly brave mix of colourings from orange through to red, the glorious white floribunda, Iceberg (below) that obviously wants to take over the World.
Equally rampant but delicately pink Mortimer Sacker might just be the perfect climber.
The others stars include Falstaff, a burgundy red rose with densely packed petals and a deep perfume which is even more alluring than a glass of burgundy wine. Danse de Feu, a red climber that is vibrantly colourful and vigorous in even the darkest corner and which I have planted on my dark north-facing wall. It manages to send out its optimistic colour signals on even the gloomiest of days. There is also Clair Austin, another old rose with a rich perfume which cannot quite decide if it is white or cream or even pale yellow as its almost cabbage like flowers swell with the season.
Just for the hell of it I also planted a shrub rose, Darcy Bussell, which is a deep crimson and even though she will never grow upwards, her perfume is a rich as her companions.
They are all out there now in their unbeatable first flowering but they will return again and again until the autumn. I just hope that they don’t misbehave.
I shall leave for another time the tale of their large and exotic looking companions the Clematis and Passion Flower plants which are pushing their way through the jungle with impressive ease.
Here for now though, in full frontal rose pornography are my roses – enjoy the floor show.
If you promise not to laugh, you can watch the clip below which was the inspiration for my love of flower pots and maybe gardening too. If, however, you are not prepared to give Bill and Ben, the Flower Pot Men, the respect they deserve then it would be much better if you looked away. They don’t make television programmes like this anymore.
My first novel, Stephen Dearsley’s Summer Of Love, is published on 31 October 2013. It is the story of a young fogey living in Brighton in 1967 who has a lot to learn when the flowering hippie counter culture changes him and the world around him.
…or from Amazon: