The 7 triumphs and 6 frustrations of my summer garden

Forgive the tardiness, but the sun is out and I have been gardening like Vita Sackville West on crack. (Which is how she liked things, apparently.)

It has been a sometimes frustrating, sometimes triumphant, spring and early summer. Let me share what I’ve been up to.

The 6 frustrations of my garden

1. Aphids.

The arrival of spring bought with it these sap-sucking little bastards in abundance and they set up shop on my roses.

I tried everything to get rid of them but they wouldn’t shift.

A picture of aphids on my rose bush.
Aphids. It’s easier to treat an STI.

It reminded me of an experience with a freeloader in a share house I lived in some years ago. This kiwi guy who was a mate of a herpes-infested member of our household turned up, plonked himself on the couch, contributed nothing, smoked a lot of pot, stayed for four months and, when he finally fucked off (without so much as a goodbye), left £20 on the coffee table to say ‘thanks’.

I’m not too proud to admit that, as my frustration grew, I treated that rent-seeking twatbucket with increasing contempt. What started with gentle remarks about ‘contributing’, slowly descended into all-out open range warfare, before I finally gave up — at which point, he left.

That’s basically what happened with the aphids. I brushed them off, I sprayed them with soapy water once a day, then twice a day, then three times a day. Then I decided to give up and let nature take its course.

And it did. They’re gone now. Probably having been eaten by a lady bird. Which is precisely what I hope happened to the kiwi.

2. Kermit the frog is a fucking liar.

If it’s not easy being green, why are my ponds permanently green?

A slightly green garden pond.
This is as good as it got for the garden ponds. Mostly they look like someone put Kermit through a Moulinex.

I put in some oxygenating aquatic plants and the green cleared up overnight. It was magnificent.

But, in a fate eerily similar to that of Bruce Banner, the green was too strong and soon over-powered the oxygenating plants. It came back, and now I can’t get rid of it.

A quick dredge through this pea soup pulls up some very dead-looking oxygenating plants.

Like Bruce Banner, I have not given up. I have purchased some more.

3. I went to the Chelsea Flower Show and got really inspired.

You can see why.

A woodland garden at the Chelsea Flower Show.
The first of many gardens at this year’s Chelsea Flower Show to have woodland theme. (This garden was best in show.)
Various flowers at Chelsea Flower Show.
A feast for pollinators.
A small Japanese Garden at Chelsea, with lots of acers, rocks and moss.
Japanese gardens have helped inspire mine, so I was pleased to see this wonderful Japanese garden at Chelsea.
Gardens at Chelsea are like strippers in clubs. They’re stunning to look at but you’re not allowed to touch. There’s also a tinge of sadness as you know they’re going to be hauled away at the end of the week. Although for this garden, at least, that’s unlikely to be on possession charges.
Another beautiful garden at the Chelsea Flower Show.
This gorgeous little woodland might be why I decided to buy irises. On which, more in a moment.

I was thrilled to find woodland gardens are in fashion, as it’s a woodland ‘feel’ I’ve been trying to create in the back garden.

The next day I went to the garden centre and panic bought a couple of hundred quid’s worth of plants, to ‘fill in the gaps’.

The trolley full of plants I bought at the nursery the day after Chelsea.
An expensive mistake. Don’t visit a plant nursery when you’re high on Chelsea. Chelsea is a class A drug.

That’s when things started to go wrong.

Until that point, I’d been exceptionally careful about following my own set of rules about the planting in my back garden:

  • Any flowers (or colourful foliage) had to be whites, pinks, plums and purples
  • Any plant should fit the woodland feel, especially a Japanese woodland
  • No plant should be poisonous to dogs
  • Every plant must be fully hardy (I am NOT digging things up and bringing them inside over winter)
  • Where possible, plants should be evergreen (so the garden doesn’t look naked over winter).

