Welcome to my garden, which I have been cultivating for a quarter of a century. At five intervals, from early spring in 2010 to late winter in 2011 Sarah Blunt, BBC Natural History Unit Senior Radio Producer, visited to record the highs and lows of a single gardening year for the Radio 4 series Elegies from a Suburban Garden. When you have been cultivating the same patch of land for so long it becomes an important part of our life. Over the years it has been a place for our children to play, a source of food and aesthetic pleasure, a laboratory for studying plants and home to an amazing variety of wildlife. Every annual cycle is unique and as each year passes the garden evolves. Why Elegies? Well, when you are a gardener you tend to look upon the passing of time as the cycles of seasons, rather than as minutes, hours and days and when you look back on each cycle you cannot help but reflect that another has passed so much more quickly than you anticipated - which makes those that will follow all the more precious.

Thank you for visiting.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Expectant: Late Spring

This is the reason why we have to stretch a net across the pond as soon as spring arrives. We received our first visit from a heron two years ago and the massacre of frogs and newts was distressing to watch. Since then the net has protected them - but a heron always drops by in spring, just in case.....

With longer, warmer days seeds are germinating fast, but it will be a while yet before it will be safe to plant out these frost-sensitive French beans.

Outside, in the garden, hardy beetroot seedlings have germinated. Maybe an early start and a good growing season will produce a decent crop this year?

This is what happens if you are too impatient. I germinated these runner bean seeds in late March and thought I'd risk planting them out in mid-April, for an early crop. Then we had a late frost, killing them all. Back to square one...

The seedling broad beans weren't harmed by the frost. Most of the trees have come into leaf and there's...

... blossom on the apple trees...

.... and on the white currant bushes.

By late April the crab apple (Malus 'Golden Hornet') is smothered in blossom and ....

...viewed from the bedroom windows the garden is filled with different shades of green. The grey-green foliage belongs to a weeping pear Pyrus salicifolia, which is home to a nesting wood pigeon.

Pear blossom is a feature of early spring........ always the first blossom to open, just in time to attract bumblebees emerging from hibernation. 
In the woodland garden the fern fronds have developed into green shuttlecocks under the trees, where...

... bluebells....

.... and yellow archangel are flowering.

Arisaema is a relative of our native cuckoo pint that I grow in pots in the greenhouse.

Bumblebees hang upside down from the Solomon's seal flowers. Only long-tongued species can reach the nectar within. You can see the dark shape of this bee's tongue through the tubular petal of the flower. Solomon's seal sawflies defoliate these plants every summer, but that doesn't prevent them from flowering well every spring.

Lady's smock, which is planted around the pond, is the food plant for orange tip butterfly caterpillars. It's an easy wild flower to propagate - just peg a leaf down on the surface of wet soil and it quickly produces numerous small plantlets from the base of the leaflets.

Orange tip butterflies have bred in the garden for the last twenty years.

In the greenhouse the cucumber tendrils are tying the plants to the canes - and anything else within reach.

The enemy. On mild, wet nights snails become a problem - out in search of tender young seedlings. The song thrush that nested in the garden caught dozens, smashing their shells open on the garden path.

Columbines have seeded themselves all over the garden. Each flower looks like a group of five doves, standing in an inward-facing circle - the word columbine comes from the Latin for 'dove' - columba.

Wild flowers like lacy-flowered cow parsley and ox-eye daisies,....

... come into bloom as the cowslips begin to fade...

The elegant flowers of bleeding heart hang from arched stems on the semi-shade of the woodland garden, spotlighted in shafts of sunlight.

Rampion is a late-spring bloomer, alongside ....

... the extravagant flowers of Peony 'Sarah Bernhardt '. This cost me 50p., rescued from the reduced stand in a garden centre .... and has grown into a magnificent plant.

Yellow flag iris, a native species, is the most conspicuous flower in the bog garden in late spring - another plant that's popular with bumblebees, which are the only insects that are strong enough to force their way into its flowers.

Lilac fills the woodland garden with scent, but is over all too soon.

Welsh poppy has seeded itself everywhere - even inside the greenhouse. Its seeds have been spread around in the mud on my wellies.

The nesting song thrush takes a break from snail-hunting and finds time to sing. Its glorious song echoes from the walls of the surrounding houses in the early morning and late evening.

Broken egg shells in the vegetable garden - something, somewhere, has hatched.... but ....
... it will be a while before the coccoon of eggs that this wolf spider is carrying around will hatch. Wolf spiders sunbathe on the garden path to hasten development of their eggs, racing for cover when I approach.

Hedgehogs visit the garden every year and sometimes hibernate there in winter, in piles of dry leaves that I stack under the hedge. They do a great job hunting slugs ...

.. but I've also caught them eating the wild strawberries. I've seen frogs eating wild strawberries too.

The early strawberries, flowering in pots in the greenhouse, are beginning to ripen. There's no comparison between a supermarket strawberry and a sun-warmed fruit that you've grown yourself and freshly picked from the plant.

By late spring bare soil is beginning to disappear below a layer of fresh new leaves. The broad beans are almost in flower and it's safe to plant out the frost-tender French beans.

As June arrives the garden is beginning to acquire its summer luxiance.

When does spring become summer? I'd say it's when the first roses bloom.

I grew this wild burnet rose, with its attractively flecked petals, from a cutting that I took from a plant growing on sand dunes on the Northumberland coast, on a holiday when our children were toddlers, over twenty five years ago. It's always the first rose to flower and has an exquisite scent. Most of the plants in the garden have some kind of memory or personal event associated with them. There's no real design to the garden, but it's one that's full or personal meaning for the family. There's a story behind almost every plant.

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