Something new for your garden

Geneva Floral Clock

A Modern Take On Time In The Garden

Running my palm across the grainy, hard stone that formed the base of a sundial, I watched as a sudden burst of late afternoon sunshine brought the dial to life. The band of shadow fell, correctly, just before the IV on the dial. Pressing my other hand on the smooth metal arm that cast the shadow I rested, enjoying the warmth of the sun on my face. It’s been a glorious Autumn. I wriggled my hand so that a huge arthritic image of my knuckles spread across the semi circle of numbers, and thought about time in the garden. There’s never enough of it, to get everything done. It passes so quickly (unless you’re doing something truly awful, such as clearing stinging nettles in the rain). Around the golden sandstone base was some ivy and I started picking at this, pulling pieces off. Now this was wrong, because the ivy was fine there, on the sundial, appropriate somehow if you see what I mean. But ivy makes me nervous, it creeps up on you: turn your back and it’s taken over the garden, in no time at all. It wouldn’t surprise me, as I get older and slower, to find myself with a tendril of ivy climbing up my leg, eventually covering me in leaves and stems, so that I become a sort of living garden ornament. If you see a clump of ivy in your garden waving frantically, come and cut me out.

In an hours time, when good neighbours were inside and had shut their windows, I would light a bonfire, burning the waste from another Summer, marking the passing of another year. Having a bonfire is surely one of the most delightful tasks known to man (perhaps to women as well, but they never seem to have quite the same relish of the smoke and the symbolism).
Time is different in the garden; magnificently large and sure, more real then elsewhere in our rushed lives in artificially heated, artificially lighted homes and offices. The rhythm of the seasons, with flowers growing, budding and then bursting into bloom; the rhythm of each day, with the sun travelling across the sky, the temperature changing, threatening clouds gathering and dispersing, seem eternal and comforting. The line of shadow marking the hour on the sundial shuddered for a moment, almost disappeared and then sprang up firm and true in a burst of sunlight. Somehow a sundial brings such thoughts into focus. As readers will know I’m not keen on a lot of clutter in gardens, give me the plants and leave the concrete, gaily painted decking, heaps of pebbles and abstract sculptures for the television pundits. But, if you want an ornament I’d recommend a sundial, in its stillness and movement it speaks to us. However do make sure it is correctly aligned, nothing looks sillier than a sundial in Bromley that gives the time in Timbuktu or Honolulu.

Dusk had well and truly fallen as I put the last of the sweet pea stems and desiccated bean stalks on the bonfire poking it into shape with the fork, so that it would burn down slowly. I took a final satisfying breath of rich, smoky air;- was it really only eight months ago that I had watched the seeds of these plants push there first curled leaves out of the soil, feeling the awed excitement that never fails as we see life beginning? I kicked some burning leaves back into the pile sadly, watching the sparks dance round the toe of my Wellington. Yet already the vast dial of the year is turning towards a fresh start; tomorrow morning a dear client wants several hundred bulbs planted properly, ready for next Spring and there’s some exotic perennials ready to put in the ground in another garden, so I’d better read-up on them tonight, so that I know what I’m doing. These fancy plants can be as fussy as a dowager Duchess with haemorrhoids.

There was another task awaiting me after dinner, because I’ve received another email from my earnest Austrian gardening correspondent ( he of the ‘typical English garden’) and it was troubling me.
He writes;-
“A floral clock is a strange idea, because it represents a clashing interaction between a pleasure garden designed to imitate and augment nature, and a decorative feature which is frankly mechanical. Such clocks are (as far as I know) now absent from the important London parks. A famous one is still maintained in Edinburgh in the Princes Street Gardens, but it is more than 100 years old, and it is difficult to imagine any serious garden designer coming up with the idea of a floral clock today, had it not already been invented.”

