Friday, 8 July 2016

Gardening Therapy

With the EU referendum resulting in a Leave majority (by less than 4% of votes cast, which shows just how divided the country is, and doesn't seem like a good basis for a major decision - but then, I voted Remain and doubt I would have said that had the vote gone the way I wanted!), it has been an emotional and eventful end to June.

It's a shame the weather is so changeable - it normally starts to rain at midsummer here, but it started early this year. The occasional fine days are interspersed with several days of showers and rain. When the sun comes out, I have been getting in some gardening therapy. I am slowly clearing the grass and potting up plants worth saving, some for a couple of friends to add to their gardens. As the fine days are few and far between, they are also laundry days, which makes working on the herb-bed-to-be (partly under the washing line) a little challenging.

Since my last post only a few weeks ago, the garden seems to have gone completely rampant and looks like an ungrazed meadow, which is essentially what it is. That cats have been loving sitting or lying in the long grass as I work, creating tunnels where they've been hiding, which turn into great, lodged sheets of grasses in the rain.

I have had to start a free-standing compost heap which is at least the size of one of the compost bins now. The plan is to dig out bin #3 into the top of bin #1, turning and aerating it. I'm just (still!) waiting for both bins to settle; they don't appear to have done much in the past few weeks. When I dug out bin #1 in May, the top went into bin #2 and is roughly the same age as the stuff at the bottom, but there is a filling of more recent stuff in the middle, so that will benefit from being dug out and turned into bin #3. I've just started to use an accelerator in the bins and the new heap, hoping to speed things up a bit. Then some of the free-standing heap can go into bin #2. As things are going, I'm going to have to start a second free-standing heap very soon!

Before tackling the compost bins, I was waiting for the Early Bees to finish with their nest, which they did a couple of weeks ago. A lack of buzzing and visitors made me take a look, and all that was left was a matted handful of composting grasses and soggy pollen. When I first discovered the nest, I had to wait a while to spot one or two bees visiting flowers. A few weeks ago, it was easy to see three or four at a time. Now I can sit and count half a dozen or more at a time working over the clumps of Campanula portenschlagiana and C. poscharskyana (I decided it wasn't C. garganica, based on the height and length of the sprawling stems of flowers) which they are completely mad for. It may be a garden thug, but the bees just love it. The odd honey bee and a few other bees visit as well, including one of the white-tailed bumble-bees. Their gentle buzzing lulls me into somnolence as I rest on the swing-seat between bouts of digging and potting-up. Despite the noise from neighbours' lawnmowers and various power tools, it's been lovely just to sit and watch, as I follow the advice to 'sit down before I need to' so that I can work without too much pain. Drink in hand, planning my next spot of work, watching life going on around me, is all very relaxing.

Mr Blackbird has been neglecting his preening as he feeds a chick. The Jackdaws in my chimney fledged. The first two chicks came out and begged for food from next door's roof. A couple of young Magpies joined them, evidently not bothered about who fed them, although the Jackdaw parents were not about to do any such thing. There were confused looks all round (if it's possible for birds to look confused) until the Magpie parents came and called their two away. The youngest Jackdaw chick emerged a few days later. A terrific rumpus from several Jackdaw families alerted me to the chick which, unable to fly very well, was hopping and fluttering around the patio, trying to gain some height. I rescued it from the curious cats and went to let it out of the landing window so it could fly off with the rest of the family. Having calmed down, it perched very happily on my finger while I gave it a quick check over, stroking and speaking softly to it. Even once the window was open, it just sat, sharp claws marking my finger as I tried to cajole it onto the window ledge. As I murmured sweet nothings, it watched me with its aquamarine eyes and cocked its head from side to side. The family came back onto the neighbour's roof, calling, and it flew off to join them. The sparrows squabble and twitter, teasing the cats, until Greebo could stand it no longer and caught a chick, which I then rescued from him and released into an inaccessible part of the privet hedge. On another day, a Sparrowhawk descended out of the sky and crashed into the other privet hedge to catch a sparrow. No warning - no alarm calls or mobbing from the other birds, it made the cats and I jump out of our skins. One of the neighbours told me there was a Sparrowhawk around, but it's the first time I've seen it.

The other poppy also turned out to be red.
The Geranium from behind the shed looks like G. macrorrhizum 'Album'.
I found a label constricting the base of another rose (planted too close underneath the lilac) which identified it as Scarlet Queen Elizabeth. I remember it being a bright vermilion-orange-pink last year, so the label at least makes sense!
Pink rose near patioThe rose near the patio is definitely not R. glauca. It has clusters of small (5-7 cm) semi-double, flowers, mid pink in bud,  the heart-shaped petals opening to show golden-yellow stamens in the centre and fading almost to white as they age. There is little scent, but with so many flowers open, there are wafts of light rose scent on the breeze. I've looked at all of my rose books and on a few websites to try to identify the rose, but it seems to be having an identity crisis itself. It seemed to be low-growing, but there are also a few metre-high, red-stemmed shoots, one with darker, matt leaves, one with lighter, one quite red. These look like suckers, and there's a flower coming on the tip of one of them. Depending on how tall the shoots grow, whether they are from the same rootstock, and whether I can free the plant from the encroaching grass and brambles without digging it up, it could stay where it is.

The bramble bashing I did last year seems to have stimulated growth, with small shoots coming up all over the place and growing fast from roots deep down.
The first wild strawberries are ready, their small, intensely-flavoured fruit a real treat. The other strawberries are showing a flush of colour; with this wet weather, it will be a case of racing the slugs to see who can get them first!
The rain has flattened the Alchemilla mollis (Lady's Mantle), the Chartreuse green froth of flowers flopping untidily across the path and needing to be cut back. It's only a matter of time before I cut back the sprawling Campanula, as well. They're both lovely, but the thought of all the seeds!

I brought some Common Figwort (Scrophularia nodosa) with me from the farm, and found a Water Figwort (Scrophularia auriculata) growing in the gravel bed. (See, the soil really is damp!) Taller (1.5 metres/5 feet high!), with bigger clusters of larger, dark red flowers, nice, broad, green leaves on red, winged stems, it looks 'garden-worthy'. It makes the Common Figwort look like a weed, and I've found a few nurseries who actually sell a variegated form of the Water Figwort. For some reason, the bees aren't attracted to the flowers at all, but wasps are. Neither fit with the plans for the garden, so they can go.

The amount of rain we've had recently meant that I did very little digging on the last fine day we had, because the soil was so wet. Investigating strange sounds like someone trying to break into one of my next door neighbours, I found that they had decided to lift their patio.  They were happy for me to 'reclaim' some of the paving, rather than have to take it all to the tip themselves, so I stacked 10 dozen x 12" (30 cm) square concrete paving slabs on my drive ready for reuse in my garden. The slabs are heavier than they look, so I really feel as though I've worked out, and it feels great to be able to reuse a load of paving for free, so I owe next door at least some beers!

According to a recent report from the BBC, there is a 'growing body of research that suggests gardening is good for both physical and mental health' and that 'pilot schemes for GPs to prescribe gardening are under way'. I would have thought it's obvious; gardening provides exercise, relaxation and an outlet for creative expression and being close to the beauty of flowers, plants and garden wildlife feeds the soul. In these politically uncertain and economically volatile times, we could all use some gardening therapy!

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