It’s one of those lovely spring mornings where the light is clean and sharp, slanting in on the kitchen table.
The birds are singing and a watery sun is glinting through the Viburnum fragrans shrub that I’ve allowed to grow up into a small tree, and now hang a decorative bird feeder from. I always think using shrubs as trees is a good thing to do in small gardens where actual trees can grow too large and cast too much shade.
This particular shrub has scented pink flowers that open in mild spells from November to April, and it’s still flowering this morning, scenting the air around the kitchen door-mmmmm.
So I go out in my dressing gown with a cup of tea, accompanied by Ted on full squirrel alert, to take my customary morning stroll around the garden. I like try to design a circular paved route around any garden I’m involved with, no matter how small, as there’s nothing nicer than visiting every part of the garden, but then returning by a different route. You get to see the garden from different angles , and the act of returning by a different route makes the smallest garden seem bigger. The choice this morning is to go straight towards the summerhouse.
Passing on the way another of those overgrown shrubs that I’m using as a small tree- shaped into a lollipop in this case by stripping the lower branches bare and clipping the top into a ball.
It’s an Osmanthus delavayi and has lovely neat evergreen serrated leaves, is very clippable like Box, and has the sweetest smelling white flowers- very reminiscent of summer jasmine.
I lean in and have a good old sniff. And then another deeper one.The scent is heavenly. I always think I must look like a demented cocaine snorter to a casual onlooker as I’m always sniffing scented plants wherever I go ( not that anyone can see me- I make sure of that!)
You see, privacy in a garden is paramount. Who wants to be like a goldfish in a goldfish bowl? Most of my clients are as obsessive about privacy as I am, so I spend a lot of time (and their money)planting boundaries with lots of evergreen tall stuff to blot out the neighbours.
Moving on, here’s another example of an overgrown shrub being used as a tree.
It’s a lovely old Lilac (Syringa vulgaris), a white one called Madame Lemoine ( I’m a sucker for anything with a French name- instantly romanticises it), and one of only two plants that remain from the rather derelict garden that we inherited all those years ago. Lilacs have a common name of Pan Pipes because their stems are hollow like a flute, and for me, they are one of the signature plants of May. I’ve allowed it to grow up and over one of our benches so that ,by early summer ,it provides a canopy of privacy and scented dappled shade- an ideal place for cups of tea and confidential conversations. To prolong the season of flowering and scent I grow a rose through it as well as a clematis. This special summer rose is Lady Hillingdon- a delectable peach coloured blowsy climber- with this salacious catalogue description, one which persuaded me to buy her : “ Lady Hillingdon- good in a bed, but better against a wall.”……….
Along the way I’ve planted little pops of seasonal flowers to draw me on. Big drifts of daffodils.
Don’t you just hate those big stiff tall daffs that you find in so many gardens? You usually find them being sold cheaply in sacks in supermarkets. Beware anything that is cheap, is my motto. Good advice generally I’d say!
I much prefer small Narcissi like jonquillus ( usually scented) and Tiandrus types- but when in doubt, just look on the packet and never buy anything that says it will grow taller than 30cm. These smaller types are more delicate and because of their diminutive scale , have the effect of making the garden seem bigger through a trick of perspective.
And remember that a drift of one sort of Narcissi always looks better than a mixed lot. I have a lovely lady in my class who is a fiend for a bargain and is always announcing triumphantly: “ I’ve got a fabulous rose from AldiI” “ Oh yes, and what rose is it?” “ No idea dear. But it was only £3!” I despair.
The Fritillaria meleagris are out now, their snakeskin markings looking impossibly beautiful. Nature’s wonderful – you couldn’t make it up!
They like a moist yet sunny site being plants originating in damp meadowland. If you struggle with them, as I have in the past, I always advise planting a few in a clay pot and keeping it well watered. In fact, that’s how I grow a lot of my ‘specials’- bulbs which are either difficult for my soil conditions or expensive to buy in bulk. I buy small packets of a few varieties and plant them in pots in the autumn. As soon as they push through in the spring I bring them out onto my zinc covered garden table that is in full view of the kitchen desk. It makes a lovely picture.
An ever changing display of bowls of bulbs, accumulated plants waiting for their new homes, plants I’m not sure where to place yet:-
And a photo from indoors where I sit and write. It’s so good to have a little display table where you can display a few small pots of pretty flowering things, herbs, salads or even shells or fossils. The main point is that it should be visible from the window so that you can enjoy it even on wet days.
One of the scented plants on my table which will be in flower for weeks to come is this Dianthus Rose Quartz
It’s a bit of what I call a Barbara Cartland plant ( the grande dame of romance novels who always dressed in vivid pink), a bit gaudy and blowsy and not quite tasteful- but what the heck, it smells great! The species dianthus have a common name of ‘pinks’, not because of their colour ( they come in reds, creams and whites too) but because the edges of their petals are crimped like the jagged effect you get on material if using pinking shears.
Another big inhalation of scent.
Did you know they used to use Dianthus flowers to flavour beer and wine in Medieval times? That’s why so many old pubs have gardens attached- for growing the herbs and flowers used to flavour the drinks. In fact a lovely old variety still goes by its old descriptive name of ‘Sops in Wine’.
But now we’re back at the kitchen door and Ted is barking at a pigeon on the roof
In Ted’s previous sad life he was kept in a small yard where the only other life was the occasional pigeon landing, hence he goes wild with excitement at the sight of one now. Ted is not the sharpest knife in the drawer so we have given up trying to retrain him. Although I must somehow stop one of his many other bad habits, i. e when I plant a new plant , Ted watches me intently, head on one side. Later on that same day, Ted will remember the plant, dig it up and bring it to me in the kitchen.