Friends in the Garden

Sometimes, because of life’s changes, work, poor health, family or whatever, you miss out on what you love. I have friends in the garden, and sometimes I ignore them. Well, actually, all the plants in the garden are my friends. I don’t care what they are, how common or exotic, I love them all the same.

And yes, I talk to them! Sometimes my best conversations are with plants, you see they always agree with me and we share a point of view. So you will understand that – apart from being quite mad, sometimes, when there are some old friends I simply have missed out on, I get rather melancholic.

Gone but not forgotten, the white bluebells now bearing fruit - see you next year old pal!

Gone but not forgotten, the white bluebells now bearing fruit – see you next year old pal!

I have found it difficult to physically walk to the end of the garden these past months. Down there in the hedge are to be found some white bluebells that make an appearance each year, and this year I only managed to see them once they had finished flowering and were literally past their best. A short walk away there is a wood, full of bluebells, and what a sight they are! But these little whites are solitary and special.

Now having plants as friends can cause you some problems. I have to confess loving weeds, and always feel a little guilty pulling them up. So Ii try and keep a space for them when I can. This year, so far, has been the year of the buttercup, and aren’t they beautiful?

Don't turn your nose up at buttercups, they are one of the most elegant plants in the garden.

Don’t turn your nose up at buttercups, they are one of the most elegant plants in the garden.

So the edge of my lawn is punctuated with a stand of field buttercups, and if I lift my head, across the valley, I can see a whole field of them, and on a warm Sunday I can imagine myself in a huge hundred acre field of yellow.

There are times when old friends have mishaps. when we moved here there was a clematis in a pot, growing up a trellis. The pot was about 6 inch diameter, and the plant went up about 20 feet!

Clematis - you can't kill them, they just keep coming back - thankfully!

Clematis – you can’t kill them, they just keep coming back – thankfully!

During our first summer the trellis fell off and I had to remove the plant. The roots had gone through the bottom of the pot and disappeared under the paving of the patio.

We get lots of questions about clematis. You will find, on the internet, all kinds of methods about pruning them, none of which are actually correct. The truth is there are two groups for pruning this brilliant climber.

If it flowers in the Spring, such as C. montana, then don’t bother at all, just keep it trim as you need. All the rest cut back as short as you like on Valentine’s Day – call it a massacre if you will.

Yellow Flag: irises make a great display and in the autumn you can divide them and make more

Yellow Flag: irises make a great display and in the autumn you can divide them and make more

Anyway, back to the old friend. I took a spade and cut the root at ground level and thought no more about it, until a few weeks ago when a hot day snooze found me waking to the sight of the old pal climbing the wall again.

I never have a better time than when talking to the iris. We have a strong bond, we two. I sometimes think I get more sense from them than anyone else in the household.

But this year they have a problem that needs fixing. It is the invasion of nettles. Nettles are hungry plants, beautiful in their own right – I love the geometry of the leaves, and the stings are so elegant when you look at them through a microscope.

But their heavy profusion means only one thing: the septic tank needs emptying, because there is a leakage. Nettles grow where there is a lot of nitrogen in the soil, you often see them in fields where cattle or sheep have gathered.

If it's archetecture you want, you would go a long way to better a nettle, but these ones spell trouble in the garden!

If it’s archetecture you want, you would go a long way to better a nettle, but these ones spell trouble in the garden!

It has come at an opportune time, the iris need dividing and replanting and this I will do in the autumn, so that next year there will be even more of them for a summertime chat!

Now, I am blessed with an ancient hawthorne in the garden. I wish everyone would grow them just because of the aroma of the flowers. In case you are somewhat bemused by my having plants as ‘friends’ then spend a little time thinking about hawthorne.

It is said to be terrible bad luck to burn the wood, or cut the plant without asking permission and when in flower you are not supposed to sleep under its branches, or you will be pulled down into the underworld to meet Bottom and his pals. I can well believe it!

Can't wait for these white roses to burst into flower.

Can’t wait for these white roses to burst into flower.

During my recent poor health I have fallen asleep, when the rain has left me a warmer blanket, under the hawthorne many times, and never have I had a more relaxing, deeper sleep. Thankfully the underworld left me alone, I didn’t grow donkey ears nor thought myself enamored of an ass.

My last pal for now, though there are hundreds more, is about to make an appearance. A lovely white climbing rose makes an appearance for a few weeks, rain permitting. Growing within it is a honeysuckle and a rowan, which I think is forming the basis for the whole structure, and I keep it trim to the top of the hedge.

When the flowers appear you cannot but want to sit beside it watching the bumblebees buzz heavily around. And a hot day, when the nectar is more fermented than normal, they sit lazily on the flowers and you can stroke them.

You know, regardless of its size, the garden is about the best friend we humans have. Perhaps that’s why all of the creation stories set our origins in one.

-

Mr Digwell gardening cartoon logo

Paul Peacock studied botany at Leeds University, has been the editor of Home Farmer magazine, and now hosts the City Cottage online magazine. An experienced gardener himself, his expertise lies in the world of the edible garden. If it clucks, quacks or buzzes, Paul is keenly interested.

He is perhaps best known as Mr Digwell, the cartoon gardener featured in The Daily Mirror since the 1950s. As Mr Digwell he has just published his book, A Year in The Garden. You can also see more about him on our Mr Digwell information page.

See all of Mr Digwell’s posts.

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