Sunday, 9 May 2010

Happiness is also . . . . .

A misty, drizzly, morning

I feel never happier than when I’ve done a day’s hard labour in the garden. Gardener insists that I work with him when he comes; we work for seven hours, with only a short break for lunch and two breaks for a cup of tea.

I love it.

It was cold and damp and windy in the morning; I was more than half hoping gardener would decide to stay away, so when I looked out of the window and saw him walking round the back garden while I was lingering over my second cup of breakfast tea, I was almost disappointed at not getting a lazy Saturday to myself; especially as we had been out to dinner with friends the night before and not got home until midnight.

Once out in the garden, woolly hat and fleecy jacket on, trowel and secateurs at the ready, wheelbarrow, spade, fork and rake in position, there was no stopping me.

I started with the pelargoniums (indoor geraniums to most people), which needed potting on. I counted about fifty. Normally, they’d go out into pots and borders now, but the weather being as capricious as April this May, I can’t risk it.  Gardener shoveled muck, and trimmed and redefined border and lawn edges. Neat and tidy edging makes a big difference to the look of a garden.

Some of the pelargoniums waiting to be potted on.

We then turned our attention to a particular bed which has suffered a lot of frost damage. We took out an ancient hebe, which had seen better days, trimmed back a choisya – at the wrong time of year, because we cut off a lot of the  summer flowering branches, but nasty, slimy, brown frost bitten leaves do not look good – and finally turned to the bay tree.  Last autumn it was still a magnificent specimen, mature and dense, actually a bit too large, beginning to outgrow its space.

I took a deep breath and started to hack away at it, cutting out branches, stripping the remaining ones of all leaves, leaving only a trimmed-back pompom at the very tips. I want to turn it into a ‘cloud’ tree. It looks pretty awful now, but If it works, it will be an interesting and unusual shaped shrub to have, if it doesn’t, there’s not much harm done, because it might shoot again from lower down. That is, if it is indeed still alive. Cloud trees and shrubs fascinate me; as so many of these interesting ideas about unusual treatment of plants, it comes from Japan.


The fernery/shrubbery was next. For once, the harsh winter has done some good; all my native ferns seem to have benefited; the tree fern ‘Dicksonia’ is dead, of course, but then that was to be expected. No Australian would be up to last winter’s temperatures, no matter how well wrapped, wusses that they are. I’ve waited until now to attack my private enemy Number One, the lesser celandine, which loves the fernery and hides among the fronds. Now that I can see the first croziers unfurling, I can deal with them.

My garden is bordered by English Heritage land along one side; some tree surgeons had operated on trees in the castle ground and chipped the wood there and then, leaving vast piles just spread over the bank. Very useful stuff for covering paths, wood chippings. So gardener and I clambered up and filled four large sacks. The path along the fernery looks splendid now, the chippings came in very handy!

Saturday morning I thought I might manage a couple of hours’ work, two hours turned into seven and I was still loath to come in. The experts who say that outdoor exercise is the best medicine for a gloomy outlook are right, happiness is a sore back, rough hands and muddy knees, provided a hot shower and a glass of sherry are available when the work is done.

All of the photos were taken this morning when the sun was out.


  1. Your garden looks wonderful.
    Thanks for sharing it.
    A x

  2. I know how you feel. I feel the same after a long day outdoors trimming and planting. Your garden is lovely!

  3. Oh, my,how beautiful it looks! My very favorite thing about visiting England is peering into all the lovely gardens.

  4. What a showplace you have! Your satisfying, back-breaking labor truly gives you beautiful results.

  5. All that work has produced what looks like a private park. The views beyond are so quintessentially England.

    While gardening it has occurred to me, that when I die, I would like to do it right there - on my knees surrounded by all the loyal plants I tend. Icing on the cake would be if my husband could bury me right there in the flower bed. (I know I would make good fertilizer!!) The perfect exit.