I’m sure some of my readers remember when the good old floral clock, with it’s dial six feet, or more, across decorated with closely-packed bedding plants, was almost a necessary feature of any self-respecting public park. The whole face of the clock, and even the numbers on the dial, were made up of patches of brilliant clashing colours; orange Marigolds, scarlet Salvias and Geraniums, yellow Calceolarias. Often the towns crest, and even a Latin motto were picked out beneath the dial in pink or white against a background of silver leaf. Now I’m not going to have any Austrian student of Gertrude Jekyll criticising this good old British tradition, because his email carried me back to my earliest gardening memory. When I first saw a floral clock in Beckenham Place Park, at the age of four, I was entranced. The sheer cleverness, the buccaneering wit, of a clock made of flowers, delighted me more than anything, except a grubby gray monkey made of wool which I carried everywhere.

The clock was in full bloom and surrounded by old fashioned carpet bedding, with the regimented strips of bright colour appearing like great fields of flowers from my view point, down near the grass. Oscar Wilde and William Wordsworth have written of their overwhelming experiences of art and nature, but their emotions on reading French poetry or watching the moonlight shimmer on lake Windermere, were as nothing compared to mine on viewing the floral clock. A thing of beauty and a joy for ever, I watched its hand jerk forward one enormous minute in rapture. There were flowers at home, it is true, but just weedy flowers here and there, not this wholesale commitment to primary colours, and not with a real, working clock. Human ingenuity could not reach higher, so far as I was concerned.
I insisted on returning to see this marvel again, preferring it even to feeding the ducks. Indeed, so many times did I want to see it that I think my mother grew rather tiered of the floral clock; she perhaps had something in common with my Austrian correspondent in not appreciating the sublime artistry of the thing, preferring the rose garden, or the silly little plants on the rockery.

But our second visit was even better than the first. For a minute I was disappointed, because my view of the clock’s face was partially obscured; a board propped up at either end on wooden blocks stretched across it and, in the middle of this the seat of a pair of trousers blocked my view. However I gave a shout of excitement when it dawned on me that I was watching the flower-clock man at work, if not from his most photogenic side. At that time I did not differentiate one aspect of work from another: so far as I was concerned he had invented it, designed it, constructed it and planted it. Fascinated I worked my way round the circle until I could see what he was doing and, watching his busy fingers picking off the faded flowers and pulling out every invasive weed, understanding dawned for me. Gardening was work. If, like me, you plant a few dozen annuals to brighten the garden and then you weed and feed, water and dead-head, keeping them going all Summer, you will understand how much work there must be in maintaining many thousands of plants in full bloom all the Summer long. The lovers of tangled romantic greenery or of neatly shaped shrubs may sneer at the carpet bedder’s geometric patches of eye-wateringly bright colour, but must admit his devotion. I mean, all those hours kneeling on a wooden board, bent double like a Muslim at prayer, must be good for the soul or something. To me he was a hero: my sight was sharp then, and I can still see the thick fingers, stained by earth, with their large dirty nails, moving rapidly through the yellow flowers. Some boys dream of driving a train, or of being Prime Minister; for many weeks I dreamt of being a flower-clock man. Perhaps I still do.
Now, nearly fifty years later, travelling around West Wickham from one gardening job to another, my eyes are drawn to the front gardens. If there’s a battered old Rover on the road in front of you going slowly, don’t honk too loud, it makes me jump. These little patches of green in front of each house are fascinating, like miniature paintings where the tiniest details count. Don’t think I’m nosy, but they offer a sort of public introduction to the house and give a tantalising suggestion of what the people who live there are like. Some people want to cram it all in, with the lawn, trees, shrubs and flowers fighting for space and light, like a country house garden shrunk in the wash. Shy souls hide behind a good thick hedge, sacrificing their view and light for privacy. To others the only answer seems to be to put it to grass; simple, four-square and practical. The soft hearted, who cannot bring themselves to wield the pruning saw, allow one or two plants to take over;- Magnolia’s are beautiful in flower, but just go on growing: eventually even the grass gives up beneath them. Years ago a neat rose bed was a popular way of introducing yourself to the postman and the world;- bright and reliable Now it’s more popular to pave the garden over, turning it into a car park; what this says about you stop and think.
Admiring one little bed of annuals, like an elegant chocolate box, nestling under the front wall of a garden in Coney Hall, brought the flower-clock man floating into mind. For a moment I was back on the grass watching him at work, admiring the brilliant colours around the clock in the dazzling sunshine of that summer long ago. The old ambition stirred in me, if you get my drift, and, in a flash of inspiration it came to me, that here was the place to realise it. A suburban front garden is the perfect setting for my long delayed floral clock. Think about it if you would: the size is right, since it needs only a few square yards, and the site is right, being full in the public eye, yet not under the public foot.
Gardening fashions and fads come and go; crazy paving gave way to block work; Privet hedges to Red Robin; rose beds to sharp-leaved succulents in pots; heather beds, rockeries, ‘dwarf’ conifers, wild flowers, railway sleepers even old car tyres, have had their day, so why not the floral clock? Surely its hour has come. My fingers are itching to get to work.

