Saturday, 4 August 2012

A Year in the Life Of A Lady Gardener - August

It's time to apply a little healing balm in the form of good honest dirt; gardening is a wonderful therapy for a sore spirit. During July's rain, mini heat wave and exhausting sadness the appeal of work out of doors  was greatly diminished. It's true, the  doughty and determined gardener does not let a little thing like inclement weather and a breaking heart get in the way of her obsession; perhaps I'm made of flakier clay. Yesterday, Gardener turned up again after an absence of two full weeks, in the pouring rain, ostensibly to 'find out how Benno is', but also feeling a touch guilty for having let the grass grow to great heights on the lawn.  Looking out of the kitchen window we could see a promising patch of blue sky appear in the West and, sure enough, not long afterwards the rain stopped.

Fortunately, times have changed since the days of Elizabeth von Arnim, ladies are allowed to do their own gardening; I believe, even rich and aristocratic ones. Elizabeth wailed, in her hugely successful book "Elizabeth And Her German Garden":  "I sometimes literally ache with envy as I watch the men going about their pleasant work in the sunshine, turning up the luscious damp earth, raking, weeding, watering, planting, cutting the grass, pruning the trees - not a thing that they do from the first uncovering of the roses in the spring to the November bonfires but fills my soul with longing to be up and doing too."

Doing it yourself means that you have no-one to blame for mistakes or negligence; Elizabeth's garden would not have had paths resplendent in a healthy crop of dandelions or a totally overgrown rose border, where the lavenders, planted at the foot of the roses and meant to complement their delicate colours, had been choked by eager volunteers and the rampant growth of perennials which were supposed to have been cut back many weeks ago.

Neither would Elizabeth's gardeners have allowed an unknown creature to make a fine filigree of the leaves of all her hydrangeas bar one, a very tough and leathery leaved specimen.

Gardener and I mercilessly ripped and pulled and dug, until all the vegetative miscreants had been removed and taken to the compost bins via the trusty wheelbarrow. Maybe I will be a little less kind to volunteers in future. I am not sure that I can salvage the lavenders. Truth to tell, I had totally forgotten that I had planted some of them as far back as mid-way through the border, a mistake I hope not to repeat.

August is the month when many of the early hardy perennials have 'gone over' and it is not quite time for their autumn replacements. In common with many keen gardeners and garden writers I dislike the artificiality of carpet-bedding. Gardening is about thinking, planning ahead, visualising; a deeply creative activity. Gertrude Jekyll said: "For planting ground is painting a landscape with living things and I hold that good gardening takes rank within the bounds of the fine arts, so I hold that to plant well needs an artist of no mean capacity." It is always possible to add a container with bedding plants to fill temporary holes, as I have done here, by filling a large terracotta pot with petunias. This is an experiment, I have never done so before. 'Petunias', even the name sounds sickly and petulant. Now, pelargoniums are a different matter altogether, I love the continental balconies and window sills dripping with great hanging sheets of them, big and bold and eye-catching. As I don't have a balcony my pelargoniums - some of you may know them as 'geraniums' - sit on the terrace, taking pride of place.

For all you tender bedding plant lovers out there, I'll admit that this pot of petunias is a cheerful sort of gap-filler; I might reconsider my dislike of them. But I swear they'll never get into my borders.

If there's anyone who wants to see more carefully chosen pictures of my garden go and visit Susan at Prufrock's Dilemma. She and Josie were careful to exclude all holes and weeds.


  1. I love your description of petunias, Friko! I've always slightly disliked them, too, but never really knew why. Now I know. Petulant petunias indeed.
    I'm sure creating wheelbarrowsful of weeds and discarded plants has nourished your heart and soul, as well as doing wonders for your garden, but I am sorry about the lavender being pushed out.
    Keep up the good work. All your friends, in person and in cyberspace, will remember Benno, and know he lives in your heart always.

  2. Hello:
    We are, we are afraid, reeling at the sight of the container of petunias. Indeed, we trust that as we write these may already have been uprooted and consigned to the compost heap as something so suburban as to never be allowed to darken, or we suppose brighten, the Shropshire hills.

    Pelargoniums are, as you point out, quite different for their association with balconies in Mediterranean climes - we have them currently on our walkway.

    We love the idea of old roses underplanted with lavender - we used to use hardy geraniums - but do wonder if the two do not require rather different conditions of cultivation.