  6. friko - i cut the grass the other day. i was pretty proud of my handiwork. you leave me in the dust - well snow (yep it snowed here last night, i think i've got to move) - but the gorgeous results make it entirely worthwhile. good for you. steven

  7. Oh I enjoyed this post and will definitely be reading it to The Great Dane when he wakes. Just yesterday, thinking of you and your gardener, I told TGD that what I want for my birthday this year is the finding and hiring of such a gardener, to work with me once a month. We'll see what I get.
    Fingers crossed for your Bay/Cloud tree.

  8. One of the tulip stems was bent in the vase of tulips on my dining table, and I straightened it. So I worked NEARLY as hard as you.

  9. You write so gracefully and interestingly of your garden, Friko. i don't usually have the patience to read gardening posts by others, but you are the exception. I too hope your cloud tree works and look forward to photos of that when cloud-ness has been achieved - several years from now, is that it??
    As for me, I cleaned my little backyard patio of dog sh** yesterday and was surprised to see the beginnings of some hardly plants (origin unknown) despite the very cool weather. At least it isn't snowing.

  10. My, what a fabulous garden! Having just been down to my allotment, I know that I could never achieve that degree of loveliness, even with a the help of a real gardener. Well done you!

  11. You deserve a really substantial glass of sherry after all that. There is so much "potential" in your garden, it looks ready to burst forth with all kinds of beauty. Great photos!

  12. Oh well worth the hard work Friko - its lovely!

  13. I hereby award you the gold plated putty medal for stoical gardeners!

  14. What a beautiful garden you've got Friko

  15. Your garden is looking good in spite of the hard winter. Perhaps English winters should be like that and we have become very complacent about what we plant and what will survive. I'm sure back in the early 70's I was told that Laurus nobilus was not reliably hardy - and there is a whole list of similar plants that we have in latter years taken for granted.

    I'm aching too - once started it's very hard to stop - I know there is the prospect of several more days like today ahead as well.

  16. Wipso - thanks Wipso, You'll have to come for a look soon.

    Tabor - thanks Tabor, fellow gardeners know all about the joys and pains.

    Vicki Lane - Well, if you ever come this far out into the wilds, I hope you'd knock on my door.

    June - that's what I tell myself too, if it pleases me, it makes it all worthwhile.

    Bonnie - I have said before that the compost heap, where I spend so much of my time, would be a good place for my earthly remains. I don't think you'd get permission.

    steven - sorry about the snow; I don't quite understand, did you cut the grass before or after it snowed? And why?

    Pondside - My gardener is not a real gardener, more like a very useful and extremely obliging labourer, with whom I have a boss/labouring mate kind of relationship. he's the boss, I'm the mate, in spite of me knowing what I'm doing. Wouldn't want to be without him.

    Fran - Straightening a tulip stem? How? So, now you are exhausted, did you have a lie-down afterwards?

  17. Deborah - Where did the dog poo come from? You didn't leave a dog there all by his lonesome for months, did you? If the noble laurel is still alive, the cloud tree should start this summer. Or maybe next. Gardening is a long-term business.

    rachel - Gardener himself doesn't think he's a real gardener, but he knows he's invaluable to me. Keep up the good work, you can never have too much rhubarb.

    English Rider - I hope it'll all come together eventually. But you are right about the burgeoning. I expect you remember the lushness of a 'proper' English garden. Even if it is within a tiny English enclave surrounded on three and a half sides by Wales.

    Twiglet - thank you, like I said to Wipso, you must come and visit it.

    Jinksy - thanks awfully, old girl, real putty eh? No stoicism needed, I actually love it.

    mollygolver - thanks ever so, you too are near enough for a visit.

    mountainear - It's not too bad, things are either recovering or getting ripped out. And those that take a little longer can always be hidden for a while by quick growing dahlias and stuff. Besides, I've already been to the Dingle.

