The rubble bank is exactly that: a peculiar, linear, broken brick and excavated, relocated dirt mound at the top of our garden.
It was already a few years hunkered down and firmly bedded in by several generations of weeds when we first arrived here. I half-heartedly seeded it with grass at first – in an attempt to blend it in with the lawn – but even the chafers were unimpressed with the patchy and threadbare results and it never quite took on the ‘naturally undulating hillock’ look I was going for.
In a utilitarian triumph of function over form, however, it endeared itself to me by adding a new and unexpected dimension to family ball games. It not only slows down goaled footballs as they hurtle towards the back fence but it also raises the dog’s discarded tennis balls up nearer to the overhanging woodland branches – from where adult blue tits safely descended to collect tennis ball fluff for nest-lining in Spring.
We shortened – and retained with brick and slate-filled gabions – the shallower, crumblier end of the rubble bank to prevent any further, steady collapse. The rustic ‘walling off’ of the mound exposed an old concrete shed or greenhouse base in the newly carved out, re-sunken back corner which I (premeditatedly, admittedly) persuaded hubby was the perfect site for a half-time gazebo.
As the ball games continued into Summer, the unpromising scrubby ‘turf’ layer of the incline of the bank was lifted. The dog kicked up clouds of dry dust, chasing launched tennis balls down the bared slope. And he later collected brushfuls of sticky buds in his shaggy tail feathers as the speedwell, chickweed and sun spurge opportunistically grew back with renewed growing season vigour. I took to my new thinking spot, beneath the hipped shelter of the gazebo, where tea and cake taste better, to stir and enthuse myself into another wave of joint wear-and-tearing weeding. And to contemplate what to do next with this nutrient-poor, decoratively-bereft, great big pile of muck.
The siting of the gazebo lent further topographical function to the rubble bank in that its more-or-less flattened top surface soon became the most direct and obvious route from the gazebo to the she-shed and back again. A path I now walk frequently and which I’ve cut and edged down to single-pass mower width. And further reseeded with coarse grass. And reseeded again. And then reseeded some more. It’s proving tough terrain to grow anything other than its own favourite weeds on.
Along the fence line I dug out a proper border and planted a small – experimental – collection of hedging and climbing plants, including end-of-season-sale-stand pittosporums and a raggedy climbing hydrangea, inspired by a gnarly, stunted Griselinian stowaway that arrived, via neighbourly reclamation, in an aged, stone pot that really ought to have held tulips. The depths in-between the green I scattered with a dozen kilograms of mixed Narcissi bulbs: Tamara, Salome, Juanita and King Alfred Select varieties.
Continuing my experimental ‘hope for the best’ approach several steps further, I reseeded the rise yet again in Autumn, with yellow rattle, in the largest proportion, to choke out the last of the grass which previously wouldn’t grow. In addition to the thousand+ ‘nature’s own lawnmower’ seeds sown, I scattered an eclectic and unlikely mix of annuals, perennials and biennials: twenty five different species in all including Pandora poppies and miniature bunny tails, aquilegias and meadow cranesbill and foxgloves and forget me nots. Should the Himalayan poppy seeds ever germinate they will prove conclusively and irrefutably that flower fairies really do ride rainbows and sprinkle moon magic nightly.
As Winter drew in I planted the old stone pot, along with others, with sized tulips and topped the rustic gabion wall with a salvaged earthenware sink which I have earmarked for sempervivums this year.
The daffodils have woken and are slowly stretching themselves out from the once barren mound, preparing to trumpet the return of Spring when the luminous January blooms of hellebore and Winter jasmine have faded and the precious as pearl snowdrops have revived and reanimated the chilled somnolent earth. I think forward to pots of agapanthus and a trellis of scented sweet peas. But for now, from the kitchen window, the strange sepia light of Winter sunrises and sunsets casts interesting new shadows of obelisks, branches and blackbirds from the early offerings of the rubble bank.