Do you want to be in the forefront of garden design? Ahead even of Monty Don or Alan Titchmarsh? (Neither of whom, you will note, have yet mentioned the floral clock – but they will.) How many times have customers demanded something to give their garden the ’Wow’ factor, and, if my flower-clock doesn’t quite do that it will surely have the ‘WHAT!’ factor in spades.

Won’t you be a visionary, a true patron of the arts? Think how the quirky and unusual attracts the eye of the passer-by and brightens their day. There used to be a flag pole in one front garden in Coney Hall and the owner had a wonderful selection of flags; Union Jack, Welsh dragon, Chelsea football club, even a Russian hammer and sycle, and I never forgot to look to see what he was flying. Another garden had an old boat in it planted all over with flowers – these things caught the eye. Your garden can too. Say the word and I’ll find out about the mechanism, and get a price for a few thousand Marigolds and so on. Sundials be damned we don‘t live in the middle ages. Let’s get started, because I’ve been waiting fifty years for this.

A typical English garden, seen from abroad.

I received an email from someone in Austria recently, caught up in the growing craze for Romantic English Gardens over there. To those of us battling with weeds and parched soil, whose Hostas were eaten by slugs and whose roses are besieged by greenfly, it may seem a bit idealistic. But it inspired me and I hope it will inspire others, as we soldier on with hoe and watering can.


England is ‘The Garden Country’, favoured by climate, and the number-one destination for garden-loving tourists from everywhere. One such garden journey is the basis for a TV programme here in Austria, called “England’s Loveliest Gardens”, presented by Karl Ploberger.

In the most recent programme Herr Ploberger visited several private gardens. At Manor Farm, Kingston, Lady Veronica Farquhar, the owner, spoke about the importance of having something to look at all year, which is what great structure and formal elements in the garden can offer, because it is still beautiful in winter when flowers do not bloom.

The Priory, Beech Hill is an old house with a mature garden. Water plays a large part, and a small river flows through it. An arboretum includes fascinating rare trees. Again the program drew attention to a balance of elements and moods in which this garden’s appeal lies. The kitchen garden is important, and the cultivation of vegetables contributes a structured look. Finally, the programme visited Eccleston Square, as a fine example of a London Square garden.

Inevitably, though, we foreign visitors will ask, ‘What does a typical English garden look like?’

Perhaps an artificial question, but it is natural for visitors to wonder what makes a garden typically English. Karl Polberger offered one answer: for the archetype of an English garden, visit The Manor House, Upton Grey. This garden was redesigned by Gertrude Jekyll, whose memory the present owners honour (her name is prominent on the Garden’s website, and they seek to maintain the garden as she envisaged it. The principles seen here; combining structure and flower displays, wild and cultivated, decorative and vegetable elements, can bring to life the smallest suburban garden. Even if Jekyll’s tennis lawn has to be replaced by ping-pong, and the traditional breed of chickens are forgone, so as not to awake the neighbours with a cock crowing!

The near-perfect gardening climate of Southern England [!-editor] brings the same benefits and possibilities for year-round appeal to gardens of all sizes. As I saw for myself, when visiting West Wickham, a suburban garden owner can take inspiration from the world-famous tradition which Gertrude Jekyll represents.

Warmest greetings to you all from Austria!

Keep The Garden Green All Summer !

