Busily doing nothing, now the opening season ends at East Ruston?
Today is the end of our season and the garden closes to visitors for the next five months.
I am repeatedly asked if we now go off for an extended holiday somewhere hot. Well, that might be nice some day - but not yet. The coming five months are too precious for us to waste doing nothing, for the garden will have to endure a period of repair and restoration to some parts.
Pathways invariably get worn down by the many feet that traverse them during the summer and will need resurfacing, the edging to beds, borders and pathways need repairing where these have been broken or damaged.
General improvements will be tackled such as better access ways to certain areas and changes made to the garden in general.
We are only too aware that gardens change - they need to - and we are not afraid of making appropriate changes where they are needed.
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This winter, be it woefully long of mercifully short, we will be planting and generally furnishing the 2012 Diamond Jubilee Walled Garden. This is an exciting project and visitors have been asking me all summer about our planting plans for this garden. I'm sure that they often think that I am being awkward when I tell them that my ideas change almost on a daily basis for this project. But, it is true, ideas come, are digested and then retained or discarded as I see fit, then Graham and I discuss and debate (a euphemism for argue) about the various plans, at the end of which we hatch out a plan and finally planting can commence.
In the Woodland Garden we shall set about raising the canopy of the trees to let in more light by removing some of the trees' lower limbs. This allows for better movement of air and lets in precious rain when it falls. The aim is to achieve dappled sunlight through the tree canopy and to get the best and the longest season of interest from the plants that dwell in this shady haven.
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One of the good things about tree surgery of any kind is that it does yield a very useful harvest of logs for the open fires which we have in the house throughout the winter. I was brought up without today's modern luxury of central heating and therefore appreciate the value of an open fire.
I also think that today we keep our houses too hot and some of the plants that we used to grow so very well tell us so, if only we take the trouble to notice.
Potted cyclamen used to be a stalwart winter flowering house plant when I was young, but today our houses are really too warm for this plant to flourish. Years ago, they were carefully saved from one year to another by drying off their corms and letting them become baked by the sun in their flower pots which were left on their sides so that they remained dry throughout the summer. Around late September when new growth was spotted they were repotted into fresh compost and a larger pot if necessary, to be brought into the house for another year. Over time their corms became ever larger and I can remember that there was a certain rivalry between female members of the household as to who could grow the largest corms with the greatest amount of blossom; it was not unusual for there to be between 50 and 100 flowers on a well- grown plant, something that is seldom seen in our throwaway society! Today with our houses being too warm, cyclamen seldom last for more than a few weeks, let alone from one year to another.
Azalea indica is another example of a plant that was kept from one year to another; in fact, I remember that there were several venerable old specimens within our family. We had strict instructions that these were only ever to be watered with rain water which as grandma explained was soft and without the lime which azaleas hate so much. In those days there was never a shortage of rainwater for we have galvanised water tanks on every building, outhouse or barn for water was, and still is, a very precious commodity. The other requirement of these exotic azaleas was that they needed ericaceous compost, in those days this was specially mixed and its formula was a carefully guarded secret.
One of my jobs was to repot these azaleas when they had finished flowering and after the last frosts of winter they were hardened off before being placed outside in dappled shade where they spent their summers. At Chestnut View in Forncett End, this was beneath a venerable old pear tree outside grandma's kitchen door where their watering would not be forgotten. I seem to recall that these were joined by other house plants, including a very glamorous Epiphyllum that had the largest, brilliant red flowers that I had ever seen. This spent the winter in the parlour which was only used on special occasions but, I remember that when it bloomed in spring, the enormous flowers used to drip nectar onto Grandma's polished table top.
Perhaps, in these austere times we should all turn down our central heating a little so that we could once again enjoy these indoor treats.
On that note I should like to thank all of our visitors for their continued support throughout 2011 and both Graham and I look forward to seeing you all again in the Diamond Jubilee year of 2012.
•This article was first published on October 29, 2012.