Monday, August 29, 2011

Leaving Oxford in 100 blog posts: 2. Foliage

We had the Finnfans from Swansea staying last weekend, for the last time, in all likelihood. 'I want to have a proper look at your garden,' said K one morning, after we'd eaten kedgeree and listened to Hounds of Love.

I went out with her. I was ostensibly checking on the laundry but I realised after a minute or two that I hadn't thought much about leaving it behind, this place that we made ourselves out of clay and stone and compost and circles, with help from books, from our friends, and of course from the plants themselves. I do love it. I will miss it.

I went back in for the camera.

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The Cornus sanguinea 'Midwinter Fire. I went to Waterperry with my friend R especially to get these. They are spindlier and more delicate looking than most dogwoods, and it always feels somehow wrong to cut them back hard in the spring. But I generally do, and come winter it lives up to its name. Glorious little things they are. Brighten up the darkest of days.
The golden marjoram. Came in a pot as a present from R&T, who are the kind of people who bring you pots of things when they come for lunch. I planted it out without much hope for it, as the soil is heavy and there's quite a bit of shade. But it survived and then thrived, and every summer we make garden pesto with fistfuls of it. Also a star player in my fish soup.
The water lily. I can take no credit for this. M wanted a pond v badly, and when we were building the patio he went out to the garden centre and came back with a large round bowl, which we sank into the clay and filled up (including a bucket of pondwater from over the road). The water lily took several years to get going, but suddenly there it was, floppy leaves for the frogs to hide under and jewel-like pink flowers emerging in late summer.

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The pond grass. No idea what this is called. We bought a basket with three or four different pond plants in it, and this is the only one that made it. It loves our pond, and is gratifyingly tall. Makes the pond look more mysterious, and us look like we know what we're doing.
The Boston ivy. This grows up the shed, and every year till this one I have diligently pulled its tendrils away from the roof to stop it taking over completely. This year I didn't have the heart. The shed is (faded) green, and I bought the Boston ivy for its autumn redness. It needs a bigger shed, ideally, but the basic idea works.
The day lily. I do like a day lily. I fell for them one hot summer when I semi-accidentally went to visit the national collection of them, which is somewhere in Oxfordshire. They're kind of scruffy and very much here today gone tomorrow, but they can put up with anything and come in interesting colours. I used to have some crocosmia next to them, but I accidentally dug them up. They should really be in the sun, and mine aren't, but they do still produce sprigs of orange and purple flowers. I bought them with the garden vouchers M's mum gave me the Christmas she died, and when the flowers come out I always think of her.

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The Sorbus 'Joseph Rock'. The summer we moved in, I cleared the back corner of the garden. It was full of buddleia, brambles and what I now know was a rambling rose, which with hindsight I should possibly have cut back and left, as it provided excellent screening of the difficult 'behind the shed' area, but which was totally out of control and extremely thorny. There was definitely a gap to be filled, and when my mum came to stay she suggested a small tree. So we went to Notcutts in the 2cv, chose this orange-berried rowan, rolled the roof back and drove home with it waving above the back seat. I planted, staked and tended it carefully, and it's an autumn beauty, but it's a bit overshadowed by the sycamore behind it, which grows like topsy. I think probably the sycamore should go, as it's basically a giant weed, but have never been able to bring myself to cut down an actual functioning tree.
The Nandina domestica, aka heavenly bamboo. This was my leaving present from my colleagues in the NGO X internet team when I moved over to work on knowledge management for the UK poverty programme in 2003. I had admired it when on a garden centre trip with Plumbing S, and she engineered its purchase. I love it because it's just so interesting -- you never know what it's going to do next. It's been hit quite hard by the last couple of winters so isn't quite itself at the moment, but hopefully will recover to grow random flowers and berries another day.
The Cotoneaster. This little fellow was about a foot tall when I discovered him lurking in the ivy (qv). Initially unpromising, but he turned out to be extraordinarily good value -- a strange, frondy habit, very forgiving of hard pruning, bright red berries, strong evergreen foliage. Mrs Ahmed next door admired him one day and we got chatting. I gave her the label that was still wrapped round his trunk so she could get one of her own (so I forget which kind he is). It was the longest conversation we ever had.

