Outside the Backdoor

Observing what can happen in your own garden even in suburbia!


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Rain, rain go away!

I wrote this post a few weeks ago for the church magazine.  Little did I know but rain was about to be the least of problems for us gardeners this “Spring”!  Note the inverted commas, as Spring has really started in a somewhat unusual fashion this week!  When I wrote this back in February, even then I was thinking that I would probably regret this title in July/August when it’s hot, dry and the garden is looking burnt to a crisp!  But right now I have virtually nothing I can write about being outside the backdoor as, so far, the story of 2018 has been rain, or more recently snow, has well and truly stopped play!

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Outside the Backdoor – 2 March 2018 (c) Elizabeth Malone

At least now it is getting lighter!  And by the end of the month, the clocks will have ‘sprung forward’.  No longer do the streetlights turn off as I walk to the station in the morning.  This happens to me for about two or three weeks in the winter when my departure coincides precisely with the timing of the lights and always reminds me of the first Harry Potter film when Dumbledore extinguishes the streetlights so that the wizards delivering the baby Harry to his Aunt and Uncle aren’t spotted by the ‘muggles’.  The evenings are lighter too.  If I leave work on time, it is now light and I’ve even taken a photograph of our emerging new building glowing rosy in a sunset.

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New Town House under Construction, Kingston University, Feb 2018  (c) Elizabeth Malone

However, for most of January and February, whenever I have been available to go out into the garden, the weather has been vile.  I was so optimistic on the second weekend in January when it was dry, not particularly warm but frost free.  We headed outside and soon I was tugging at a horrible dead, slimy mulch of crocosmia leaves, removing them from the border and exposing the bright green shoots of bulbs as well as making the patio look cleaner and neater.  I cleared more dead perennial leaves and shoots from the border and soon filled up our green bin whilst John tackled tidying up the sprawling Clematis tangutica, capturing as many of its silky seedpod heads before they spread too widely and produced a multitude of offspring.

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Clematis tangutica, Bill Mackenzie (c) John Malone

The following weekend it was wet – very wet, and so it has continued.  John has been marginally more successful in getting outside than me.  He often works from home a couple of days a week and seizes the opportunity of a bit of garden tidying in his lunch hour.  Having said that, we seemed to hit several weeks when the sunny days were the ones in the office and vice-versa.  This also led to three slightly tetchy mini-tigers as the cats prowled indoors, expressing their frustration at not being able to get out much.  Still, the other day I returned home to the declaration that the apple trees had now been pruned with a view to encouraging their fruiting spurs and on another occasion I returned from church to find the last prickly twigs of the raspberries being consigned to the rubbish heap.  All it takes is one fine day.  A couple of Sundays back, I returned from church to a sunny but blustery garden to discover that John has acted on my decision to remove much of our Escallonia.  If ever there was a shrub that had become too big for its own good!  Twiggy, dark and misshapen, something had to happen.  From ten feet tall to under two feet tall in a morning!  The light it has created is fantastic and now we can see the lovely Camelia beyond coming into bloom.

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Camelia – February 2018 – (c) Elizabeth Malone

Ironically perhaps, but one of the jobs we need to get done is to repair our water butt connections.  One of the water butts sprung a leak last year and in the early autumn we were able to empty it and John crawled inside to mend it.  Unfortunately this only solved part of the problem as it transpired that the connecting pipe also needed replacing.  We have the components but now we need a dry day to fix them.  It’s particularly annoying as we know we are losing water and, despite the wet weather now, you can be sure that this will all suddenly change and we will soon be needing watering cans.

It’s not all doom and gloom, however.  Looking on the bright side, February has treated us to a charming display of miniature Iris reticulata.  These perfectly formed flowers are real jewels at this time of year.  I have already spotted daffodils in flower up the road (before they got covered in snow!) and I can see giant green spikes in the border so ours are starting to emerge.  What I cannot see, which is somewhat frustrating, are the tulips I planted in the autumn and I strongly suspect that the energetic squirrel chases taking place in the garden are tulip fuelled!

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Iris reticulata – February 2018 – (c) Elizabeth Malone

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My how you’ve grown!

We’ve lived here for almost exactly 17 years and on the anniversary of our moving in, I delved into the bookshelves to find the scrap book that I’d made of our house move and the first year or so of living here.  Yes, a scrap book, really!  Remember the days of print photographs?!  Whilst the house has changed a great deal, the difference in the garden is just fascinating.

To begin with, what struck me was what was missing – no pond, no veg bed, no greenhouse, no lighting.  On the other hand, there was a long list of things that had been removed – brick barbecue, strange box like structure in the border and many, many weeds!

Having just replaced the pergola, these early photos go to show how new the original one must have been when we moved here.  And what a shame that the willow tree succumbed to drought very early on.

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The old pergola, Summer 2000

On reflection, having a willow tree shedding its leaves into the pond every autumn would have been a nuisance.  Now we have the benefit of sitting by the pond, enjoying

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Clematis Alpina

the early spring sunshine and watching the tadpoles and newts floating around.  And the tiny Clematis Alpina attached to that stick at the front is now a thing of beauty despite many squirrel attempts to defeat it.

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New pergola at dusk, Spring 2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The other major area of transformation has been what we generally refer to as ‘down the far end’ or, on a more aspirational day, the ‘woodland garden’!  It is not inaccurate to describe it as a woodland garden.  It is, after all, an area of planting underneath some very large trees, only one of which is actually rooted in our garden.  When we originally viewed the house in early February, the area looked very innocent; just a large slightly weedy, muddy patch.  However, by the time we moved in at the end of April, it had become a complete jungle of weeds that took the best part of a year to clear!

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The ‘woodland garden’!  Summer 2000

As we worked our way through the bramble and greenery, our weed identification skills improved somewhat!  Meanwhile, the mound we created of rubbish would grow and grow.  We’d then leave it for a week or so to rot down and then start adding again the following weekend.  Eventually we revealed what might have been an attempt to create a herb garden at some time in the past.  We also uncovered a range of intriguing objects, not least of all the original grate from the house fireplace that appeared to have been buried here!

Realising that this was never, ever going to be suitable for a herb garden (too shady for one thing), we went about adding to the woodland feel by planting two Camelias – one deep rosy pink and the other pure white.  Here you can just about see them against the fence.

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New planting in the ‘woodland garden’, Spring 2001?

My how they have grown!  Sixteen years down the line and they are at least six feet tall and both have been pruned on several occasions!  They have even reached sideways to join up with each other!

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Camelias, Spring 2017

If there is a lesson to be learned from these photos, then it must be ‘read the plant label carefully’!  Don’t be fooled by the innocent little stick of a plant, you may well be given home to a giant!