Well I went nuts and I bought things I now regret. Some aren’t woodlanders. Some are the wrong colour. And, worst of all, some (particularly irises, as it turns out) are apparently:

  1. Irresistible to corgis, and
  2. Give corgis the screaming shits.

(No trip to the vet was required but for a couple of days the backyard looked like someone threw a gravy-boat across the patio during a particularly spirited argument.)

So, all the panic-purchased plants have to go.

4. I shouldn’t compare my persicarias to those of the other boys in the locker room.

Here’s how the persicaras looked at Chelsea.

Persicarias in a Chelsea show garden.
The persicarias are the pink bottlebrush-type flowers on the left, behind the irises.

I love my persicarias. I bought them as babies in 9cm pots in early spring. I wanted to put on a nice big show for everyone but, unfortunately, they appear to be growers, not showers.

Persicaria in leaf but not in bloom.
Persicaria. Pfft. More like persidontcaria.

I guess some persicarias are late bloomers.

Hopefully next summer they’ll be bigger, showier, and confident enough to shower in front of the older lads.

5. My box is too open.

You can see daylight through it.

Box hedge with holes in it.
There’s more empty frontage in my box hedge than a British high street.

I bought big buxus to try to create an instant hedge. I did that because box is so slow growing. When the box arrived it wasn’t exactly a ‘hedge in waiting’ and so when I planted it out, it was filled with gaps.

‘It’s fine,’ I thought, ‘they’ll fill up.’

And they will. But one season in and there’s only about an inch of growth in the growthiest bits. I keep hoping I’ll look out the window one morning and find the gaps suddenly gone.

It worked for Madonna’s teeth, so I don’t see why it shouldn’t work on my box.

Or Madonna’s box, for that matter.

6. Summer is an endless hand job.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my garden and I love my house. But neither was blessed with an outdoor tap and, therefore, I have to water this whole thing by hand.

All while my neighbours — who have literally no garden, just weedy gravel and one neglected rose bush — have a coiled up hose lying unused by their back door.

The 7 triumphs of my garden

1. Every day is like Christmas Day in the garden

I’ve finally been able to plant a whole heap of plants I’ve always wanted to grow, but have never grown before.

Many of these plants are the kind of herbaceous perennials grown in borders in English country gardens. Foxgloves, for example.

Foxgloves around a birdbath.
Foxgloves in my front garden.

Side note: My wonderful neighbour, Miss Marple, says ‘peri-anal’ when she means ‘perennial’ and now I can’t look a herbaceous border in the eye.

The other day I came home from the nursery with a black-eyed susan to add to my ‘peri-anal’ collection and, for reasons that I hope will be immediately apparent, I’ve nicknamed him ‘The Donald’.

The distinctive orange flowers with black central dots of the 'black-eyed susan', or Thunbergia.
I’m 99% certain it’s not OK to call a Thunbergia a ‘black-eyed susan’ any more. #wokegardening

2. Miss Marple made me a couple of these fetching gardening pinnies.

Much to the amusement of my partner (who, in schoolyard tones, refers to her as my girlfriend) Miss Marple has cracked out the Bernina and run me up a couple of fetching garden aprons.

This gardening apron, the Marple 3000, is my favourite new accessory. Boyfriend is not so keen.

The boyfriend can laugh. I have no regrets.

3. I’m not the only ex-pat pansy around here.

Unexpectedly, I found one of my favourite plants at a nursery here. It’s the Australian native violet, and I have planted it in abundance.

I’ve long had a crush on Viola hederacea, the ‘native violet’ as we call it back home in Australia.

4. Our garden benches arrived.

For six months I have six brick pillars in the back garden.

Four brick pillars.
Four of the aforementioned six pillars that have been standing like a Brutalist take on the Easter Island statues in the back garden for six months.

But now, I have three wonderful benches instead.

Three solid oak benchtops.
The three oak benches Rob built.

They were built by my favourite anarchistic/republican/conspiracy theorist, Rob, who is a woodworking genius from Cheshire.

They look absolutely magnificent.

Rob included his signature in one of the bench tops.

And probably some kind of alien signal receiver or aristocrat deterrent, or something.

