It’s been a bit of a secret of mine, really, but since last summer, around about the time I came back from Italy, the garden has been completely out of control. Like an errant teenager that you used to get on with and was very beautiful and friendly but which suddenly found drink and hard drugs and went completely mad, it was utterly resistant to any subtle hints at improvement.
And let’s face it, nothing looks as neglected as a neglected garden. Here’s a little snapshot from last September…
To be fair, it had (or is that has?) been a crazy few months in the office. From time to time I’d wake up in the middle of the night worrying about how I was ever going to cope, but then it all seemed like a bit too much to think about and quite definitely a problem for another day. Not so long ago, at a social club party, my landlord wondered if I’d abandoned the house entirely (it has been known to happen from time to time in the village).
Well, the good news has been another secret. Underneath all the apparent chaos, I have had a new gardener, Marcos, helping, and he’s been a genius. Throughout the grim winter he’s been doggedly working away on all sorts of major tasks: sorting out hedges and banks, clearing areas that had run completely away, planting new box trees, getting bulbs in, just in time. People often say to me ‘you can’t possibly manage the whole thing yourself’ but for a little while that was in the fact the case. My great friend Liz, who in the early days was helping me for a couple of hours on a Friday, got too busy with her own beautiful walled garden down the lane in the village. Her friend Midori had been helping next, but then she had to stop a while back. And for about 18 months, last year, I thought I’d give it a go completely myself. To start with, all went well. This time last year, for instance, the long, cold, lingering winter meant I could easily get ahead. Looking back at some posts from about this time last year, it all looks rather spick and span. Hmmm. Don’t be fooled.Spot the dandelions growing through the path? Spot the little poppy seedlings in the left hand bed? Trouble was brewing.
By midsummer, it all still looked fine…. but the garden was really a riot of weeds that are hidden in the soft morning mist. The pale purple poppies look all very pretty and delicate. But they were the start of no end of trouble.
By the time I got back from Italy, things in the garden had gone seriously mad, as you may recall if you’ve been reading the blog for a little while. [Incidentally, if you haven’t, be sure to check out the fantastic new archive pages here, if you want to waste an hour or two].
You see what I mean?
Things were even less well off elsewhere. Masses of rather big tasks were not happening at all. In desperation I called Liz. “Do you know anyone who could help, Liz?”, I said. And she put me in touch with Marcos.
It couldn’t have been better timing – not least because life in the office was simultaneously going really crazy, and I was finding it increasingly hard to get long visits down to Dorset. When I did, I had too many drawings that needed doing to a deadline. The garden was having to wait. So Marcos got going. We agreed a list of tasks that seemed to get longer with each meeting, rather than shorter. All winter long, in those dark, drenched months, I have to be honest – London seemed a bit less gloomy than Dorset, and I tended to hibernate in Queen Square. My visits became more and more fleeting. But each time I did come, I could be sure to notice some subtle but important improvement.
So suddenly we’ve burst out in to spring and everything is looking under control for the first time in what feels like years. Marcos’s final major task on the winter tasks list was to completely clear the veg garden, and this week – which was the cause of some debate, I seem to remember, about 18 months ago (when I first made the suggestion) he planted a little box hedge around all the beds. I’ll be interested to know what you think? I love them. And even if the garden does go chaotic now, it will be framed chaos, and I think that makes a difference.
The weekend was sparkling…. perfect. It would be a lie to say I didn’t have any work to catch up on – I did – but by midday today it was all finished. I leapt into action and planted broad bean plants and kale, and three rows of new potatoes. In addition to a few house tasks as well. The sort of weekend that I love; being down here by myself, pottering, losing my mind entirely to the task at hand, and catching up. Supper last night with my brother and sister-in-law up the road near Beaminster. Ideal.
So here’s to a nice simple garden-y sort of blog. Uncomplicated. Flooded with spring sunshine. And rather full of optimism. I hope you’re feeling the same? Ironically, all we need now is some rain.
My final secret is that, with Will and Maggie, we’ve given up drinking for lent. Not quite for religious reasons, I must admit, but have you ever tried it? Believe me, I’m missing my glass of nice red wine or four while I’m writing the blog this evening. But I confess to having not slept so well in years. The evenings are so insanely dull that there is nothing to do but head to bed at about 9 o clock; I sleep through the night (unheard of) and bounce out of bed, full of energy, at some ungodly hour like 5am. I’ve blasted through my list of things to do like I’m on a drug. Could life possibly get more boring? No, it really really could not.