A month like this July, with soaring temperatures, burning sunshine and no rain, stirs up a mix of emotions in me.
On the one hand I’m a sun-worshiper, I just adore the brilliant sun light on the harlequin colours of summer flowers, contrasting with mysterious shadows under broad, green leaves of shrubs and trees. Some people watch television; I prefer the bees, grass-hoppers and insects amongst the flowers and could watch them all day; if there were a job for someone to stare out of the window, or lie in the sun watching butterflies dance round a hollyhock, I’d be the ideal candidate. Even now I’ve just popped-out to admire the water lilies, which I tided-up last evening, and check how the tadpoles are getting along.
But, on the other hand, there’s the problem of watering the garden – I was going to say watering it adequately – but even keeping it alive can become a battle. I confess I gave up on the lawn a couple of weeks ago and it is now a pleasant golden brown, with a green border. Most days I spend a good hour dragging the hose about, and have carried so many cans of water to the greenhouse and vegetable patch, that my hands swing below my knees. Sometimes, at the end of this performance, I stand sweaty but triumphant, and glare back at my enemy the sun, like Captain Biggles regarding the despicable Herr von Stalheim. ( I suspect this rather dates me. If you don’t understand try asking any of your male neighbours over fifty.)
A couple of gardens I worked in last week, got me thinking about the ways you can help your garden cope with this hot weather. One of the gardens was on clay, quite a common soil in the north of West Wickham, above the traffic lights at the bottom of the High Street. Here my first task was to dig-out a dead shrub. This was the remains of a Red Robin (Photinia fraseri); why it died wasn’t clear, but it stood isolated in the burning sun and the clay was bone dry two feet below the surface. It was well established, so I don’t think it can have been frost damage. Dark allusions were made to a council buggy, spraying weed-killer that passed close by it, but my guess is that it didn’t get enough water to survive.
After an hour of digging and tugging the stump gave a groan, and I help it aloft, like Perseus waving the snaky head of Medusa. My next task was to mow the lawn at the back of the house; here, in contrast, the shrubs and herbaceous plants were perky and green, despite the long drought. Going up and down on my pleasant, rhythmic task, I came to the conclusion that this was partly because of good plant selection, but mainly because the garden had a good mix of sun and shade, being partly surrounded by trees, hedges and mature shrubs. Some gardening experts worn that trees and large shrubs drain water from the soil, but my experience is that the flowering season of smaller plants is greatly extended when they have some shade and that the surface watering we do with the hose is far more effective when the sun doesn’t have the chance to dry the soil out immediately. Come autumn, don’t be too ruthless with the pruning saw: leave some shade for the flowerbeds and borders next summer. In my case this also spares the neighbours the sight of me gardening in my swimming trunks.
The other garden was at the opposite end of West Wickham, in Coney Hall. Here the soil is Blackheath Gravel, broadly round little pebbles with a bit of chalky dust thrown-in. Like many suburban gardens there was also some builders waste;- quarter bricks, bits of dried mortar, and so on;- when will someone educate builders that a garden is not a rubbish dump?
This garden was a tragedy. It had recently been created from scratch by a landscape gardener; the design was excellent, with curving paths of white gravel contrasting with vertical black blocks of polished granite and outer beds of carefully graduated shrubs around rectangular inner beds, edged with box. A clever touch was the accents given by a few large specimen plants each standing isolated, within the inner, lower, part of the garden. It might not be quite to my own taste which, as you may have noticed, tends toward lush, chaotic profusion and broad lawns but, if you like that kind of thing, it was very good. The slight drawback was that half the plants had died.
As the owner and I discussed this, standing under an elegant, but dead, shrub, I cast my eyes around the ruins. One problem was that many of the plants were acid loving evergreens and, with the chalky alkaline soil in Coney Hall, this meant the gardener was always fighting with nature, instead of working with it. But what struck me most was the complete absence of ground-cover. Each shrub or plant was thoughtfully placed in splendid isolation, surrounded by bare earth. Now a large, well established plant creates its own ground cover to an extent, but smaller plants and newly planted shrubs need all the help they can get in a hot summer, and its amassing how greatly the soils water-retention is improved when it is covered with foliage. This can be achieved by planting herbaceous perennials close together, filling in gaps with easy-to-grow annuals, such as Cosmos or Sweet Alyssum or the judicious use of ground cover, such as Bugle or Periwinkle. However this particular gardener was having no truck with such suggestions; her garden would be planted only according to the design. I admired her determination.
So. two tips for keeping the garden green and the flowers blooming all summer; a fair sprinkling of shade everywhere and close planting, that doesn’t leave the soil exposed directly to the sun. Oh yes, and ignore the old saw that a little watering is worse than non; why this should be passed on from generation to generation of gardeners, I don’t know, but it’s completely untrue: balderdash. With a little water my Begonias and Geraniums are blooming and the late summer perennials at the back of the border budding-up nicely, without it they’d be drooping and flowerless.

