Nigel Slater in his garden
My heart sank when I first saw my garden. Not because of its rough, sun-scorched grass and rampant bindweed, but because I had enough to do already. There were the damp vaults to dry out, rotten windows and broken cornicings to restore, and in the basement, Georgian flagstone floors held prisoner under Ikea floorboards begging for daylight and some TLC. Then there was the nagging worry that I may just be an armchair gardener after all, more content to flip excitedly through catalogues and magazines than to actually weed, prune and propagate. The first day I attempted to mow the lawn, the blades hit and shredded a large frog. I ran back to the kitchen in horror and didn’t set foot best canada goose jacket style in the garden again for weeks.
Two months later, Monty Don dug his spade deep into my London clay and pointed out that all it needed was a ‘thorough mulching with plenty of organic matter’ (he says it like a mantra). Moist and fecund, it would support pretty much anything I wanted to grow. He explained the significance of the long, hot, north- facing wall (perfect for an espaliered fruit tree), the dappled shade from the golden robinia that would provide a peaceful place to sit and read, and how the garden had two distinct sides, one moist, warm and shady enough for raspberries and beans, the other sunny enough to ripen pumpkins and tomatoes. Monty got me to canada goose coat 1000 bulbs garland show him my horticultural wish list, then sketched a plan in black ink on the back of a white envelope.
I wanted everything. Yes, I wanted to grow fruit and herbs, possibly even a few vegetables (what cook wouldn’t), but what I really wanted was an abundance of green leaves and flowers. An exuberant garden, opulent and rich in colour that would be the opposite of my bare house and simple cooking.
I wanted an outdoor space which, though predominantly dark ‘good-taste’ green, exploded with deep reds, apricot and white, plants spilling drunkenly from the rigid grid of a formal garden. I wanted the horticultural equivalent of a pot boiling over.
But that wasn’t all. There were to be medicinal as well as culinary herbs, and the place should be a paradise for bees and ladybirds. Outside the kitchen door I needed a terrace for eating and for ‘things in pots’, and at the far end canada goose coat 1000 bulbs garland a tiny six-tree ‘orchard’ where plum, quince and hazelnut trees would be left unpruned to form a canopy of entwined branches.
Figs, dark red roses, black hollyhocks, wigwams of sweet peas, swathes of rust and burgundy bedding plants all featured on my wish list. There were to be mirabelle plums and damsons, opium poppies and white roses, narcissus in spring, marigolds in summer, and above all I wanted dahlias of darkest claret and saffron orange. All this, and in the long, thin garden of a typical terraced house.
My garden was just 8 metres wide and 30 metres in length. I suppose most people would have said, ‘Dream on, Nige’, but Monty suggested a formal backbone of hornbeam and box which would allow the perennials and fruit bushes to ‘frolic and cascade’ without the whole thing becoming a mess. He pointed me in the direction of certain varieties of rose and species of iris, and we best canada goose jacket for women discussed the pros and cons of gravel versus grass paths. A few weeks later I set to work with landscaper Tony Collinson, rooting up the lawn and dividing the garden into a six-bed potager, a small four-bed ‘flower garden’ and a spot at the far end for fruit trees and privacy-forming hornbeam hedges.
Three years, a score of stings and blisters and 100 bags of Lakeland Gold compost later, I have pretty much the garden I dreamed of. (No instant makeover, this.)
An over-stuffed, kid-in-a-sweetshop garden where white foxgloves share a bed with ‘Autumn Bliss’ raspberries and sweet peas climb among the strawberries. Nasturtiums tumble over the hand-trimmed box hedges, old-fashioned montbretia tangles with tomatoes grown on bamboo sticks and jasmine rubs shoulders with gooseberries. The two herb beds grow kitchen aromatics plus comfrey, heartsease violets and ‘Winter Nellis’ pears. At the bottom of the garden, past a new yew hedge, the young fruit trees – damson, black mulberry, quince and two gages – are just starting to fruit. A deep-purple clematis winds its way through their branches, jumping from tree to tree, while underneath grow primroses, violets and the star-like flowers of wood strawberries.
It is the perennials rather than the fruit and vegetables that make this garden sing. I have fallen head-over-heels in love with some of my plants: Sarah Raven’s claret-red dahlias and red-brushed ‘Indian Prince’ marigolds; Dutch plantsman Piet Odulf’s burgundy potentillas; rosa chinensis ‘Mutabilis’- the single, five-petalled roses of copper, pink and apricot that perch like butterflies on the end of dark, fragile stems; Beth Chatto’s black hollyhocks and magnificently sculptural ‘Angelica gigas’. Then there are the wild strawberries – a gift from sculptor Sara Neill, that have formed a bright-green carpet under the deep shade of the Kent cob. Though if I was allowed to retain only one plant, it would be Jekka McVicar’s lemon verbena, from which I make a pot of tea each summer afternoon and drink with chocolate-coated ginger biscuits.
