Monday, 1 June 2009

Front of house

Here in Bacteria Gardens and surrounding streets, we don't really have gardens as such; these streets stand on what used to be allotments, hence their misleading names. We do have little patches in front of the bay windows, each with a narrow concrete path in it, and these 'gardens' vary from unspeakable mini-wastelands to manicured showpieces that could only be enhanced by toy fountains and gazebos. Two streets away, peonies abound on the sunny side, but we are a much scruffier lot, and between us we have the national collection of weeds, as well as an amazing assortment of plants growing in the pavement. One student garden has enough grass outside it to constitute a miniature prairie.

Every year, a council worker walks the area, spraying weedkiller on our pavement plants, sometimes catching our own shrubs as he passes, and for the rest of the summer, the pavements are thick with dying and dead plants. Not everyone clears them up, and they sit there, a silent reproach, waiting to trip the unwary.

Today, before it got too hot, I tidied up my own dismal front garden. It does well in the Spring, when daffodils, grape hyacinth and tulips come up in succession amidst fresh new greenery. The oriental poppy does its showy best before collapsing over the front path, making it hazardous to deliver the post. Then the thugs appear, the geraniums and columbine, both an unattractive
muddy pink, swamping anything pretty and fragile beneath. At the far end, behind a hebe and a rosemary, always the bees' favourites, is an Iceberg rose, bought centuries ago for £3 from Woolworths, and it always does well, but the garden hasn't looked lovingly tended for years. The first time I saw the house, French beans were growing up a cane wigwam, and for several years afterwards, I worked hard at keeping colour and interest going, despite the sun-bleached, hot, dry position and the meagre amount of soil.

I've been saying for weeks "I must sort that front garden out." It's not an appealing task; easier to potter in the prettier back yard or feel virtuous down on the allotment. For the past week, the heat and sunshine has hastened the thugs' seed-setting, revealing parched blotchy leaves and the browning remains of the old bluebells. Today I could stand it no more and had a ruthless tidy up. I filled four large bin bags with what had recently been a fresh Spring garden, and can see how dry and impoverished my soil is, and how little remains of the years of planting and variety that pre-dated my allotment. So many plants lost! Drought, neglect, snails....

Also revealed in their big burly multitudes were those snails. There they are, bottom right; that's only a small representative group of the mighty force that help to make my garden the Bower of Despair that it has become. Another project looms.


Spiral Bettie said...

Project? Yes. A chance to love where you live? Sure. Another way to slow down and enjoy the soil under your nails. You are a lucky girl!

mountainear said...

You may or may not be interested to know that Shropshire Young Farmers had a class at their recent rally for 'The Largest Snail'. Yep, I found it hard to believe too - but you could enquire locally if they were objects of desire by your Young Farmers. You never know you might have a winner amongst your herbage.

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