aches and pains


Osteospermum jucundum

I suffer from something called “gardener’s back”, which started with severe attacks of sciatica many moons ago and has been kept more or less in check by more or less strict adherence to Mr. Mackenzie back exercises.

Now it’s not just my disks that are getting squashed and slip, but the actual vertebrae between them are crumbling away – due to something called osteoarthritis. This is also affecting what I call my “sacrilegious joints” which, on top of pain shooting down my legs, causes muscles to go into excruciating spasms.

Most days I go about my business bent or limping, especially in the mornings and evenings. Some days I also swear a lot, loudly when I’m on my own or under my breath, when there are visitors in the garden; Anisotome latifolia and Molopospermum peloponnesiacum being favourite expletives (I never use them when children are around).

Having, hopefully, just gotten the better of hellebore wilt, it was a pain to see the leaf spot which had disfigured my lovely stand of Persicaria bistorta ‘Superba’ last year returning with a vengeance.  And, probably a good deal worse unless nipped in the bud, there’s mare’s tail in the peat garden. It must have come in with the dwarf mountain pines I planted on a little plateau. I’ve never liked those pines anyway, and as soon as I get around to it, I shall dig them, and their stowaways up, hoping it’s not too late to get the better of the latter –an ancient, primitive and extremely tough plant that can push through tarmac.

It should have no problem breaking through the iron pan, the rock-hard layer formed between the garden’s top and sub soil in places. When the pond was dug, top soil was buried underneath sub soil, with predictable results. While attempting to plant some astilbes on the left bank, I hit something that felt like rock – the dreaded iron pan. It took me the best of an hour to crunch through it with a sharp trowel and mix it into the topsoil underneath – the joints of my fingers still carry the memory, but the blister on my palm is fully healed now.

Paonia delavayi

But that’s enough of aches and pains. Let’s do joy now. Wood pigeons are two a penny all over the country, but at Lea Gardens they are treasured. Our pair seems to have gone to great length with their nest building this year – securely placed right inside the green thicket of the Backyard’s Japanese larch hedge.

There was a lot of flapping in the jungle of the Round Garden the other day, accompanied by some alarming crashing sounds and the repeated lament: “my toe hurts, Betty” – and – hey presto – three instead of two Columba palumbus sort of flew across the garden before winging their way to the nearest hydro pole.

It’s been at least two decades since mealy redpolls bred in the garden. A pair arrived in mid May and the other evening I watched the tiny birds – weighing less than half an ounce – feeding amongst the sedums on the pondhouse roof.

Elsie, my wonderful Monday volunteer, is working her way through tray after tray of seedlings. She’s a dab hand at pricking out and potting up – everything her green fingers touch thrives. The first vegetable seedlings are up, and cherries and figs are ripening in the greenhouse. For the first time fruit, set the previous autumn, has managed to survive the winter and I’m watching it swell with joyful anticipation.

Osteospermum jucundum 'Blackthorn Seeling'

The first tadpoles are growing hind legs and “South Africa” is getting into its stride. The first fleshy new shoots of agapanthus and nerines, pulped by frost, are now replaced by new ones. The bed doesn’t reach its climax until August and at the moment those fabulous cape daisies (Osteospermum jucundum et al) have the scene to themselves.

Paeonia delavayi is one of the oldest shrubs in the garden and shows her age, or rather is a manifestation of gardener’s neglect, gaunt and leggy because I’ve never had the guts for a hard pruning.

Fritillaria camschatkensis

The heavy shade of two large Swedish whitebeams in close proximity doesn’t help either. They were planted in the early days to provide shelter at the margins – margins which, after extensive extension, are now the heart of the garden. They are beautiful, stately trees, but occupy all but a small corner of a south-facing wall – wasting a prime location I’d rather fill with something more delectable. I’m working on my darling husband to get the chainsaw out….

Oh dear, I’ve slipped back to pain and must immediately add more joy.   Fritillaria camschatcensis has not only made a return this spring, but increased handsomely, as has another anxiety-provoking inhabitant of the peat garden: Epipactis gigantia, a weird and wonderful orchid with reddish brown and yellow flowers.

Nomocharis, the most exciting members of the lily family, always come up late and my heart leapt when I found Nomocharis maireisafely returned. And now I shall leap – oops – I mean limp – into the garden and do some much-needed watering – wonderful evening light out there.

wonderful evening light out there

Lea Gardens – open daily from 2-5pm or by appointment. 







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