When I think of paradise, it starts with my garden. When I think of my garden, I feel like a tree with its roots down in the soil. In an age of rampant technology and commercial development, we do need to create a personal relationship with the Earth by planting a garden. I followed the Roman maxim: ‘One who plants a garden, plants happiness.’
The pink climbing rose over the front door is Aloha, created in the Forties. It flowers from spring to autumn and is stunning. The white rambler rose growing next to ivy, is also beautiful, and only needs the branches that are overhanging the path shortened by 40cm, no more. They are growing up without extra support and that is fine, the picture included shows them at their blooming best. The white flowers look so well when they overlap with Aloha’s deep pink.
The famous rose Peace, a climber, was created in 1945 in celebration of the end of World War II, and mine is growing and climbing by the back door, next to the conservatory. It does not need any pruning at all, but the flowers could be deadheaded by the open window on the landing. It is a remarkable rose, cream with pink edging, and it flowers profusely from spring until the first frost. If winter is mild, it may flower at Christmas. It is one of the first roses to flower and it is the most popular rose in the world.
Our relationship with nature is eroding rapidly as increasing pollution is causing a rise in levels of asthma, depression, and anxiety. Trees help to stop the build-up of CO2 by removing it from the air and storing it as wood. Tropical rainforests were able to act as ‘lungs the of the world’ but now less and less so because they are losing their ability to absorb greenhouse gas as rising temperatures are killing trees. According to recent research, within 15 years, the Amazon rainforest will start producing more carbon dioxide than it sucks in from the atmosphere. Scientists had predicted that rainforests would eventually stop storing CO2 and start releasing it, as dead trees release greenhouse gas when they decompose, posing a big concern for the future of humanity.
The new findings are worse than the most pessimistic predictions and suggest the process will begin decades earlier than forecast. This is why I write with such passion about planting trees in all gardens, even the smallest. Yet some of my neighbours have cut down mature apple trees, while others have uprooted large bushes. If we all linked our gardens by planting as many trees as possible, we would have healthier towns and clear air. There is an admirable initiative going on in the UK to plant thousands of trees and getting everybody involved.
I draw strength from the peace, tranquillity and the clean, fragrant air that is my garden. It is also a safe haven to many birds and other wildlife.. When we moved here several years ago, there was just a space in the front and at the back. It meant that I could create a garden that would be an oasis of many plants, mostly evergreen, and as many trees as it was possible to fit in. As I could not expand the garden, I had to go up and raise the level of the whole garden by at least a metre, and in some places by two metres. This allowed me to plant trees, and as many plants as I wanted because having legroom everything would flourish. The colour was created by using three main species: roses, hydrangeas and clematis.
climbers and shrubs. The ramblers don’t need pruning but can be shortened by 30 – 40 cm if they overhang the pathway. Climbers don’t need pruning, except for removing any dead wooden branches; the same applies to shrub roses.
Hydrangeas must not be pruned in autumn, that is the dried heads must be left until spring (March/April), as they protect the plant from winter’s cold/frost. In spring, when the danger of frost has gone, the heads have to be removed at the first top, good, green bud. This will ensure plenty of flowers in summer. Hydrangeas are very generous in their insistence on flowering for months until the first frost. They come in many colours; from pink, red, blue to purple and white.
One of the most versatile plants you could wish for the garden is clematis; it climbs, twines, spreads across the whole side of the house or the garden wall. When flowering it provides a spectacular display of colour. Clematis has to be pruned according to strict rules: no pruning at all of the evergreens, it would kill the plant. I have one in the front garden, over the wooden arch, that is flowering scented cream bells in late autumn and winter. Early spring-flowering clematis should be lightly pruned just after flowering, and late summer ones, not until February, again only lightly.
The whole length of the garden on one side has a brick wall, and the rest are six-foot wooden fences. In the front, the sun comes from the east, and by eleven o’clock moves towards the back which is south facing.
