The North-South Divide

I’ve been passing a wet, windy cold afternoon by wandering around some of the lovely gardens which take part in the End of Month View meme. How verdant and floriferous they appear, I can almost hear the murmur of insects and feel the warmth of the sun!
I have been growling and muttering throughout May as the vegetable garden has remained bereft of plants, apart from the onions, potatoes and some meshed-covered beds which are allegedly sheltering seedling carrots, parsnips and beetroot, but in reality I think I’m nurturing chickweed. The Jerusalem artichokes are looking downright bilious and the rhubarb resembles the ragtag parade of a defeated army. In desperation I planted the first broad bean and pea plants in the fruit cage where they are making a brave effort but definitely sulking. Fortunately life in the polytunnel is a little more cheerful, although we’re reaching crisis point as the number of plants waiting to be hardened-off and planted grows exponentially. There is so much to look forward to and the first of the crop are always the sweetest!

With the start of a new month I’m going to spend the summer in a miasma of gloom  unless I adopt a more positive attitude. So this morning when I set-off to water the seedlings in the polytunnel, I was determined that I would find something to photograph in the cottage garden. As I walked across the field down to the garden I could see the next Atlantic front rapidly approaching from the south, and mused over whether there was an algorithm which could predict how many layers ± hat, gloves and or waterproofs were required based on the strength and the direction of the wind and at what point it was just a good idea to stay indoors.

Granny’s Bonnets Aquilegia vulgaris

The cottage garden is best described as curate’s egg – good in parts. I will gloss over the less good: the bare patches where I lost plants in the winter and where I’ve been unable to replant yet; the brown and crispy bits, where plants have been scorched by the wind and are deciding whether life is worth living; and the “seed beds” where I’m hoping the seedling will be garden plants and not the usual assortment of chickweed, nettles, buttercups, docks et al.
However, there are a few sheltered areas where some of the garden stalwarts are doing their best to make the borders look less like a wasteland. All the aquilegias are derived from a single packet of seed and over-time they have been profligate and I now have a selection of flower shapes and colours. I really ought to cull some of the more insipid colour forms, but en-masse they are like a cloud of pastel butterflies dancing in the wind (sorry my photography is dancing in the wind too, so no need to call the optician).

In contrast the kniphofias, defiantly confront the wind, blazing beacons of colour on illuminating grey days. Named in honour of the German botanist Johann Hieronymus Kniphof they have too often been regarded as vulgar and rather bad taste. This seems a perfectly good reason to champion their cause, particularly as they thrive in my garden in the poor sandy soil and erratic climate. If you prefer something a little more subtle, lady’s mantle, Alchemilla mollis, will also brighten up a dark corner.  The scalloped, limey-green leaves are often speckled with quicksilver droplets of rain, which are shed in a rainbow shower as the wind ruffles the leaves. Later the sculptured leaves with disappear under a frothy haze of tiny, chartreuse flowers. I know it has a bad reputation for self-seeding everywhere, but to me they are small gifts to fill some of the more difficult garden corners. It’s smaller cousins, A. alpina and A. erythropoda, are more discreet, creeping through the boulders and having to be rescued from the more aggressive sedums.

The assorted alliums are tardy and sulky this year, with the exception of reliable A. moly, which is ready to explode in a golden shower of starry blooms, whilst seeking to dominate every plant and the border, even the kniphofias. It may be a pretentious thug but it has great charisma. As for the rest whether they are destined to be the prima donnas or shrinking violets of the herbaceous border, they had better get their act together and toughen up. It is now June and Atlantic depressions, monsoons, storm force winds or balmy summer days, this week they will finish their acclimatisation and be evicted from the polytunnel. It is time to garden!

15 thoughts on “The North-South Divide”

  1. It’ s not exactly balmy down here either Christine. The wind is blowing a hooley.When you work out the algorithm for how many layers to put on let us know. I never know what to put on in the morning. We can run through the seasons in one day.
    Kniphofia are very fashionable right now, there are some lovely varieties. As long as you avoid the awful Kniphofia ‘Atlanta’ then nobody can accuse you of bad taste. I love your Aquilegias, they are the delight of the May garden.

  2. I grow aquilegia too and it is always welcome. Your cottage garden looks good to me. I am hugely aware in my garden of the difference between my conditions and those in my son’s garden in South Devon where, as far as I can see, if a herb falls off the meat on the barbecue it takes root and grows.

  3. I think May has been colder than average everywhere. I know we’re usually a couple of weeks behind, but this year it’s more like early May than June.
    I got stuck with my calculations when I couldn’t decide whether to add a co-efficient to cover the size of the bowl of porridge for breakfast!

  4. I’m afraid the eye of the photographer can be very selective. However, if I can concentrate on the good bits, it adds to my resolve to get the rest going!
    Life would be unbearable, and hungry) without the polytunnel. Definitely worth the investment!

  5. Some of us just can’t resist the challenge, we’ll never create the great verdant gardens of the south, but our small successes are major triumphs. Aquilegias, kniphofias or whatever, if it grows, survives and flowers it is a triumph. Sometimes it is hard being positive, do you think that chickweed will ever be best in show at Chelsea?

  6. A campaign to make chickweed fashionable? What others could we include, I wonder… although at least there were several gardens at Chelsea that did include ‘weeds’/ wildflowers this year so perhaps it is a new trend already 😉 Writing from a middling place in the N/S divide where the bees are indeed buzzing and I have felt some warmth in the garden when I have sallied forth from marking test papers, we had the downside of lack of rain (I know, I know…) for most of May – and after an early start things have slowed down as the wisteria wasn’t at its usual peak by the end of May and there are no buds out yet on Rambling Rector which is often covered in blooms before now. Definitely needs attitude rather than algorithm I guess – and you have some lovelies in the croft garden. The aquilegias are lovely – and sensible heights, not like the monsters here – and I am fond of the dinky alchemillas. I have A alpina here although I think I once had A erythropoda too..

  7. I’ve spent the morning on my hands and news removing chickweed. I think if someone declares it a superfood I could make a small fortine. Anyone for a chickweed smoothie?
    Still chilly and a forecast of strong winds and rain. Next week we’re promised high pressure, but with NW airflow I’m hanging onto my layers!

  8. Summer has been a long time coming here as well with well below average temperatures. Chickweed can be eaten in a salad or used as a pot herb, it also has numerous herbal uses, I understand it indicates good fertility, for us it certainly grows in the most fertile areas of the garden or tunnel.

  9. Bits of chickweed often end up int the salad, but more by accident than design! My garden compost is probably responsible for its spread from the vegetable to the cottage garden, but it is the price I pay for keeping the soil in good condition. Perhaps I should start grazing as I weed.

  10. I’m just catching up, due to having been even further north than you for a hol. (Things in Shetland are just like everything else – about three weeks’ behind, I reckon – though on returning I did find that a lot of plants seem to have thought ‘what the heck, I’ll go for it anyway’ and burgeoned despite the weather.)

    It is a thoroughly depressing June in my veg garden especially so far – potatoes sulking; beans refusing to grow; a plum tree so badly infested with plum aphids that it’s coming out – so I’m going to take a leaf from your book, march into the vegetable garden and find something worthwhile. You’ve challenged me!

  11. Well the glass is always better half-full! I’m sure a walk round the garden will reveal a surprise or two even if it’s not edible!

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