Hints of Summer in My Courtyard Garden

It is that time of year, in my garden at least, when Spring is waving goodbye and Summer is still unpacking its luggage.

In their terracotta pots, the tomatoes are shooting up, my strawberries are in bloom and my raspberries have tiny fruitlets.

Even if they only produce a couple of luxuriously succulent dishes of fruit, they will have earned their place on the list of life’s sensual delights. For a short time, we are all Adam in the Garden of Eden and, if he shared my enthusiasm for growing fruit, then no wonder he was so easily seduced by an apple.

My tulips stopped flowering and were promptly dug up and replaced by annual bedding plants, gaudy and colourful substitutes for the elegance of their predecessors, I know, but their reds, blues and pinks are a welcome symbol for the arriving Summer.
My tulips have been donated to a friend who will plant them randomly with my retired bulbs from previous years. They will substitute the formal dignity of my planting for an informal setting more suited to their retirement and where they will grow old like old police horses no longer on duty.

Sadly the Irises too are about to go. They are old hippies in their faded denims. I love them dearly but soon I shall cut off their heads happy enough to have their knife-like leaves as sculptural ornaments for the rest of the year.
I have been suffering from wisteria envy these last weeks, made worse when a friend showed me his. Everywhere around here that most elegant of climbing plants has been decorating old buildings with their unbeatably subtle flowers and heady perfume.

I just do not have room for wisteria or, for that matter, many of the flowering shrubs that I shall miss in this newly created garden.

I suppose the clematis is a poor man’s wisteria. It just fits in no matter how small your space. I have planted a lot of them and I hope they will just ramble through all the other plantings that will have to survive on my flint walls.

Really though they are second best to no other climbing plants, they are modest sociable creatures, good at mixing in at parties and happy to wear their beauty lightly.

Two of them are already flowering: Miss Bateman, a gentlewomanly spinster in her off white petals and sensible mauve stamens.

She is close to her light purple cousin, a brasher and bolder plant whose name blew away in the winter winds – now gone and forgotten.

There are many varieties of clematis to follow and already more of them are about to flower. Their large voluptuous flower buds are like those expensive presents wrapped so carefully that you are frightened to open them but excited by the mystery within.

Voluptuous they most definitely aren’t but the humble bellis perennis, the daisy has a place in any garden – and I don’t mean as a lawn weed. Grown as an unassuming perennial it will sit on a wall and spread its cheerful flowers to any requirement. If it goes too far, you just chop a bit off as if you were buying it by the metre. Mine came as a cutting from my last house where it climbed on the wall where I used to park the car. It is a “welcome home” plant, always there, undemanding, smiling and with just a hint of seduction in its pink buds.

Less welcoming, maybe, are the rose thorns. When summer arrives, it will be the roses who will dominate this little courtyard garden. I have planted several varieties, all fully perfumed, and within the colour range of purple through red to pink. Sadly there just isn’t room for reckless clashes and even the clematis plants have been forced to obey this piece of colour totalitarianism.

When everything has grown, it will be a jungle of climbers, roses and clematis but also climbing fuchsias, passion flowers and jasmine. It is a matter of lighting the touch paper and standing back and waiting for the explosion.

The buds are already there with hints of their future shades. Benjamin Britten, was a bit shy last year but, already he has made up for it with a surge of growth that I didn’t think was in him. He is, like most of my plantings, an “old rose” with a tight petal arrangement and a strong perfume. I suppose he is red but then, is there pink in there, or even orange? Britten, the composer, like Britten the rose, delighted in ambiguity.

Definitely pink is Gertrude Jekyll, the colour is already showing, perfect against the grey flint wall. She is at the top of the steps that you have to climb from the house so there will be no excuse for not taking in her, maybe most beautiful of all the rose perfumes.

As the admen would say, every garden should have one.

This is the first garden that I have cultivated where the rose has been the main player. I was always a bit of a snob in these matters, finding them lacking in subtlety and out-staying their welcome – a bit like I used to think, the music of Tchaikovsky.

Since those opinionated days, I have revised my opinion of both.

To demonstrate just how much I have moved on from the days when I was dogmatic in things horticultural, I have recently had a series of conversations with my neighbour’s small grandson, Stanley.
I was discouraging him from sticking his head through the trellis that marked the border between our territories. He was both horrified and fascinated when I told him that the last child who stuck his head through the trellis got stuck there and no one noticed for a week.

At the wise age of, say, seven, he has since become an enthusiastic contributor to any conversation about garden plants.

On this trellis, about a month ago, was a very dead looking passion flower. I asked him if he thought it was truly dead and after some consideration he decided that no it wasn’t and I should wait and see.

His sister, who is younger and, in his opinion, lacking in wisdom, disagreed. She said it was dead and I should chop it down.

Well, I was with Stanley on this one and he, or we, were right. This variety is belying its reputation of not being frost resistant and it is now full of aggressively thrusting shoots.

Stanley was delighted.

The last time I saw him, he asked me, very politely what the “violet coloured plants” were in two of my urns. “Pansies” I told him. “Oh,” he said. “They are….. magnificent.”

So is Stanley with his inspirational use of language and his lack of inhibition in expressing his opinions.

So, no longer are pansies merely humble bedding plants, used to fill a gap. They are,well at least these deep blue ones, quite definitely, magnificent.

Whilst on the subject of bedding plants, I have a confession.

In this summer garden of reds, blues, purples and pinks, I just have to have room for those stocky and intoxicatingly perfumed little plants, the French Marigold. Dead-heading them produces an even stronger pungent small, it is up there with pinching mint leaves and casually brushing past lavender on a hot day.

I know they will clash with everything else but I have always grown them and I always will.

An elderly gardening expert from the Royal Horticultural Society taught me a lot about plants and I shall always be grateful to him. One thing though, when I confessed to a passion for French Marigolds, he said that it was definitely a sin because so many other plants held more interest but, he added with the generosity of old age, “if you don’t veer from the path of taste in any other respect, then you are allowed this one indulgence”.

I have grown them in flower pots and I think I will put them by the strawberries and raspberries in the little lower yard. There they will be safe from ridicule when everyone admires the roses.

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