In a small and muddled garden. Dorset. England. Thoughts about gardening and thoughts while gardening. Housework, politics and book reviews too. Esther Montgomery.

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Friday, April 11, 2014


Remember the box bush which my husband thought he might have poured hot water poured over? There's another bush now with dry, yellow leaves. Unless he's been wandering round the garden with a lethal kettle, our original diagnoses must have been wrong.

Do I have box blight? (Not me personally; the bushes.) It's a troubling thought. I have a lot of box edging and vague balls in pots. I've looked at pictures of box blighted leaves on the internet and they look musty in a way my leaves don't. But they don't look good either and I can't imagine they'll recover - so I've cut away the yellow branch from the box in the pot. What next?

My plan was that I'd follow this up with a good watering of organic feed. I still would if I could. But I'll need organic feed myself if ever I'm to get the top off that bottle. I've pushed and shoved and squashed the sides of the lid together, just as it says in the instructions - but it won't budge. Somewhere in the house there's a set of weights. I'l use them and go back in a week when my muscles are stronger. Meanwhile, I've sat the bottle of feed next to the pot, hoping this will inspire new growth from adjacent branches. The success of this plan depends much on the reading age of the bush and I have no way of asking it if it's got any further in its lessons than Biff and Chip; I don't speak Box. You may think my hopes are a bit overblown but I suspect there's more of a chance that this bush will read the promise of four cap-fulls to two gallons of water than there is of me becoming a body builder so it's worth a try.

The other challenge is where to face the pot. If I angle it so the cut-away side catches sunshine, it'll look horrid. If I make it face the wall it will stay hollow for ever. Box doesn't like to grow below the leaf line. It finds it as hard to push new growth from its woody parts as I find it hard to get the lid off the bottle.

So, for the moment, and probably for the next few years, I have a hollow bush.

(Unless it becomes 'Ex'.) (Or 'Late' as Mama Ramotswe would have it.)

Stylish Wheelbarrow, don't you think?

Thursday, April 10, 2014


Hand drawn picture of clematis armandii leaf
The longest wall in my garden faces south. In the morning, sun streams along it from the east and almost every day ends with a western glow. For part of the morning our house casts a shadow over one end of the wall and our shed shades the other end later - but that's ok for there are few plants there. The sun in between glides by and lights the wall from a southern direction. It dries the washing and, in due season, ripens the apples. So why does our clematis grow north?

It's an armandii: it's leaves are large, glossy and evergreen. In spring, it covers itself in white stars and goes into an over-drive of growth. Masses of new stems shoot towards . . . er . . . the north . . . and wave around gently and temptingly over the street. I say 'temptingly' because they are too much for people playing out over the Easter holidays to resist. It sets a theme for the year. Once noticed, the clematis is never left alone till autumn rains or winter chill sends everyone back to play indoors.

If only Clematis armandii had flexible stems I'd be able to save them. At first sight, you'd think they'd easily bend. They waft around like cartoon octopus legs underwater. But when you try to ease them back and tether them to vine eyes along the top of the wall they snap. Dup! And there's another one gone.

The wall faces south. The sun shines from all ways except north. So why is north the only way the clematis grows?

Thursday, April 3, 2014


Hand-drawn fatsia leaf
Last year, I saw a woman on a beach in the sunshine. She looked embarrassed and bored. There was a child in her arms - almost toddler sized but not quite a toddler yet.  A bit of a weight in the heat but not yet ready to get up and run after a ball. I recognised her expression. Knew what she was feeling. The baby needs you to sit. You might not mind. Or you might. All your friends and family have gone for a walk or for tea in a cafe or to browse the fantastic bookshop up the road . . . or to work. While you? You sit there. You just sit there with the baby. Your life has led to this. You are a chair. And a chair that, you feel, people might criticise for doing nothing except being sat on. Chairs have an easy life compared with mothers. I doubt many chairs are embarrassed that while everyone else does something interesting or useful, they just be - a chair.

I have three seed trays which I'm carting into the garden during the day and back to the bedroom windowsill at night. One has black basil seedlings in it. One hollyhocks. One lupins. The lupins look healthy and are galloping ahead. The basil are numerous. They germinated the moment they touched the soil then stopped. No secondary leaves. The hollyhocks are puny, leggy, few. I wonder whether they aren't hollyhocks after all despite what it said on the packet. Of course, that can't really be so - but these thin little weedlings - will they really grow seven feet tall?

I do not feel motherly towards my seedlings and never have done - but I used to lavish them with an affection I no longer feel. Each year they inspire me less and less. They are just there - doing what seedlings do; growing, not growing, failing or thriving. But there is a parallel. There's a long gap (there isn't really, it just seems so) between germination and potting on. Doing nothing is hard. I carry them into the sunshine and back when it rains or night falls - when what I really want to do is pull them out by their little seedling ears and put them in pots of their own. Not because they need to be in pots of their own but because I want to do something.