The novelty of alliteration, discovered in childhood (a time that often seems like a million years ago to me now) never really faded. At forty-something I should probably be able to think and write with much greater sophistication than a lazy reliance on such an easy and obvious literary device allows. But I just can’t stop myself. It is, seemingly, just another one of my queer and curious, clinical compulsions. It’s why I think of my garden in terms of cultivated cottage meets wild woodland. An alliterative amalgam which, give or take a few exotic outliers – disqualified purely by the principle of ‘right plant, right place’ – accords me the horticultural freedom of pretty much ‘anything goes’.
And, happily, an ‘anything goes’ approach grants me the latitude of indecision and the prerogative to change my mind. Necessary psychological commodities – because sometimes I feel so completely overwhelmed by the garden that I’m positively certain I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing.
“A little learning is a dang’rous thing;
Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring:
There shallow draughts intoxicate the brain,
and drinking largely sobers us again.”Alexander Pope
Pope’s first line has been recognisably transmuted, in contemporary parlance, into “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing” and that sentiment is currently being epitomised by a wedding cake tree, in rapid decline, outside my window. I haven’t given up on it and, with what limited knowledge I have, I’m trying to coax it back to health. But therein may lie the problem. I planted it bare-branched in February and by mid-March it was producing the most vibrant, lime green leaf buds and dense clusters of what promised to be the beginnings of bracts or flower heads. By the end of April, that brief, beautiful vibrancy had all but withered away. The first leaf discolouration initially resembled the kind of frost damage that I’d previously witnessed on a magnolia with the same H5 hardiness rating. The kind of damage that I know, first hand, a plant can recover from. But the progression of what was looking increasingly more like a scorching problem led me to research a plethora of contradictory advice and information as to what may or may not actually be causing the damage. I’m fairly confident that I’ve finally narrowed the problem down to either nutrient deficiency or salt toxicity below ground but – frustratingly – they are two opposing sides of the same coin and targeting treatment for one of these likely assailants could inadvertently risk increasing the deleterious effect of the other if I target the wrong side of the coin. The experts on such matters aren’t all that helpful in this instance. For the most part, there is widespread agreement about the range of conditions that Cornus controversa ‘Variegata’ will and will not tolerate, with the glaring exception of one of the most fundamental variables: soil pH. Many sources, the RHS included, state that neutral to acidic conditions are preferable for this tree. Other, numerous sources, Gardener’s World included, state that this tree prefers an alkaline soil. Barcham Trees sum the situation up perfectly: “This variegated version of the Wedding Cake Tree… is far from easy, hence the fact you hardly ever see one.” The problem might transpire to be a very straightforward case of ‘wrong plant, wrong place’ but I suppose only time, and a little bit more learning, will tell…
The frequent movement of earth, reinforced concrete, slabs, sleepers and aggregates around this garden is, on occasion, exhausting and has several times recently left me feeling, at the end of a ‘hardscaping’ day outside, close to physically broken. That’s not to say that I don’t enjoy the labour intensive side of garden making; there’s definitely a real sense of accomplishment and satisfaction to be deservedly gained from lifting heavy concrete gravel boards higher than one’s own head or single handedly shifting three quarters of a tonne of slate chippings from A to B, uphill, before lunch time on an otherwise uneventful Sunday morning. The end result is always worth the exertion but there also always remains more heavy lifting still to be done. In terms of lifting and shifting, we’re not even half way there yet. Not even close.
It has rained all day today. With water. I say that because it rains in this garden even when it is not raining. There is always something falling from the trees. With respect to the weather, I timed the seeding and fertilising of the lawn and the granular top-feeding of some of the plants – late last night – very well. The lawn was treated organically; the plants were not. But the plants were fed ethically in the sense that the NPK ratio was manufactured specifically to be vegan friendly; the organic lawn treatment was not. Organic is not synonymous with ethical and inorganic is not synonymous with bad, though they are often confused as such. And neither ‘organic’ nor ‘inorganic’, as descriptors, tell you anything about whether a compound or mixture is in any way toxic or not. Everything in life is a trade-off and we all make our choices with the incomplete information we have. I try to garden ethically and organically but very often fall short on one or both counts, probably more so than I’m even aware. At least I didn’t need to water in with a hose pipe today.