I’m not a particularly reflective person. I have learned the value of looking back in order to come to terms with hard things, and to use that to develop better skills for future challenges, but I’m not one for dwelling on the past. If anything, I tend to focus on the future, sometimes to the detriment of living in the “now”. The exception, of course, is gardening. There is an annual cycle of looking back over the gardening year to assess what has worked and what hasn’t. Celebrating successes, coming to terms with failures, taking a long, hard look at certain areas in order to plan for the coming year. A looking back in order to move forward. The sorting through seed packets, thinking about what worked and what didn’t, in the case of edibles what tasted good to us and not so good to pests, is a key part of winter for me. I’ll be doing my seed sorting and list writing for the kitchen garden in a week or two, an annual ritual far more meaningful to me than any New Year resolutions. I’ve given up on them altogether!
This year there is an additional edge to the looking back, and an extra challenge to the moving forward. Normally when I disappear from the blogging world for a while you can rightly assume that I am mired in illness again. My disappearance at the back end of this year has been for an altogether more positive reason. TNG and I are inching our way forward towards the goal of becoming self sufficient again. Years of being on benefits, enforced by ill health, does terrible things to ones view of oneself. It is a constant battle against the idea that you are useless, irrelevant, and inevitably old professional skills and the confidence that comes with them get eroded over time and lack of use.
The idea that we could set up a small business that would offer us a sustainable life – we are neither of us capable of anything approaching full time work – has been a pipe dream, but gradually, over the past few months, we have begun to dare to believe. So I have been using all my available energy to focus on the “what” and the “how”. Gardening and blogging have both taken a back seat, a seat that has become rather dusty! After a break for a lovely Christmas involving windy walks on wild beaches (the above is the headland to the north of Cemlyn Bay) and roasting chestnuts on a bonfire on the local beach on Christmas Day (pure magic), I am starting to tackle the challenge of how do I balance the new work focus with gardening. Not just because I would hate to see the garden fall into a weedy wasteland, but because gardening has become essential to my mental and physical well-being. It is part of how I manage bouts of depression, get fresh air, connect with the world, express creativity. Oh goodness, trying to put in to words what gardening has come to mean to me brings home how impossible that is! Suffice to say, I have been looking at my garden, at the way I garden, with new eyes.
The coming year will mean less time and money to spend on gardening, so I am hugely grateful that I managed to do so much structural planting in the back garden in particular this year. It is basically in good shape, and apart from re-working the herb bed to accommodate the Air Source Heat Pump, and work out how to grow veg when I have less time to devote to it, I am optimistic. The big challenge will be the front garden, so I will be concentrating on that again next year. For now , though, here are some reflections on the back garden, which will hopefully provide refuge and sustenance rather than overwhelming me with work!
It is a dull, wet end to the year here on Anglesey, but despite this the Park border is making me smile. yes, the grass needs cutting (hah!) and I never did get around to painting the trellis, but the tamed Griselinia is no longer as overwhelming, there is plenty of winter interest, and more importantly, winter colour. I love it.
Admittedly, it wasn’t the worst area in the garden when I started focusing on it at the end of January last year, but to have a space that, even on a wet and dreary day, has colour to make me smile and enough structure to give plenty of interest, that makes me very happy.
Two of my favourite additions this year were the Miscanthus sinensis ‘Undine’ with its blond featherheads and the perpetually flowering perennial wallflower Erysium ‘Winter Orchid’. I am excited about the persicaria you can just see nestled in between them, and the knowledge that next Autumn I should have good show of Helenium ‘Sahin’s Early Flowerer’, but I also have those honesty plants to look forward to, and the various geums and geraniums. I’m hoping that my tendency to plant everything too close together will mean fewer weeds, though I know I will be battling borage. A lot.
In the middle of the border the new plum tree has a very pleasing shape, I can’t really expect plums this coming summer, but it does look healthy. The yellow flowers of the scorpion vetch are gently scented too, and I like the fact that they are pale yellow. I don’t enjoy strident colour at this time of year. In between the sprawl of the Scorpion Vetch and the beautiful Nandina domestica ‘Terracotta’ you can just see the bare branches of the Edheworthia chrysantha. I’m getting a little obsessed about the Edgeworthia. Back in October I noticed what looked like flower buds. For those of you who have not been sucked in to the Edgeworthia growing world, the great attraction of this plant (apart from the fabulous foliage) is the fragrant yellow flowers in winter that come from improbably silky tassled buds.
Does this mean I might get some flowers this year? I’m finding them hard to photograph in their current state, not least because it has been rather windy, but I stare at this plant rather obsessively. Could this be the year?!
Looking straight out across the garden from the study, I am so very glad I painted the back fence, even though it is already taking on a layer of green in all the damp weather. Now that the raspberry stems are bare the fence provides a good full stop to the garden, and sets off the fatsia with its strange winter flowers. It also works really well with the plant supports in the veg beds. Those were tremendously successful, though one or two need to be better anchored to the raised beds. They have provided excellent support for the peas and beans, and I like their winter silhouette too. Not exactly Chelsea style, but honest and interesting.
Incidentally, if you are thinking about planting Autumn fruiting raspberries at all, I can thoroughly recommend ‘Polka’. They have fruited almost relentlessly from mid July, peaking in September, with huge, juicy fruit, utterly delicious. Well, when not frozen on the stem in late December! Christmas Day raspberries anybody?!
The back border looks pretty much the same as it did in the October EOMV post, albeit without the flowers. Or any leaves on the persicarias and hydrangeas. Attention is now on the hellebore buds, I am hoping for good things here, though the newer plants are unlikely to flower until next winter.
I am thankful for the distraction of the copper beech tree in the back corner by the oil tank, the winter sun turns it into a magical sculpture, and I know that it is likely to be months before we have the time to get rid of the old oil tank, let alone choose and build a new shed for the empty concrete slab it will leave behind. A problem for the future, one of many, no doubt!
The Air Source Heat Pump has kept us warm and cosy, though learning how to adjust the heat curve has been interesting. I find it painfully ironic that we moved away from oil at a time when it is cheaper than it has been for years. Still, the oil tank never turned seed heads into art, and I can forgive it for forcing me to re-organise the herb bed next Spring for providing such a lovely warm house to recover from Christmas Day beach bonfires and winter cliff walks that make your ears hurt!
All in all, 2014 was a wonderful gardening year for me, one in which I managed to plant lots of new and exciting plants, discovered that I actually rather like Chrysanthemums, met and laughed with more fellow bloggers. All of it has been enhanced by getting to share it with all of you, my thanks to all who read this blog, particularly to all who comment, you provide support, encouragement, challenge, education and laughter. I wish you all a wonderful 2015, and leave you with my Christmas image. A reminder that, before sending e-cards, its as well to check that birds haven’t decorated your lovely red winter berries with their unwanted gifts…