My Garden Gets X-Rated in July

After the perfect English months of May and June, July can come as a disappointment in this country – if you have a garden that is.

Down here in East Sussex in the South East of England, we have had our share of torrential rain, thunder and lightning and too many days that were neither one thing nor the other.

Often I found myself watering the garden after a miserly shower of rain with black clouds circling overhead but never really delivering.

The garden, a small courtyard affair at the back of my Georgian terraced house, has survived though.

It is now in its second year since I stripped it bare and started again just after moving here form the country.

The idea was to grow an exotic jungle up the flint walls which enclose my space but to leave the centre, which I paved in york stone, free for me to languish on or to entertain or as a place to practise Chinese kungfu patterns.

The jungle has played ball so far and I am delighted by the chaotic struggle between a variety of climbing roses and clematis.

I imagined a jungle paradise I suppose where the plants scramble to survive but where each one delivers exotic flowers and rich perfume. All this has to fit into a tiny space in the middle of a highly civilized and sociable town. I just want everything, I know.

The roses are now settling into their second crop after their spectacular debut here in June. The rain has made the lusciously ball-shaped and strongly pink Brother Caedfael a bit tatty round the edges but most of the blooms have survived.

I like a touch of decay in the roses at this time of year – I think of them as Romantic poets, Keats I suppose, worshipping beauty but seeing in it our own mortality – not very cheery I know but I am just like that.

Another of my favourite roses, Benjamin Britten, has come back after an absence of a couple of weeks and he has begun another cycle of guess what colour I am. Yet again, like Keats, nothing is what it seems.

Now, of course, the roses don’t have it all to themselves. All around them the clematis plants, each challenging the other with either its depth of colour or unusual shape – no two are the same and none of them respect each others’ boundaries.

I was never a fan of Mary. You know that slightly irritating character from the nursery rhyme who was “quite contrary” and who liked everything in the garden to be nice and orderly with everything “all in a row.”

At the moment there are delicately coloured star shaped flowers in profusion next to grand and lusciously enticing large petaled purple blooms.

On the other side of the garden pale mauve bell shaped flowers catch the breeze and imitate tiny chiming bell towers from their own jungle of shared foliage.

Hiding behind them is a tranquil and imperial giant of a flower. The petals are nearly blue and black stamens rest at the centre far too languid to move.

Just beneath this clematis is another exotic which is sending its finger-shaped leaves out in wild profusion. The passionflower knows exactly what I want form this garden and it is teaching the others the art of misrule.

Its branches may be in a hurry to rule the world but its flowers behave quite differently. They are going nowhere and they are in now hurry at all. If the sun comes out they will open their petals to reveal one of the most intricate and designs seen in any garden.

Often I think that I am not worthy of such an elegant plant which speaks to be of that the late Nineteenth Century’s coolly erotic “art nouveau.” It is no surprize that the passionflower has found it’s way into fin de siecle design.

It is all to do with attractive pollinating insects of course and any bee that can resist the passionflower’s allure must really be suitable only for a nunnery.

Talking of seduction, my lilies have begun to bloom just when the passionflowers had turned up the temperature. If the passionflower is a seducer then the lily is positively X-rated.

I feel sorry for the sweet peas who are struggling to make some impact next to their bordello-scented neighbours. Luckily for them, I always plant old fashioned, small flowered varieties which retain the sweet peas elegant and subtle perfume.

They look fine too, I think, on their rusting Victorian-style odalisque.

If all this is too much for you then it is time to go down the steps, brushing against the lavender to release its scent, stopping briefly to pinch the apple mint to release another heady aroma, down by the french windows, a pot of annuals helps punctuate the change in mood.

At the bottom of these steps, the tomatoes are now well on their way – more perfume of course, a mix of tomato leaf and the marigolds that I plant around them, but soon, with another week of sunshine, these firm little green fruits will start to blush red. Their embarrassment will be no surprize growing up, as they have, in such a rude and out of control garden.

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