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The smoke bush. I first saw one of these in the garden at a party I didn't want to go to. It was indeed a rubbish party but worth it for the bush, which was very large and in full frothy flower at the time. I was fascinated by it. And went out to get one for no better reason than that, but actually it's also been excellent value -- provider of pea sticks in spring, great colour contrast and smokiness in summer and an important part of the multicoloured autumn dying of the light display.
The angelica and the lysimachia firecracker. The lysimachia was a donation of surplus from plumbing S, probably around the same time as the sumac tree (qv). It's taken slightly too firm a hold on the bed it's in, but I let it get away with it because I absolutely love the colour of it. Who knew there was a colour in between purple and green? And I don't normally like yellow flowers but somehow these work. And it fits in well with the angelica, which is normally established before the lysimachia gets going for the year. I did originally plant the angelica about five years ago, a tiny 9cm pot from Waterperry which grew into a seven foot monster that first year, before falling over in spectacular fashion. I planted a rheum palmatum the same year -- it didn't make it through the winter, but that summer it looked like some kind of prehistoric jungle out there. Anyway, the angelica has always been welcome. Its leaves are incredible. Such notchiness!
The sumac tree. Oh the sumac tree. About seven years ago plumbing S brought round a bare root sucker that one of her neighbours had given her because she knew I loved sumac trees, and now it is big enough for children to climb. It's a voracious grower, and has already suckered its way all the way over to next door but one, but it provides shade in the summer, a beautiful fractal skeleton in the winter, and its glorious autumn foliage is the single best thing about November.

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The camellia. Was originally here and is a total joy in the springtime. Its flowers are bright pink and its leaves are glossiest green. They say you aren't supposed to plant camellias facing east, because the flowers get frost-scorched, and that does happen a bit, but there are hundreds of them so it doesn't detract from its glory. I barely prune it and never feed it, yet it seems to be the happiest bush in the land. Truly a blessing. Every home should have one.

The first of the dogwoods and the sambucus nigra. Bright red dogwoods are a bit municipal, but I can't get enough of them. There was originally a large boring bush right outside the back door. I never found out what it was, and after a few years we dug it up, liberating the camellia (qv), which it had been squashing. While it was growing into the gap, I planted a dogwood, and a few years later, a black elderflower. The latter wasn't such a good choice, as it's too vigorous for the space, but they look beautiful together, and frame the view from the conservatory all year round. There's also an old, old honeysuckle. I killed one of these by accident but the other survived. The flowers are glorious, obviously, but I like the berries too.

The ivy. Has possibly been here forever. When we moved in, the first thing we did was strim the thigh-high lawn (which back then covered most of the garden), and the second was pull out yards and yards of ivy. There were dense layers of it tangled through everything, but I gradually revealed a brick path and brick-edged flower beds, which had once been well cared for. It took days, the ivy-thinning, but I didn't get rid of it all. It still clothes some otherwise nasty breezeblock walls, and winds its way round washing line poles and terracotta pots.

There will be another garden. I know this. But this was my first one.


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Anonymous jonathan said...

So that's how you make a pond! (I'm nursing a growing desire to install one slap bang in the middle of the allotment, partially in order to attract slug-gobbling frogs, but mostly because I just like the idea of Having A Pond).

Congratulations on the nearly-house-sale by the way and I hope the uncertainty is out of the way soon and at least before the hundredth of the hundred Oxford posts (now that's the sort of bold ambition I admire, like the recent time I promised to post every day for a month, ahem).

10:51 pm  
Blogger Jo said...

Yes, my experience is that men do like to Have A Pond. And fine things they are too. The secret is the bucket of pond water. And don't get fish, because if you do you won't have newts. And newts are the business.

I don't know if I'll make it to 100, but I've got all the titles already!

12:22 pm  
Blogger Miles said...

Exemplary posting, Joella. I'm sure you won't manage 98 more as detailed as this, but this is shaping up to be a wonderful record of one of the happiest houses I've ever lived in.

12:41 pm  

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