(Everyone needs a few talented oddballs in their life, don’t they?)

Solid oak benchtop.
Note the inset ‘bow-tie’ on the right-hand side. Note also how bloody green that pond water is.

5. My before and after shots inspire me.

It’s exactly one year since we moved in and I’ve reached a point where I’m incredibly proud of my efforts. Here are some before and after shots to show how far things have come.

Before and after in the front garden

A paved front garden with a terrible picket fence. No plants, just a few weeds.
The front garden before we moved in.
The front garden is now a wonderful, lush little sanctuary… where all the plants too poisonous to put in the back garden now live.

Before and after in the side return

(Or the courtyard, as I now call it)

The side return when me moved in.
The side return has been transformed into a lovely little courtyard – a great spot to relax in the cool of the shade.
Looking back in the other direction, towards the back garden. Excuse my old clapped-out back door (said the actress to the bishop).

Before and after in the back garden

Oh how I hated those pavers. They had to go.
The back garden now, ft. Corgi.

6. I’ve managed to impress Miss Marple

I caught Miss Marple showing off my front garden to one of her friends this morning.

She walked him across the street to show him my handiwork.

Praise, my friends, does not come higher than when it comes overheard in a conversation between two third parties – especially when one of them is an expert.

7. A hose for a rose

I asked my neighbours if I could use their hose over the summer and they said yes… as long as I watered their rose.

You bloody bet I will. And I’ll do it in my new gardening pinny, to add an air of authority as I do it.

This post is dedicated to Emily Shaw. [She’s not dead or anything. It’s her birthday, so I was given explicit instructions to update the blog.] Happy birthday, Em.

Join my garden journey progress from the start, here.

21 Replies to “The 7 triumphs and 6 frustrations of my summer garden”

  1. Wow Dan, WOW!!
    What a transformation. You sure have worked hard (in your pinny) and no doubt spent a fortune but it’s worth it.
    Hope you get some time to relax and enjoy

  2. Amazing transformation in a short space of time. Looks great and will get even better over time.
    Anyway I’m off to check my peri-anals!

    1. It’s right here waiting for you to visit, husband. Thank you for the kind words. It won’t really be home until you and I have polished off a couple of bottle of Papa Chiro-sized cheap red in it.

  3. PLEASE don’t tell us it’s finished Dan. We have enjoyed reading your ‘laugh out loud’ blogs SO much we don’t want them to stop! The garden looks absolutely stunning – a fabulous result for all your hard work!

    1. Thank you so much Helen! What a lovely thing to say! Fear not, there will always be more to come. I haven’t even mentioned the allotment yet…

  4. OMG Dan, I am beside myself. Words cannot express how stoked I am about that dedication.
    Love from your number 1 fan girl.
    Em x

    1. Haha! You’re very welcome! I’m thrilled that you read it. And even more so that you demand posts! Hope you had a wonderful birthday x

      1. Thank you.
        P.S. The garden is looking absolutely fabulous, I have enjoyed watching the journey from afar. Not to mention all the lols along the way. Hopefully one day in the near future I’ll be able to see it for myself in person.
        But now that it’s looking so pretty, please don’t stop posting!

  5. I love your new benches, I hope the corgi is better (and learned his lesson), and I bet your persicaria simply needs a year to settle in before she blooms (girls can be like that.) I’m chuffed by the kindness and generosity of Miss Marple and am sure you spark joy in her heart every time you rock her gardening apron. Honestly Dan, she probably weeps with gratitude every time she looks out front and sees what you’ve accomplished in a year. I

    can’t wait for the next chapter (and I’m relieved you’re not carting bits of the garden inside for winter keeping, sensible man.)

    1. Thanks Sarah. It’s slightly competitive. Miss Marple is good friends with the lady we bought the place from, so I’m trying out friend the old friend… who was so awful to us during the house purchase! 🙂

  6. Had a great laugh reading of your gardening exploits and neighbouring exploitation. Thoroughly enjoyed seeing the transformation too – wonderful stuff!

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