At the very back border of the garden, I have planted a row of conifers. Conifers have a bad press, but this is irrational as planted in the right place and for the right reason, they are an asset. Mine are tall but not dangerous as I have raised the soil level and the roots are firmly in; also they ‘link arms’ and support each other. Their lower branches were removed in what is known as Japanese cut, to allow light and the sunset to flood the garden in the late afternoon. The conifers give the garden a feeling of seclusion, and in winter protect the house and the plants from the cold, wind and ice. They are needed to keep the air clean as trees always do, and despite the house being approx 90 yards from a heavily polluted High Street, the air here is clean and fragrant because there are flowering plants in the garden in every season. The ground around the trees has many large ferns growing with a hedgehog house hidden within.
The conifers are also providing a safe, nesting place for the birds and a drey of our resident squirrel.
I am also a defender of much-maligned ivy. The ivy that covers the entire length of the wall in the front is beautifully golden-green all year round and brings colour even on the dullest of days. It flowers in autumn when other pollen is gone and bumblebees and other insects love it. For us, the flowers exude a strong scent that is very attractive. As I created the adjoining flower bed at least a metre tall, there is enough legroom for all the plants to flourish. There are growing here: two rambling roses, two pyracanthas, two Weigela, two Japanese laurels, three hydrangeas and more roses.
At the back of the garden next to the Stumpery, there is a wooden arch that I built when foxes damaged the eucalyptus tree, and sadly it had to be cut down. I have used part of the trunk to make the arch, and I have planted by its side a Harkness spectacular climber, Seagull. It flowers and cascades in all directions over the arch, and is sparring for admiration with the huge heads (football-size) of Annabel, a white hydrangea, growing nearby.
Further along the back, there is an Edwardian style set of two armchairs and a table, and close by grows a climber Edna Harkness, a deep red colour rose. This is the best place to sit with a cool drink and relax in the tranquillity of the garden. Another similar place is a seat by the pond, secluded and surrounded by the many flowers, including roses and heavenly scented violet phloxes.
I have installed a full irrigation system, including for the big tubs, to ensure that plants don’t need to rely on us, fallible humans. The system has to be switched off before the first frost (November), and switched on in the spring (March/April), after the danger of frost has passed.
I have fed the birds for the past three decades. I provide for the robin special seeds (without oats), and fat with dry mealworms ‘candles’. I feed the birds ALL year-round, especially at fledgling season. This is the time and in the winter when they really need all the help they can get. There are also a few water containers that need refilling for their drinking and washing facilities. There is at the back of the house (and in the front), a water tap with a hose attached, used to change the water or to add water to the pond during very hot weather, or to water someone (a plant!) that is obviously in need of a drink. Hydrangeas are, as their name suggests, especially water thirsty. A pond, however, small will be a great attraction to insects and frogs. When I first built one, as the water was poured in, I could see two frogs hurrying from different directions to take over their new acquisition. A plaque above the pond says: ‘The Kingdom Of Beautiful Frogs’.
The flowering plants that ‘grow’ into the apple trees, should not be pruned or shortened as they are designed to ‘beautify’ the trees. I have hydrangeas, roses and even Rhododendron (in a tub) growing that way to spectacular effect.
There are quite a few fruit trees in the garden that I have grown from tiny saplings, and they now produce kilograms of fruits; apples, pears, cherries and plums. Plum trees don’t need pruning at all. Apple trees, a few crossing branches here and there. I have also some blueberries, raspberries, red currants and gooseberries. The garden is and has to remain wholly organic. By feeding the birds I have their binding undertaking that they will help to keep the garden free from aphids. If necessary, the roses can be washed with a little washing-up liquid in a bowl of cold water.
My determination to keep and preserve my garden, as it is, came from watching with horror the new owners of the houses around me cutting down beautiful apple trees, uprooting and throwing away masses of beautiful plants, because they have no time or patience to do any gardening. They don’t obviously understand that if everybody were to plant a few, even dwarf, trees, and many shrubs, our street air would be cleaner and we all would be much healthier. As I have no power to persuade others, at least I am making sure that my oasis of green and colourful plants, and the wildlife in my garden are safe.
Here is a little tip for those who are in a hurry, say with a new empty garden: I bought a few standard roses of good quality and let the tops grow freely. Within a short time the main root-stock took over and now I have huge, several-feet tall rose bushes that when in flower, usually twice a year, are displaying for a few weeks, hundreds of roses to spectacular effect. Of course, if I were planning a line of standard roses to frame a pathway that would be a different matter, but planting them against the expanse of a high wall creates an enchanting, highly-scented vision of a well-established garden that seems as if it were here for decades.
