days of miracles and wonders

Remember the dead, dark and empty pond, the frost damage, the gardener’s despondency? All vanished about a fortnight ago. A miracle happened. The sun shone.

Venetian Cowichan

The huge dark cloud which had hovered above Lea Gardens vanished. A thrush was singing outside my bedroom window one Sunday morning. A pair of redpolls dipped and swooped across the borders. Blanche, our tame blackbird, absent for weeks, re-appeared for a sharp-eyed earthworm search amongst the freshly turned earth of the salad garden, unperturbed by the presence of Mousie, our silver-grey semi-Burmese cat, balancing on  a nearby fence. Blanche gobbled up the worms there and then, which means she’s no young to care for – yet.

The most severely frost-bitten plants sported new buds and leaves almost overnight; even Inula hookeri, all its new growth grey and soggy, is pushing up furry, bright green rosettes at ground level.

And almost overnight, the garden has turned green, countless shades of fresh, soft spring green.

in the shady parts

But most miraculous of all: some fish have escaped the otter’s killing spree. Five inch-long “invisibles” basked in the sunshine amongst the parrots’ feathers on the margins of the pond. “Invisible” fish are young shubunkin, near-black from a distance, purplish-brown close-up. They change colour rapidly as they mature, adding pink and red highlights to their dark, sombre scales. They were briefly joined by a small, orange goldfish, darting in and out of cover, and a golden orfe, basking for a minute or two before returning to the deep.

With the addition of two blue shubunkin I couldn’t resist buying, there should be nine fish in the pond altogether; and for all I know – hope springs eternal – there could well be more survivors of the massacre, too traumatised yet to rise to the surface.

Euphorbia griffithii 'Wickstede'

There have been a few days between weathers since, dry and calm, at times even sunny enough to make use of the light nights. Being an owl, my creative juices rarely start flowing before 3pm, and are most prolific after 6pm, when the last visitors have left, the Tresta rush-hour traffic has dried to a trickle and the garden is quiet.

Visitors, more often than not, remark on all the hard work that must go into the garden. They’re wrong. It’s play, rather than work, even though I often find myself aching all over on the morning following one of those late sessions, when everything flows and falls into place, borders create themselves, all the right plants are suddenly at hand and the perfect spaces can be found for those who’ve sulked in pots for years.

self-sown polyanthus

It’s also the time of day when the gardener’s inhibitors flee: cultural considerations hampering the creative flow – too damp, too dry, too shady, too bright for a given plant. No ifs, no buts, plants can always be moved if they’re not happy where I’ve put them and – this happens more frequently – if I’m not happy with them in their new locations.

But the moving and shifting is some way off yet. At the moment the garden and I are on our annual honeymoon. The shady parts of the old garden take care of themselves, and newer planting, such as the bed next to the nursery, are coming into their own. Euphorbia griffithii ‘Wickstede’, a dark, compact cultivar, has pride of place in the latter. Everything looks – almost – perfect, even the jumble of Barnhaven primroses, in one of the limed, raised beds. All were raised from seed, polyanthus and acaulis types in a bewitching range of colours Visiting their website is a must for all primrose lovers:

I’m particularly fond of their Cowichan polyanthus range, solid pools of colour, devoid of the large yellow eye, so typical of the tribe. The reds are especially delectable, garnet, ruby and strawberry shades, each flower with a tiny, precision-stamped star in its centre.

Primula sino-purpurea

Their double primrose seed is for gamblers only, and during my latest attempt, I pulled the short straw; a healthy crop of plants, but only one double amongst them, cream-coloured and far inferior to a single-flowered wisteria blue, compact, floriferous and exquisite.

Cowslips and primroses seed themselves about where the drainage is good and the soil not too acidic. An almost obscenely vigorous red polyanthus has joined the throng of watsonias, crocosmias and nerines in the South African bed, feeling very much at home in a gritty, semi-scree mix, proving, if proof were needed, that British mainland’s damp and shady translates into sunny and well-drained for Shetland.

June is the main season for Asiatic primulas in my garden, but there is one notable exception. Primula chionantha ssp. sino-purpurea is an exceptionally handsome plant; tall, sturdy stems rise from strong clumps of long, narrow, silver-green basal leaves, and carry at their apex a generous bunches of cool lavender-blue flowers with a reddish-mauve eye. There are also white, cream and pink forms. It thrives in damp, humus-rich, but not water-logged soils.

Populus trichocarpa

A sweet scent carries on the air during May and visitors, curious to find out its floral source, are in for a disappointment; the fragrance is wafted by the newly-expanding leaves of our Alaskan balsam poplar, Populus trichocarpa.

PS. To all those who’ve left comments: I’m very sorry, but I’m swamped by spam and have found no way to stop this and, sadly, no time to seperate the wheat from the chaff. So for the time being I won’t be able to approve any comments.

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