  3. far too hot to garden here in the summer. If it's not done by early summer it must wait till early fall. in the city things are established and gardens require maintenance. out in the country with so more more space gardens need to be dug, dirt and compost added, grass removed and then the planting. I don't have the energy for that it seems these days as I did in the city. Nor money the last two years for anything other than absolute necessity. slowly though it goes. I wait for cooler weather to expand the garden around the turtle pond.

    don't care for the huge garden variety of petunias but I love their smaller, wilder versions.

  4. In your garden, may I say that it took no talent to photograph in such a way as to avoid any holes and weeds--though how well we understand it is an ongoing task, as you so wonderfully tell us in this post. The one regret we had on taking photographs was not to get one of your compost bins that was worthy of their splendor, so we are glad to see one here (though we do have a passable one of the leaf compost heap, come to think of it). I will never forget how you dipped your hand into a bin and brought up a handful of gorgeous black gold.

  5. Anything my dad ever touched turned to yard-gold. I don't picture your garden very holey or weedy. ~Mary

  6. Ein eigener Garten macht viel Arbeit, und ja, man kann immer vieles falsch machen, doch was falsch ist, das muss man immer auch für sich selbst entscheiden. Eins ist aber auch klar, ein Garten bringt nicht nur Arbeit, er dankt es auch mit vielen Pflanzen und oftmals mit Früchten und wo kann man besser entspannen...

    Lieben Gruß

  7. smiles...there is def something about gardening and putting your hands to the earth and shaping what you want it to look like....sounds like you did quite the work...i rather like the colors of th last even if they wont make your borders....smiles.

  8. I've found over the years that gardening heals a lot of pain. There is something so therapeutic about it like Brian says. It's a ferocious battle with the weeds this year though. some things have done well - some things haven't.

  9. Friko!
    A Year in the Life Of A Lady Gardener?
    She has a gardener who does all the work for her;)

    Liebe Sonntagsgrüße aus Guildwood,

  10. I too find the physical work of gardening therapeutic, even though my garden is not of your scale or beauty, Friko. Glad to know you like pelargoniums. I have a big pot of vibrantly coral-coloured ones on either side of my front door here in Normandy. :-)

  11. The curative powers of gardening, and of the out-of-doors are many. Your garden is lovely.

  12. I admire the lady Victorian gardeners you mention here. You found a great deal of energy, I can see from the photos, as you cleaned up your garden. Well done. My current blog post is about Beatrix Potter, who is also a Victorian lady and gardener.

  13. I'm glad to see you up and about again. Seriously, if I had a garden like yours, I'd be patting myself on the back every day. Long live geraniums! They're one of the few plants that survive in my death row yard.

  14. Healing renewal among friends is wonderful, Friko

    Have a Sweet Weekend -
    Aloha from Waikiki
    Comfort Spiral

    > < } } ( ° >

  15. Who could not love petunias? With their pretty little faces always smiling and bringing joy to the world. In fact, I have it on good authority that t'was petunias than inspired Beethoven's Ode To Joy. More petunias is what I say. And Dandelions for the salad! And a dash of primrose and buttercup while you're at it.

  16. Gardening is so much work but the reward is well worth it!

    XOXO from Iowa


  17. Dirt under the fingernails nourishes the soul-- even if the lady gardener wears gloves, nature will apply its balm.

  18. what a true delight to visit her blog posting about you and yours
    And yes, the garden is healing
    and yours is beautiful

  19. Your garden is beautiful. I enjoyed the videos on Susan's blog and the good perspective they gave me.
    As for me - I will never be a find gardener. I like the weeding and wheeling the barrow around, filling the composter and cutting things back. I'm no good at all at planning plantings.
    Petunias? I have some in a big pot in a place that needed pink. They are doing very well and filling that purpose perfectly.

  20. Hey Friko, you must get to love petunias. They are big flowers which are lovely bright colours and make good bedding gardens as well as great for potting and hanging baskets. They are one of my favourites. Have you ever grown Impatiens (bizzie lizzies)? They make colourful border plants too. Marigolds are currently my favourites and will flower all summer if dead-headed frequently - dave

  21. I’m happy for you, F riko, to know that your time, labors, and efforts are paid off. It’s so nice to see the lovely video of you talking beside your beloved and the photos of your garden. Petunias are such lovely flowers in various colors but I have avoided to plant many because of the texture I feel when I have to pick up many withered flowers. (I don’t know the right word, maybe “deadhead”?). I always use potted Impatiens (Impatiens walleriana) which replace violas in late spring. I really understand “Gardening is about thinking, planning ahead, visualizing; a deeply creative activity.”, however, I often falls back to my old way of haphazard in my modest garden.

