Michael Kerr’s Rye garden


April was a thoroughly sodden month, but May was quite the antithesis.

I very much welcomed the rain in April as it helped to get all my new plants established and I was happy when warm weather followed along in May, or rather I was until the plants began showing signs of drought stress, positively shrinking back in the dusty soil and refusing to grow at all.

This happened just as the water-butts dribbled out their last few drops and, bearing in mind that the hose-pipe ban was still in effect, I had to start watering by can in long relays between the kitchen tap and the garden. (Note to self: get a plumber to install a tap outdoors) When the rain began again I was as relieved as the plants because this toing and froing was both tiring and time-consuming.

A more recent problem has been the wind. It was ferocious over a few days at the start of this month and I watched anxiously from my window as the newly-planted rowan tree rocked violently and the delphiniums, in full-flower, danced wildly among the giant stipa, but, as the winds abated, I checked for damage and discovered that only the buddleja had suffered badly. Its soft new growth (a result of hard pruning earlier in the year) had been hit hard and some of its stems had been bent double or had snapped entirely.

I cut out the worst and then spent an hour or so going around the garden staking and tying in anything I thought would be vulnerable should the winds return. While I was fastening the climbers to their wires I discovered that the white passion-flower was already flowering near the base; its ghostly, semi-translucent flowers wouldn’t have looked at all out of place in the film Prometheus such are their otherworldliness.

The weeds continue to appear as if from nowhere, but I believe my regime of hoeing and hand-picking is taking less time nowadays and so I feel sure I am winning the battle. The artichokes which I decided to banish from the garden still pop up from time to time and as I pull them out it always amazes me to see a scabby little chip, a chip that I must have missed when I first started ripping them out, giving rise to such a fine little plant. They are persistent, but I am more so.

The hemerocallis that have been given a reprieve for the time being are budding up nicely, but if they prove to be yellow or orange I will have to be ruthless and dig them up for they sit amongst a host of pink and mauve companions and the colour combination would be hideous. I have toyed with the idea of creating a ‘hot border’ along the length of the biggest shed in my garden which I have left fallow until the carpenter has finished his work there, but I wonder if I would choose to do so if I didn’t have masses of day lilies to accommodate. Probably not. If they bear flowers complimentary in colour they can remain where they are, but will still have to be split up and reduced in number in the autumn as there are far too many.

The tomatoes and peppers are doing very well and each plant has two or three flower trusses already. They are tied in nicely now and are responding well to feeding. The rhubarb however is looking spindly and pathetic. From my experience, rhubarb seems to be a plant that thrives on neglect- I grew my best ever rhubarb from a crown that I pulled up and tossed on to the compost heap in my allotment. It grew to become such a fine looking plant that, compelled by guilt, I re-planted it in the bed it had originally come from. My Rye rhubarb on the other hand looks miserable and no amount of watering or feeding does any good. I will give it a good dose of well-rotted manure in autumn, that’s if it makes it that far.

Increasingly, there is colour in the garden. The mix of viticella clematis is a riot of plummy-purples and mauves right now and the heucheras, campanulas, tiarellas and foxgloves are all in full flower. The buds of the climbing roses are colouring up and soon they will unfurl amongst the potato-vines on the trellis. I have to admit that I dread the moment when one particular climbing rose begins to flower. This plant was already here when I arrived last year and I didn’t have the heart to get rid of it; it bears small, double flowers in abundance and of a colour not unlike that of a 1960’s lipstick- shocking pink. I had meant to plant a white-flowered clematis at its base, one that flowers profusely and at exactly the same time, in order to soften and mask this outrageous pink, but I completely forgot.

On the design front, there is very little left to do in my garden other than plan what to plant along the length of the afore-mentioned shed, but one design choice I made yesterday should, I hope, prove to be worthwhile. My home was once the fishmongers and greengrocers shops, but these have long since been re-modelled to become one home. The steps down from the back door curiously land on to two paths set about a foot apart and then run parallel for a good length before converging at the two privies. I recently learnt that one path would have been traversed by the greengrocer in his or her time of need and the other by the fishmonger, however, not knowing these facts at the time, I paved over the gap between in order to create a larger, more practical, patio area. I have now decided that these paths should really appear distinct and so I am going to take up the paving and replace it with what will surely be the narrowest lawn ever. I can then point to the paths and tell their story, and go on imagining what conversations might have taken place if both shopkeepers ever made that walk at exactly the same time.