The English Garden

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by Margaret Watson

This week we have had the Royal Chelsea Garden Show, one of the best and most famous in the world. Gardeners come from as far away as Japan to show their blooms and skills at Chelsea. Although I lived in central London for a number of years I’ve never been. For one thing it is too crowded and for another the crowds are only allowed to view the gardens from the edge. For me it is all about handling the plants, brushing against them, smelling as well as seeing the roses, the freesias and more exotic blooms. I prefer to watch this one on the television with my feet up and a cup of tea. I can listen to the interviews with the growers and designers and see the plants close up. It isn’t as good as real life, but it will do. The one time I would like to be at Chelsea is at closing time on the last day – that’s when they sell off the plants for charity. I’d need more than a taxi to get home that day.

Next week I face the annual gardener’s dilemma – we are going on holiday. My seedlings have mostly been planted out and are well away. But some seeds came late or have been slow to germinate. They are too young to plant out, but if I leave them they will dry up unless we have the occasional shower. Much as my husband thinks we haven’t got room, one or two pots are coming on holiday with us in the back of the car. Then there is the fruit. Do I pick hard, undersized gooseberries before we go – they make good jam, or do I risk leaving them to the mercies of the pigeons when they ripen – one year I was left with only seven berries from five bushes. The currants and raspberries will keep until I come home and as for strawberries I’ll jus t have to buy some this year. The cherries I usually let the blackbirds enjoy except for perhaps a couple of handfuls. Las t year our pear tree produced its first pear – unfortunately while we were waiting for it to grow big enough it fell off and was eaten by a hedgehog. This year I have hopes of a slightly bigger crop, as though it only produced flowers on one branch for some reason, each of these has become a baby pear. The beans should be just about ready when we get back if there is enough rain.

Another garden problem is buying plants by mail order. I fall for it every year – bright catalogues, showing magnificent blooms, and wonderful special offers.  I made my selection back in April and waited and waited. Several e-mails and telephone calls later my ‘plants ‘ arrived.  Some were already dead, having been packed up far too early for the delivery. Others were alive, but only just, with whitened leaves and long stems searching desperately for the light. A complaint resulted in some completely different and unordered plants arriving 10 days later. These are just ‘mixed perennials’ so I’ll have to wait and see what they turn into if the slugs don’t find out first. It’s wonderful being a gardener – the joy of spotting the first green haze on a plant pot as seeds germinate, of walking into the garden, as I have just done, and picking spinach, herbs, rocket and lettuce fresh for this evening, or seeing a rose bloom for the first time. That’s worth all the hassle.