Whats happening in the garden by Julie Mitchley.

Garden Notes

I have just spent a satisfying half hour shovelling the soil back into a large crater that I had created in my garden. Being a mere woman it has taken me several hours over four days to remove a large stump, but being a stubborn and ridiculously independent woman I refused to ‘get a man in’ and was determined to complete the task myself. In the past though I have been known to seek help from my animal companions – a particularly friendly and obliging hen would accompany me in the vegetable plot scratching around busily uprooting weeds and creating a lovely fine tilth for seed sowing. On one occasion the dog was a tremendous help when I dug up a bed of raspberry canes which had ceased to be productive. As I dug, he grabbed each cane in his mouth and pulled as hard as he could until it came loose. Great teamwork and delightfully companionable!

How many of us actually spend December and January working our way through the list of tasks the gardening manuals tell us we should be doing? You know the kind of thing – scrub the greenhouse inside and out, clean, sharpen and oil all your tools, service the lawnmower, wash all the plant pots, scrub out the water butt …  Some days it’s far more tempting just to curl up by the fire with a cup of tea and a book. If the book has a gardening or natural history theme then I am thoroughly content. If you are looking for presents for a gardening enthusiast or if you are looking forward to a good read over Christmas here are some of the books I have enjoyed this year.

Top of my list is ‘The Garden in the Clouds’ by Anthony Woodward, who bought a derelict smallholding high up on the Hatterall Ridge in the Black Mountains with the ambition of creating a garden in just a year that would be special enough to be included in the Yellow Book.   Many of you will have already read the book or even visited the garden. The book is a delightful and funny read, with evocative descriptions of the location and of all the wonderful quirky characters he comes across in pursuit of his ambition, together with heartbreaking episodes when the elements, the rocky land and the local animals seem to conspire against him.

The next two books are about natural history rather than gardening.  ‘While Flocks Last’ by Charlie Elder is the story of the year that novice birdwatcher Charlie spent travelling all over the British Isles armed with field-guide and binoculars seeking out each one of the birds on the Red List of forty bird species in serious decline. It’s a fascinating, informative and entertaining read and is gently humorous.

‘The Butterfly Isles’ by Patrick Barkham is the tale of the summer the author spent trying to spot (successfully) every one of Britain’s 59 native butterflies. It is beautifully written with wonderful descriptions of the butterflies, the places he visited and all the experts who help him in his quest.Again, a completely fascinating, entertaining and witty read. It certainly made me look at butterflies with new eyes.

If you enjoy biographies, ‘A Thing in Disguise’ by Kate Colquhoun is a brilliant biography of Joseph Paxton, head gardener at Chatsworth House and designer of the Crystal Palace. It may leave you feeling completely inadequate – how could one man have achieved quite so much? It’s a compelling read and of interest to anyone interested in horticulture, architecture, social history, the Victorians... I read it when it came out in 2003 and picking it up again I find I have already started to reread it. Enough said!

‘Dear Friend and Gardener’ Letters on Life and Gardening by Beth Chatto and Christopher Lloyd has just been reissued in a new edition with illustrations and plans of both their gardens. It is a charming exchange of letters over two years with a lovely mix of notes on plants, gardens, good food, music, friends and the trials and tribulations of getting old. I enjoyed it first time around and it’s another one I will be rereading this winter.

Julie Mitchley Garden Design. Tel: 01600 750697