There’s a few things that professional gardeners do that really make me see red, but my absolute bête noire is what some of them call ‘landscape gardening’.

From time to time I am called in by someone who finds their garden nothing but a nuisance. Generally they have brought a house in leafy, green West Wickham and so acquired a garden by accident. They take me out of the backdoor and we stare sadly at the overgrown shrubs and weed infested lawn. The other day I stood with a young man looking at his unkempt garden, across a bed of roses struggling to force their buds up, through a tangle of brambles and weeds. Although it was almost dusk he still had his suit and tie on, because he worked such long hours in the city.
“How much to cut it all down?” he asked, waving his arm across the garden, like a scythe.
I tried to explain that, left alone, the Buddleia would be a mass of flowers by the end of the month. Walking to the Rose bed across the Moss and Dandelions, I gently lifted a bunch of half opened buds; the petals were a beautiful violet colour, deep yet soft. I remarked on what good quality the roses were, particularly considering they were half smothered by weeds. Under the tangle was an old trowel stuck in the ground, the handle rotten. I tried to suggest that, once I had got some of the heavier work out the way, he, or his equally overworked wife, might find gardening relaxing, even enjoyable.
It was no go.
“Cut it all down,” he repeated, turning back indoors, sniffing the air and looking anxiously towards the kitchen.
With a heavy heart I gave a price. The main reason was that I feared if I did not he would call in a landscape gardener, of the kind that specialises in problems like his; their solution is invariably to reduce the size of the garden with stone patios, concrete paths and acres of decking. Sometimes they add an indestructible plant in a large pot, as a sort of memorial to the garden that’s disappeared under the concrete.
But would anyone forgo the comfort of the scruffiest lawn, on a hot day and choose instead to be baked on a strip of concrete? The most neglected shrubs have movement and life, contrasting shades of green, patches of dappled light and shadow, that divert and relax us. Does anyone went to exile birds, bees and other insects to enjoy an uninterrupted view of a bright blue strip of decking and the back of their neighbour’s garage?
No garden is ever perfect; the Weigela that flowered so beautifully last year, turns into a tangled flowerless mess for no earthly reason and, the minute your back is turned, a family of Plantains colonise a corner of the lawn. One of my neighbours, whose neat, blossom packed garden makes us all green with envy, sees nothing in it herself, but failure and tasks she should have been done yesterday. Perhaps there’s a valuable lesson in accepting that we can’t reach perfection. Take a rest. Enjoy what you have. Perhaps get out a garden chair and enjoy the scents and sights, as the shadows lengthen over your garden, with a nice cup of tea, or a gin and tonic; there’s always tomorrow.
Above all don’t fall into the hands of the concrete and decking merchants. I can maintain your garden, so that you can still experience the wonderful benefits of nature and fresh air, and each visit will cost you about what they charge for a couple of York stone slabs.
On my last visit to the young man’s overgrown garden I described, I had a surprise. On a previous visit, rather than cut the roses down, I had carefully cleared away the weeds and brambles and produced the fragrant blooms from nowhere, like a conjuring trick. Now standing beside them were several trays of Begonias and Fuchsias. I think someone may be taking-up gardening.

Could The Experts Be Wrong?