Another well-known method of creating an interesting picture in my garden is to plant roses beside apple trees. Again, this year the roses are all over the branches and the deep pink of the blooms ‘beautifies’ the green of the apple tree. Another apple tree is ‘decorated’ with the large, lilac flowers of a rhododendron that was planted in a large tub (as I have alkaline soil ) by the side the tree. It grew taller and taller until now it is more than halfway through the canopy of the tree, and it looks spectacular.
Early flowering bushes like Skimmia Japonica, Ferris, Weigela, and others, have already provided fine dining to all the insects in the garden, including some butterflies.
There is a great need to plant many plants that are attractive to honey bees, bumblebees, butterflies and other pollinating insects as our town and cities are expanding at an alarming rate. We are now building on our green countryside, the fastest rate in 25 years, and planners are busy filling up the previously protected spaces between the towns, with new towns. No doubt, once built it will be much easier for the developers to expand in every direction. In the meantime our honey bees population is dwindling. Councils everywhere are cutting down huge numbers of trees (110,000 in 3 years) to save money on their maintenance, oblivious to the fact that the absence of trees – the lungs of the Earth – makes pollution, which kills humans and children in particular, rise to an unacceptable level. There are still many gardens that are not wildlife-friendly, and yet it is easy to turn any garden, even tiny, into an oasis for birds, insects, hedgehogs and frogs. Many newspapers and gardening programmes offer detailed advice on what to plant. Although I am just an amateur gardener, I am passionate about nature, and I will include in my blog all the plants that are loved by my army of wildlife garden helpers, in full Technicolor for those not as yet convinced.
One plant that is often misunderstood is ivy. The conviction among many people, even gardeners, is that nothing will thrive close to ivy, and roses, in particular, will perish, their root smothered by the ‘rampant’ ivy. As always, what is needed to solve the problem is ‘know-how’. Apart from the fact that ivy is extremely attractive all year round as an evergreen, and it will brighten every dull and dark winter’s day with its golden-green, lush foliage, it is also invaluable to both birds and insects. It offers safe nesting places for small birds, it flowers (highly scented) late in the year providing food for the larger birds and nectar for the insects. The solution to growing many plants, including roses, next to walls covered with ivy is simple: leg room for all the plants. My brick wall is covered with a thick layer of ivy, but in front of it I built a metre-high bed, in length 10 metres. The bed has all the plants that I wanted to include: Japanese laurel (two), Weigela (two), three very large climbing roses, three hydrangeas, two pyracantha and a collection of trailing plants that are cascading down the edge of the bed. I have included the pictures of white roses and Weigela as hydrangeas are still in bud. The scent of roses and pyracantha is intoxicating not only to scores of honey bees and bumblebees but also to me and my visitors. All I can say is long live the wonderful, beautiful ivy.
Another tip well-known to seasoned gardeners is to plant in overlapping groups of plants. Starting in the winter months with hellebore and evergreen, scented, winter flowering clematis, then following with early spring-flowering plants like Skimmia Japonica Ferris, then tulips and daffodils, rhododendrons, and roses galore in the early summer. From June onwards, hydrangeas and later roses and buddleia will provide colour and food for insects. Depending on the size of the garden, if possible, it is good to have a few fruit trees, when in bloom always appreciated by bees. These can be a dwarf variety, which means they won’t grow over two metres. Low-level plants should include flowering herbs like rosemary, sage, fennel and chives, and daisies, valerian and tall, perennial lobelia. Cow parsley adds frothiness to the display. I should add that when in flower, pyracantha branches look like scented candyfloss. Sowing masses of nasturtium, either trailing from the high edge of the beds, or anywhere where there is a bit of soil, will result in a fantastic hot-colour display for several months (Monet garden). I have to also mention the dreaded by many, namely – wasps. I have never been stung by them, but in late summer I feed them sugar syrup in a saucer, and they recognise me as friend. They repay me by eating aphids which is greatly appreciated, as my garden is wholly organic.
I will be updating the news from my wildlife garden during the upcoming months, also with many pictures of flowers and fruit but in the meantime, remember: