The visitation

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Pruned-back plants make for a bare look in my garden in spring

There is nothing that can focus the mind of a gardener quite like the knowledge that the members of the local garden club are about to descend upon one's property as part of their annual 'spring ramble'. I have attended several of the club's spring rambles over the years and even blogged about them, but have never put my garden up as one of the ones to be visited, because, quite simply, my garden and I don't 'do' spring. I know it sounds absurd, but a number of years ago, I decided to concentrate my garden display to be in the summer and autumn months, hence my interest in semitropical-style plants. I love spring blooms as much as the next person, but I just don't have many spring-flowering plants in my own plot. In fact, my garden doesn't make much sense at all in spring, being full of large gaps where summer- or autumn-flowering plants have been cut back severely in order for them to regrow for their later blooming period. There are also big spaces where large-growing self-seeding annuals such as Cleome hassleriana and Amaranthus caudatus (currently just tiny seedlings that look like weeds) will soar to a metre or more in height and bulk out the borders.

Lucy at the plant stall distracting the visitors

When asked a couple of months ago to 'fill in' as the final port of call for the ramblers this year, I got the impression that the choice of my place was due mainly to my being in possession of a sheltered area in case of rain, and owning the requisite number of tea-cups to host the afternoon tea that completes the excursion. However, I did feel it might be possible that some people would wander round my garden, so I felt motivated to tidy up the garden to a presentable state. I had neglected it a lot over winter so the task was fairly daunting. Overall, we actually ended up appreciating having this incentive to spruce the place up a bit and I came up with a list of guidelines for anyone else who might one day face a similar challenge:

  • Start as far in advance as you can, as a proper spruce-up of a garden can take far longer than you might ever imagine. If you know many months in advance, you can pot up some spring annuals in containers, and allow them to come to maturity, as these really do help lift a garden - especially an empty-ish one like mine. Mulch as you weed, otherwise you will find - as I did - that the areas you first weeded will be weedy again by the time you finish the final sections!
  • Look upon the exercise as a good excuse to visit nurseries to find a few plants to plunge into some of the gaps. Over the past few years, I have barely been to any nurseries, so it was quite a joy to have a good reason to go and I thoroughly enjoyed myself, even signing up to loyalty programs at various nurseries. It was good to see new plants that are available - ones I had never even heard of.
  • Knowing people are coming to visit really makes you look at your garden with a critical eye. It is so easy to gloss over bad aspects of one's garden normally, and the spectre of the garden ramble made me make changes I should have done ages ago - pulling out very old, woody plants, replanting tired areas and moving plants around. A water fountain that hadn't worked for ages was miraculously fixed, paving was weeded for the first time for ages, and paths were washed!
  • If desperate, provide a distraction. I decided to have a plant stall with some plants propagated from my garden to raise funds for the club coffers, as I hoped this might sidetrack the visitors for long enough that they would forget about looking around the garden. Some kind friends contributed plants to the stall too. We also provided lots of chairs, to encourage them to sit down (after all, they had already visited three other gardens already, on a warm day!) and - hopefully - not want to get up again to actually walk round. I even briefly toyed with the idea of plying them with champagne in order to make them sufficiently mellow so that they wouldn't care about my garden's flaws, but I didn't actually stoop to doing this.
  • Freshly mown lawns and swept paths can make any garden look instantly better.
  • Point out gorgeous spring features in adjoining gardens (my neighbour fortunately had a white Wisteria in full bloom) - somehow these borrowed views can seem part of your garden.
  • I realised that perhaps I have taken my anti-spring attitude a bit too far - and I have vowed to include a few more spring-flowering plants into my garden so that I have something to look at during September in future years.
  • Remember that gardeners are actually really nice people, and just enjoy looking at something different and being outside in the sunshine on a perfect spring day. No one is going to judge you, and you will probably get lots of positive feedback about your garden.
  • After all your efforts, have a glass of the champagne and revel in the fact that your garden is actually neat and tidy (possibly for the first time in a long while if it is anything like mine) and that you are ready for all that summer entertaining you have been telling yourself you should be doing this year!
  • Try to persuade the garden club committee that March would be a really good time to have the next ramble - that is what I have already done!