    Belated condolences to you and prayers to the peaceful rest of Benno. I remember when my loved family member Lynne passed away.


  22. Oh Friko I do envy your garden. I have a few bits and pieces that I can garden in but they are not the same. I had no idea that poor E von Arnem was not allowed to do her own gardening. I rather wonder why she didn't just say, the hell with it, and then do it anyway? But having studied the Victorian period rather intensively for my last book, I know that convention was immensely important, all over Europe. Still, though....!

  23. What a beautiful description of a working garden!! Fabulous! And your pictures are amazing. Lovely
    Thank you

  24. Ahh, Friko, please do not let petunias into your borders! It's fine to just let let set up a little outpost on the outskirts, perhaps?

    I do love all the geranium varieties, though, and wonder what it is about certain flowers that draw our admiration, while others do not ring any particular bell. (I also do not much like begonias...think it is those waxy leaves that put me off.)

    Of course, all this is easy for me to write, as a vicarious gardener, without any soil under my fingernails.


  25. Dear Friko, thanks so much for the links to the other blog where I watched the slideshow of your extensive and lovely gardens. Also, I liked seeing what I took to be photographs of you and your husband and also two of handsome Benno. I never realized just how extensive your gardens were. Some undertaking to care for them--no wonder you need the help of a gardener. Such bright splashes of color! Peace.

  26. As we backed out of the driveway on our way to our anniversary breakfast, I took time to look over my front border and was pleased with what I saw. Oh yes the odd weed has madee an appearance from time to time, but being a compulsive sort, I bent over and pulled them daily.

    A weed here and a weed there and soon the garden is weed free. I also took a tip from Sydney Eddleson this year and trimmed my Sedum back so they look great, standing tall in the summer heat, although something strange has attacked a few of them.

    Oh yes, I planted many sun-loving drought-loving plants in well drained areas, but I have soaker hoses buried around the beds...just in case.

    I like the way you too work with Mother Nature. Your Fuchsias in the first photo are to die for.

    I love petunias, especially the Bubblegum pink. Petunias, along with Chili peppers and Tobacco, are an American native, now hybirdized for a longer bloom time. Planted together in a pot, Petunias and Calibrochia add cheer to the garden in August, even in the worst weather. I never grow them any other way. Petunias are positively pretty.

    I grew Pelargoniums in pots for years, but they are so overdone, I gave it up. I like them in Seville hanging from balconies, but not in my yard. I do grow the REAL geraniums in my garden as ground cover in sun which blooms in spring here. I have several scented ones too. Dianne


  27. I so love your garden posts, Friko, so inspiring. So, well, opposite, to what I am experiencing with Leo as I beg him to cut the meadow in preparation for guests. Flowers are in pots on the front porch. He tends to attack my bedded flowers with the large mower or whipper-snipper so I protect them from him.

  28. I followed the link and saw your garden – how beautiful! You have a right to be proud of it – the views are enchanting including the one with the castle in the background. It must be nice to retire into a garden such as yours – I’ll have to make a post on mine so that you know what I mean…

    I read your story about your Benno. It’s not easy to lose a loyal and loved pet – a presence in a home that is more than just a pet presence. You wrote beautifully about his life which because of you and your Beloved was a lot happier than he was meant to have with the other lady. He certainly was a sweet dog.

  29. What a treat for us readers to see more of your garden! Been thinking of you a lot during these past days.
    And I don't mind the old Petunia!

  30. Oh, what fun! A new name for my beloved geraniums. I rescued several pots-full at the dumpster three years ago, and they flourished for me. But now it's the full heat of summer and as Ellen said up above, there's nothing to be done except keep things alive until autumn, at least as best we can. I fear it will be time to start afresh with new plants in the fall.

    The petunias are doing well for me though. With only a balcony, and full sun in the hot afternoons, I do best with cactus but do love the odd bloomer. There's a petunia I just love, called lemon zest. I'm not much of a fan of pink and blue, so having these dears has been quite a treat. I'll agree with you though - a pot or hanging basket is one thing. They don't belong in borders.

