I’ve just been for my first outing with the East Sussex group of the Cottage Garden Society. The nursery and garden are tucked down a lane near Etchingam in deeply rural countryside and has been on my list to visit for some time. It was a jolly event (including tea and cake) despite the lack of sun and a chilly wind. It’s always interesting to see the bones of a garden before all the prettiness kicks in. There are some wonderful gnarly old apples trees smothered in mosses and lichens and wreathed with the stems of climbing roses which look fabulous in late spring when the blossom is out and the orchard is knee deep in cow parsley. I know this because I have seen photographs taken by Carole Drake, one of which she is very kindly allowing me to use in this post. I will definitely be going back at a more benevolent time of year .
I’ve just prepared my bean trench and sown broad beans and peas – all quite straightforward and enjoyable. I then spent double the time erecting barricades to keep the foxes at bay. I used to find that twiggy branches laid across the soil was all that was needed to deter cats, but foxes will just view them as playthings to drag round the garden, especially once the cubs arrive.
So hurdles and fences all round the edge and netting over the top to stop them jumping in. Fingers crossed the badgers stay away or further reinforcing will be necessary.
Word has it that the wonderful magnolias at Borde Hill Garden, near Haywards Heath are at their magnificent best right now. Their glades of these mature trees hint at how they must have looked in their native habitat when the famous plant hunters of the late 19th and early 20th century collected magnolia seed for the garden’s then owner, Colonel Robert Stephenson Clarke. The family still lives at Borde Hill and has continued to care for the original trees, many of which are now classed as ‘champion trees’ i.e. the largest of their kind in the British Isles. They are well worth a visit.
These few weeks before the weeds really get going and the slugs and snails start to munch everything in sight is such an optimistic time. Each year I find myself thinking that I’ve really got it all sorted this year and the garden is going to be particularly flower-filled and productive. Then, just when the weather is at its most balmy, I will walk out one morning to find that the weeds have staged an overnight invasion and that the slugs and snails have discovered a salad bar of deliciousness in my cold frames, leaving me with bare stems and shredded leaves. I’m trying to deal with the weeds whilst they are tiny, but I know they will get the upper hand before long and as for the slugs and snails, I’ve just invested in a roll of Slug Shocka, the matting that is coated with copper to protect my strawberries and most vulnerable vegetables. Sheep wool pellets will also be part of my armoury and soon it will be time to recommence the nightly patrols armed with a torch and a bucket. In the meantime I’m enjoying the lull before the storm!
This Friday (20th March) I will be joining herb expert Jekka McVicar and garden designer Lucy Summers at the Country Living Fair in Islington for two Q&A sessions on ‘Growing the Good Life’ and ‘Gardening for Well-Being’. It should be fun and there’s more horticultural interest too, with Lucy’s ‘Country Living’ garden at the heart of the show and the launch of a new cut-flower clematis called ‘Amazing London’. I’m not sure about the name, but name aside, clematis are becoming increasingly popular as cut flowers with C. durandii the variety most often used. They do last wonderfully well in water. The Country Living Fair runs from the 18th-22nd of March, so even if you can’t make it to our Q&As there will be lots to see (and many temptations) on the other days.