There have been terrible, heart-breaking failures, too, and there is still some unresolved planting.
While the velvet red rose ‘Souvenir du Docteur Jamain’ recommended by Monty has flourished, happily climbing the more shaded garden buy canada goose jacket uk walls, others such as Jacotot’s ‘Gloire de Dijon’ – or as I now know it, ‘Gloire de Blackspot’ – have struggled. The rust achelia fades too quickly to a depressing mustard, the fennel is nothing more than a slug’s buffet (again) and the snowdrops are too large. This year the ‘Emperor’ beans failed spectacularly, possibly due to my inability to read a sow-by date. Don’t even ask about the lupins.
To add to this, I just cannot get to grips with the sunny flowerbed either. It was supposed to be a miniature version of Monty’s gorgeous Jewel Garden but has ended up as a dowdy old thing. In truth it is just a mess. The slugs and snails have depressed me almost to the point of tears. I crush, salt or simply hurl them at the benefits of canada goose jacket wall in temper on a daily basis, yet the buggers still managed to chew their way through every dahlia bud the other night, the fox cubs terrorise my old cat and play volleyball with the frogs (who’d be an amphibian in this best canada goose jacket for skiing garden?) and the squirrels eat anything I don’t drape with netting, and sometimes anything I do. Yet in the depths of ‘new gardener’s despair’, the whole place will suddenly fill with the heavenly scent of sweet white rocket, plants salvaged from Jinny Blom’s breathtaking Healing Garden at the Chelsea Flower Show. Even the scent of one flower on a summer’s evening can put everything to rights again.
Of course, there is too much going on canada goose coat 1000 calorie diets for the garden to be truly relaxing, every inch taken up by a fruit tree, a bush of white Dutchman’s Trousers or a froth of lady’s mantle. Perhaps I have something to prove. I have grown much from seed – Peter Grayson’s white sweet peas vest, Aquadulce broad beans, zucchini and the ghostly and deeply invasive white borage. Next year I plan to grow even more. And that’s another thing: I have become unusually impatient, planning for next year even before this one had started.
My wish list for 2004 already includes planting white Narcissus poeticus under the dark yew hedges; squeezing in more white roses; finding the right-coloured Bee Balm.
(I have been through the vivid red of ‘Cambridge Scarlet’ and the dirty pink of ‘Ou Charm’ and am looking for wine reds and shocking magentas.) Next year I will plant can you wash a canada goose parka the ‘Red Epicure’ broad bean, Sarah Raven’s blood-red wallflowers as well as the usual ‘Persian Carpet'; I shall continue my search for the perfect black-red shrub rose; get to grips with the abject failure that is the ‘hot’ flowerbed, plant a grapevine up the outside of the new kitchen wall and do something to liven up the herb beds in early spring. And, yes, I shall continue weeding, pruning the roses, trimming the hedges and no doubt murdering the slugs and snails because I can’t help it now. Armchair gardener, my eye.
My horticultural horrors
I cannot grow lavender to save my life
I have given up trying to reason with the squirrel
Ivy that grows at the speed of light, except where I want it to
The ginger cat that uses my gravel paths as kitty litter
Seeing the garden contractors next door use weedkiller
Tarragon that just vanishes
Ditto lupins (see slugs)
Pleasures beyond measure
Finding the first snowdrops, even if they are too big
Bumblebees buzzing in the oregano
The scent of Rosa ‘Souvenir du Docteur Jamain’ on a still June evening
Snow on the yew hedges
Flipping through plant catalogues with a box of chocolates in front of the fire on a winter’s afternoon
Becoming a ‘friend’ of Chelsea Physic Garden and walking round when no one else is there
Picking cream and lavender sweet peas for the house
Giving cuttings to friends
Getting cuttings from friends
Sitting in the garden at midnight with a glass of wine
Suddenly finding a plant you thought you had lost
Garden things I now know
The right trowel or fork is as important as the right kitchen knife, probably more so
The Jekyll weeding fork is the best invention since the Parmesan grater
Plants don’t always stay where you put them. They move around and have a laugh
The more you mulch, the better your soil will be
The better your soil is, the more slugs you will buy canada goose jacket nyc get
Gardeners are generous with their time and knowledge
Some gardeners can be terrible snobs
Orange is fine if you mix it with enough green
A plant in bud is often more beautiful than one in flower
The best mail-order service is www.woottensplants.co.uk
Nothing sticks to your trowel quite like cat shit
Sometimes plants just misbehave
It is easier to stamp on a slug if you think of George Bush at the same time
A dead plant is an opportunity