  31. Your garden and gardening skills are amazing. Love seeing bits and pieces of what you grow!

  32. Have enjoyed strolling through your beautifully kept gardens - when I grow up, I would love to have something even remotely close to yours!
    One of the books I brought along on our Alaskan journey was the story of Elizabeth's gardens - have just started to read it. Your entire posting attached itself to my heart - from digging in the soil to find comfort and allow the mind free to roam to feeling petunias do need to be in pots and not borders.

    Thank you for bringing us into your gardening world...

  33. Friko, I'm back in the blogosphere after an absence, but I want to say how much I enjoy your intelligent and well written blog. I love to read about your garden -- I hate to garden but love having a garden and so employ a wonderful person and friend to do that for me -- it's an excellent arrangement. I'm so sorry to hear about Benno -- I know how very difficult it is, having lost our lab, Amber, some years back.

  34. Petunias , Busy Lizzies , salvia and those ghastly orange daisy things all grow amazingly well for me but I can't stand any of them .
    You're obviously much more in tune with your garden and it always looks beautiful .

  35. You have a beautiful garden!

    I love gardening - and can watch it for hours.

  36. Enjoyed your nice pictures! I, too, do my own garden, which explains why I DON'T publish any photos of my yard -- a yard that is currently choked with what I euphemistically call "naturally occurring indigenous flora."

  37. I was over at Susan's blog this morning, marveling at your gorgeous grounds. I saw nary a weed. I heartily endorse your gardening efforts--especially because I agree that said activity IS deeply creative--and creativity is healing. Of this I am certain. xo

  38. A well tendered garden is like a work of art. And I hope your lovely garden continues to bring you much cheer.

    Sorry to hear about Benno.

  39. Your analysis of gardening -- that is as a creative activity that involves careful thought and planning, making a work of art -- struck a chord with me. You see, I don't really plan either my garden or my printmaking and painting. I suppose that is why both are ad hoc assemblages. I stick it in, try it out, leave it for a while, see if it works. If it doesn't I either get rid of it and try something else or leave it there to bother me from time to time. As for petunias, I am not a lover of them, but I am a lazy gardener. Petunias, geraniums, tuberous begonias, lobelia, and fuchsias are easy to grow and make quick color. And they last pretty well. Now they are all getting leggy and I need something new for fall.

    I am thinking of your loss of Benno, and am so sad for you. I still mourn for dogs and cats of the past.

  40. Yanking weeds and cutting back plants is gardening therapy for ailments of the soul.

    Ruffly petunias grace my garden: one white patch and one purple patch. I find them cheerful and dependable. Geraniums, on the other hand, are scarcely found. I do want to get some Johnson's Blue somewhere. It was in a previous garden and I quite liked them.

  41. Love the red, white and blue tubs - had no idea you were so patriotic Friko.

    In previous places I have lived we have filled our balconys with flowering pots and have marvelled at how beautiful the minature gardens look - along my row of houses I was the only one, containers of fuchsias dripping over addign a lovely splash of colour. Today I spotted a neighbour has followed suit ... I'll get to them all in the end!

  42. Wow!!!! What a wealth of beauty!!!!!

  43. You make me consider showing up on your doorstep one day, just to scare the hell out of you AND to let you put me to work. Gardening is a therapy like no other; I'm glad you have it as an outlet these days.

    Also, I share your dislike of petunias but also agree there's a way to make peace with such flowers. Geraniums are in the same class as petunias, in my mind, yet I grabbed a few cheap geraniums this year and stuck them into a new garden space as filler...and they are GORGEOUS. Who knew.

  44. I'm glad you are finding the garden healing. Alas, I look at mine and it seems to be dying before my very eyes, with only some of the herbs hanging in there with this heat and lack of water, though I've been dutifully dumping water on it every night! I have poor dirt, so most of my garden is in pots, which I'm sure accounts for full sized tomatoes that are more the size of a cherry tomato on steroids! I'm sure your house must be so very quiet.

  45. Hi Friko - that soul involving thing .. the garden - I'm pleased to read about your time enjoying the freedom on the sod - that wondrous provider of life ... I agree petunias are fine, but pelargoniums wax brightly lyrical and cheerful through summer rains - for whatever reason those 'rains' be ..

    Cheers Hilary


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