  18. Friko..
    What can I add??
    Perhaps a quote?

    To dig in one's own earth,
    with one's own spade,
    does life hold anything better?
    - Beverly Nichols
    To answer your comment on my blog:
    Yes, wild Trilliums bloom right now in our Guildwood Park including trout lily and butter cups.
    I'll post more pictures very soon. We experienced terrible stormy weather over the weekend. Not a good idea to walk under old trees:)
    Thank you for your comments!!
    LG Gisela.

  19. The poop is from my youngest son's Giant Malamute, now nearly 6 ft tall when standing on his hind legs. He was sprung on me as a surprise last time I was here...

  20. What a fantastic garden! Afraid my gardening days are over as far as 7 hours work, bending and digging is concerned!!

    But I am full of admiration for all your hard work - it looks wonderful!

  21. What a beautiful garden! I can't imagine how much hard work and devotion went into bringing to this point.
    If it ever gets warm enough to sit outside , you'll be the envy of us all .

  22. You live in a beautiful setting both immediate and countryside. It will be interesting to follow your experiences in the garden this summer.

  23. Hello Friko, and thank you for giving us a glimpse of garden beauty and insight into how that beauty develops.

    There is something wonderful about feeling oneself drawn into a project, being energized and amazed by it, and really losing oneself in the process. You've described that transformation very well!

    I also would love to see how the clouds develop. xo

  24. Your garden is wonderful and it reminds me of a Heritage garden in Victoria, British Columbia. It's a small garden with an interesting history. You might like to read about it so I'll include the URL below. I visited it last spring and was captivated by it's beauty. Thanks for sharing your garden!

  25. Lie-down? Lie-down? There was an indoor plant to water, too.

  26. Your garden is gorgeous, Friko! I've been diong a lot of gardening the last few months and find it absorbing and heartening in ways I don't fully understand. Wonderful cure for anxiety, depression and other diseases of the soul.

  27. guild-rez - a very apt quotation, that's exactly how I feel. Guildwood Park is a Park, right? Not a wild wood. I'll come over and study it a bit more.

    Deborah - that's what happens when you leave children alone, to fend for themselves. They find somebody else to love.

    Gilly - I'm not really up to it, but it is really hard to stop. Seven hours is a bit much though.

    S&S - Warm enough? Not in May maybe, but we've already had a warm(ish) week in April. Beloved sat outside and watched me work.

    Paul C - thank you, Paul. I'll try not to disappoint, there's plenty more work and a lot of plants to come. I like to try and create something of interest in all seasons.

    Frances - That is what it is, of course, a project, which one takes on and doesn't let go until it's done. The beauty of gardening is that it never gets done. in fact, a garden will see you off, rather than the other way round.

    Sheila - thanks for the url, I shall take a look. thank you for your nice comments.

    Fran - Now that is overdoing it, a delicate flower like you. I know how heavy these watering cans can be. And there's all that aiming and tipping and pouring. I don't know how you do it.

    brokenbiro - Good, another gardener. They keep making fun of us, calling us middle-aged, middle-class ladies with nothing better to do. But we can tell them we are doing to save the NHS money, aren't we? (Hope I haven't offended your delicate sensibilities here.)

  28. Hi Friko

    I envy you both the hard work in the garden and the resultant beautiful parklike grounds.

    ....and watch who you are calling a wuss there Friko...I have just survived the cold of a NZ autumn...sometimes we rise to the challenge...

    Happy days

  29. Delwyn - thanks for the envy, I'll accept it gladly.
    As for the wuss - well, in this funny little country the inhabitants think of themselves as very hardy souls and their plantlife ditto.
    I was hoping I could get a rise out of somebody in the Antipodies. Thanks, Delwn.

  30. What a beautiful garden you have.. it so reflects the hard work you've put into it. Those hills in your background look amazing. You must just love your surroundings. :)

  31. Hilary -- The Shropshire are a very lovely place.

  32. Lucky you. Your garden looks lovely


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