This Border Can’t Wait Another Year

We’ve probably all tried to read a few gardening books in our time, and found out we were doing almost everything wrong; pruning the spring-flowering Spiraea in the autumn instead of the spring, giving the flower border a quick watering to keep it going in the heat of the Summer (supposedly doing more harm than good), tugging up bind weed in frustration without excavating the deep root: the list just goes on and on. Abashed we often give up and the task never gets done at all. We end up skulking around our garden guiltily, imagining Alan Titmarsh or Percy Thrower shaking a gigantic reproving finger over our every deed. The first thing to say is: Just Get On With It!
Most of us only have so much time and money to give to our garden, and sometimes we cannot bear to look at something unsightly any longer. Remember these experts are full time gardeners, and furthermore have a team of workers responsive to their every whim (Dream-on gentle reader!). There’s an historical reason for their preaching as well, and the associated endless lists of feeding and weeding, lifting and dunging etc. etc., because the expert’s tradition has grown out of Country House Gardening a century or so ago, when labour was cheap and a team of a dozen or more gardeners the norm.
If something goes wrong, and you’re left looking at the dead stump of a shrub or brown streaks across the lawn, instead of the healthy new grass you hoped the feed would produce or, worse, look at your heap of prunings and notice dainty flower buds on every cut stem, then don’t be discouraged: because you’ve learnt something. You’re more knowledgeable and will be better prepared for the task next time; it’s really the only way we learn anything, and ten to one you’ll smile gently in the future, when you see a novice making the same mistake.
My particular bête-noire amongst the dictats Monsieur Titmarsh et. al. is the prohibition on working when the ground is wet; don’t mow the lawn, don’t dig and separate the plants in the border, don’t even tread on it. Of course soil-compaction is a problem, responsible I am sure for the dire state of many lawns, but, given the way the grass continues to grow during the strange, long wet autumns we get these days, there has to be a compromise, and if gardening teaches us anything, it is the need to make compromises. Moreover the wait for the perfect day to service the flower border; with the ground dry and no danger of a frost, is a long one, and the chances are when it comes you’ll be at work, or booked to visit your mother in law.
For gardener’s in West Wickham and Coney Hall this is especially problematic; I’m sure you’re only to aware how the damp hangs around here and find there are areas of your garden which are either sopping wet or frozen solid, from October to May.
If you use my gardening service you gain a bit of flexibility, but the day still comes, as winter deepens, when I have to say; ‘It’s now, or never’, with regard to the overgrown boarder, or the client looks at the long grass, and says; ‘I don’t care, it’s so long the cats getting lost; just cut it’.
So don’t let them get you down; with the shorter days, by the time you’ve finished learning how it should be done there’s no time left to do it and, all too often Gardener’s World, or its radio equivalent, Gardener’s Question Time will leave you with an inferiority complex, which Sigmund would tell you in no uncertain terms, inhibits action. If you do need a little help or advice, give me a call at westwickhamgardener, and in no time the problem will be gone and the inferiority thingy with it: you’ll look Titmarsh in the eye and say ‘Mind your own business and we’ll get on with the gardening.’

Let’s Get The Rake Out!

Autumn In The Garden

You Didn’t Expect To See Me At This Time Of Year

When I wrote a blog or two ago, that we would look back on this as a golden summer, with an adequate supply of water from God’s watering can, it was before the dry days of September. Was there anyone else who finally gave in and rolled the hose out, to keep the flowers going a little longer, at a time of year when we are normally thinking of putting the hose away for the winter? But now it is all change again: the rain comes down, now from the right, now from the left, then straight down for a change, but still it keeps coming. Was it really only a week ago I was prodding the dusty ground and stretching out the hose with a sigh? Now I could use the dip in the lawn as a paddling pool.
While on the subject of watering with the hose let me urge that if you are going to do it, do it well. A gentle sprinkling may make the ground look wet, but will not reach the roots of most plants. Of course you don’t want to use the blast everything flat technique, used by the reluctant child or spouse roped in to help out with the watering, but you do need to get the water down into the soil, in quantity. So perhaps only water a quarter of the garden each day, but do it thoroughly, and if you need to answer a call of nature yourself, leave the hose running at the foot of a shrub.
The gardener here is not the only one confused by the strange pattern of sun and rain this season: a neighbour’s Magnolia is flowering cheerfully, thinking it is Spring, and many herbaceous plants of the high summer, which I had trimmed back and put to bed for this year, are flowering again, and dotting the border with red and purple.
However, despite the illusions of an Indian Summer and the tropical downpours, it is time to gird up our loins and address ourselves sternly to the gardener’s autumn tasks. It is already time to plant some bulbs: but, should you get me to do it for you, I will beg on my knees (even on the sodden lawn), that you buy some good strains.

What’s Inside?

Don’t be tempted with the cheapest Narcissi in the Garden Centre, or the Pound Shop Tulips. For just a few pounds more you can have Spring flowers that are really worth looking at, that will attract visitor’s eyes with their shapes and colours, and will give you pleasure year after year. Don’t just buy some brown lumps and hope for the best, but always see what the plants you are buy are going to look like in flower.
Another Autumn task I like to recommend for my customer’s consideration is a bit of tender, loving care for the lawn: with the thin dry soil we have in West Wickham, a pleasing lawn is a labour of love, and truly a case of that art which hides art. The West Wickham (South) Residents Association organises several competitions for gardens in the area, but nothing, as yet, for the best lawn.
Fortunately I love grass, and find the effort of working on a lawn amply repaid when a customer sees a greener, grassier, less mossy surface. For the Autumn I recommend a gentle raking to gather up some of the moss and then a thorough aeration and, whatever they say, there is nothing to beat the old fashioned garden fork for this. Aeration will beat that great enemy of grass-growth, compaction of the soil by the thudding feet of Summer. Finally a good Autumn lawn dressing is worth its price, particularly in the parts of West Wickham where the damp tends to linger in Winter.
In a few weeks it will be time to sort out the borders and, in particular, to lift and replant the herbaceous perennials, but my views on this engrossing topic will have to wait for another day, because the rain has stopped, the sun come out, and it’s time to GET OUT AND GARDEN!

A Snip In Time Saves Nine

Ivy that is creeping from a neighbouring garden and beginning to get a hold on a Berberis; if left it will slowly throttle the plant.

I think in years to come we gardeners will look back on this as a golden summer. Slugs and snails may have abounded like a biblical plague, eating every lettuce and seedling down to the ground and even starting on things no slug ever eats, such as the rhubarb and potato leaves; the lawn may have grown so long and so fast that the cat gets lost in it, but, as far as West Wickham gardening goes, it has been a wonderful year.

When was the last time you left the hosepipe curled up until August? With our stony soil which absorbs liquid with the enthusiasm of an alcoholic returned from Arabia, we generally find that, from the middle of June, the lawn has the colour and consistency of dried hay and our lovingly tended flowers and shrubs only remain in flower as long as they receive the contents of a small reservoir each morning. Then cometh the hosepipe ban, and we stagger around with watering cans until our arms are stretched to twice their length, and our knuckles scrape along the ground.

But this year, even gardening the stony places of Coney Hall, I have had a green lawn to mow all summer. Shrubs have flowered for weeks; even the Hibiscus, which I almost got rid of, because its flowers season was usually limited to three days in July, is giving sterling service this year. The fillers-in, as I call them, such as Canterbury Bells and California Poppies have produced swaths of colour for a month or more, tricking non-gardeners into thinking I have done some hard work in the flower garden.

However, there is a downside. (Was it ever plain sailing in the garden?) It is not just the flowers and grass that have been growing but the weeds and other unwanted plants as well, and many trees and bushes have been putting on far more growth than is wanted.

A bramble that has sown itself behind a yew tree.

And in this case a stitch in time really does save nine. Don’t let those weeds flower! Because it won’t be nine that come up from one weed’s seed next year but 99.

If you are too busy to do the weeding and pruning yourself, or beginning to feel that the ground is a long way down and it is even harder to get up, then give me a call and I will do it to your satisfaction. Putting off basic garden maintenance is an expensive mistake, even a small sycamore plant, which can be pulled out in a moment, will turn into a tree that is expensive to remove if it is left in the ground.

While you are about it, get me to have a look behind the shrubs, at the back of the borders, because this is where problems can easily develop unnoticed.
 And behind the lilies flower I can see a sucker from the lilac, which needs to be pulled out now, before it becomes stubbornly established.
Enjoy the summer in your garden, there’s no better place!

Love and Nurture Nature

Even if your garden is depressingly overgrown, the lawn unkempt, and you feel it is hopeless, if you look out at your garden now there are already two beautiful things: shape and texture. Focus your eyes on the leaves of a tree or plant near the window and see what shape they are, long, pointed and curved like an arch, or perhaps small smooth and oval. Notice the plant is vibrant with energy as it holds its leaves towards the light, or shifts slightly in the breeze. Now move your eyes a little along the border and look at another plant and notice how its shape and its leaves differ, perhaps they are larger and jagged edged, or divided into three or more segments.

Suddenly something else in the garden catches your eye; the rugged bark of a tree with a twisted old trunk, or a blackbird exploring the lawn, but for the present, just notice the leaves of the shrubs. If you look at the first plant again you can register the colour of the leaves, dark or light, matt or shinny, marked with a little brown or red. Then turn to the second plant and see how it contrasts with the first; how many different greens there are, even in a small garden!

Even if you only see some brambles and a few overgrown plants, you can see the bursting life in them, and the contrast of the shapes of the leaves, and of the plants themselves, is exhilarating, yet somehow also calming: as this great natural symphony draws us in, our burdens and worries fall away.

Looking at the leaves closely has already made your fingers itch with the different textures;- thin, soft and smooth like a yellow-green young beach leaf, or veined, ribbed and tough and a mysterious dark green; here the knurled hard trunk, with cracks as wide as a finger, and there a sleek silvery stem with a gentle curve. Perhaps you can feel the weight of raindrops bowing the plants down, or the brittle edges of a dried out leaf in late summer, even through the barrier of the window.

It is my mission to reveal to people what they have already: a very small expenditure on garden maintenance will enhance what is already directly outside your window; the contrast of a mown and neatly edged lawn with the plants around it will amaze you, particularly when weeds are cleared away, overgrown plants sorted out and, if necessary, a little more light let into your house and garden by careful pruning.

If people have the energy to grow annual flowers and vegetables, or the time to water them during a long hot summer, good luck to them. But, for the rest of us, a little expense and attention, can expose a wonderful natural world of shape and contrast, that is there already, waiting to be revealed.

Call me and let me show you how your garden can be a pleasure and not a burden; a free gift, something God given if you will, that will brighten your day. In a few hours you can look out with pleasure, at an asset that you mistook for a problem.

West Wickham Gardener, At Your Service

Living and gardening in Coney Hall, West Wickham, for nearly 50 years, off and on, I am familiar with the pains and pleasures of gardening on a bed of flint and pebbles mixed with a little sandy dust, where trees and large shrubs grow abundantly but many plants are stunted by the poor soil, and everything grows readily in the lawn, except grass! The lower lying part of this beautiful suburb are also prone to long period of dampness (despite the soil drying-out a few hours after a downpour in the summer), so that moss, slugs and snails add to the challenges for many of us.

The shape of most of the gardens is typical of the more rural suburbs built between the wars: a long, narrow back garden behind the house, with a tendency to strange bends and changes of width, and those mysterious lumps and hollows in the lawn. The front gardens are often small, so that mowing the lawn needs more dexterity than parking in the west end on Saturday evening, if you’re not going to decapitate half a flower bed.

The long narrow gardens present a challenge because we want space, but we also want some privacy. However much we like our neighbours, we don’t want to feel we’re overlooked and we don’t want to feel we’re spying on them.
The usual answer is a border containing trees and shrubs with a lawn down the middle. This arrangement can be quite low maintenance, but the key is regular maintenance. The shrubs and trees need cutting back, so they don’t encroach on the lawn, and it is vital to weed underneath them as weeding prevents the growth of plants, such as brambles or bindweed, that can, all too easily, take over. Just have your lawn cut and see how much more cheerful the garden looks when you look out of the window, or sit down outside for a well earned rest.

If you like a summer flower bed, or rose bed, then weeding is vital. The flowers look so much better and slugs and snails have fewer places to hide (which of us has not ‘planted out’, only to come down next morning to find our plants have become a slugs banquet).

I hope this gives some idea of the services I provide: I believe passionately that, with very little expense, any garden can stop being a problem and become a pleasure, a pleasure to see, and your beautiful outdoor room in the summer.