Thursday, 24 June 2010

What you have

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

I am an absolute rubbish gardener. This is not British self-deprecation; it is hard, empirical truth. I let the garden get out of hand, and then I panic and hide inside while the ground elder does its worst. I actually get an acute moral guilt about the whole thing: because I forgot to prune the buddleia at the right time, I must be a bad person. This really would make my old shrink's day: magical thinking and wrong construction, all in one sentence.

There is always a tipping point, beyond which I feel overwhelmed. Because the weeds have reached a certain level, the only way to tackle them is to clear them all, every last one. Since I seem incapable of doing that (I do have a book to write, dammit) I do nothing.

The miracle is, since the glorious new pot table arrived, I seem able to brush off the dark wing of shame, and restore some rationality. Because I was suddenly excited about making all the pots look pretty, I started to believe I could take a stab at the rest of the garden. I thought: perhaps I will just pull out that sticky willow, since I'm here. Instead of recoiling in horror and confusion from the jungle the beds had become, I thought: I'll hoe that little patch there. I discovered that I did not have to make the whole garden look perfect that very minute in one massive intervention. I could just pull up that pesky infestation of nettles, or this small patch of mad buttercups. (Buttercups are the very devil. They look so innocent and innocuous, with their nodding yellow flowers, but their roots refuse to budge, and have to be dug and hacked out of the ground, and even then you can't be sure you've got them all.)

In one unexpected twist, I have forgiven myself for being a crummy horticulturalist, and realised that the existence of a few weeds does not mean that I am pointless, feckless and useless. Now I move into a new and possibly more dangerous phase, which is plant envy. I have reminded myself that I can tidy up, and get the soil back to a presentable state. With the weeds going, I can see the bare patches that need filling. There is a mystery to gardening which I shall never quite understand, which is: every year, some things simply disappear. Last season, I had glorious white foxgloves, and two huge euphorbias, which were seeding themselves everywhere. This summer, there is only emptiness where they once were, as if some evil elf came in the spring and dug the things up. I can find no trace of them. It is an enduring puzzle. But the point is: I need new plants.

So I am in a fever of desire. I dream of chocolate cosmos and dark velvety blue delphiniums and delicate little astrantias. I want to leap in the car now this minute and rush to the garden centre and spend hundreds of my Scottish pounds.

I stopped myself. Calm, calm, I said to the crazed plant voices in my head. I do not have the time to go shopping, and there is a recession on; I can't be throwing cash about at random. I have my old age to think of.

Instead of yearning for what I did not have, I decided to have a close look at what I did. The psychologists always say this is the secret to happiness. Do not want what you do not possess, but love what you do. That is my mantra of the day.

And you know, the amazing thing is that it turns out I have quite a lot.

I have the wonderful blowsy elders:


And the delicate little salix:


The oriental poppies, which I once hated because they were so big and vulgar and floppy, now fill me with fondness and wonder:


The crazy hydrangea, which I forget to cut back every year, so it is now SIX FEET HIGH, is still, despite my neglect, getting ready to flower again:


While the brave hellbores, which have to struggle against a north-facing wall, have been blooming since March, and are still going:


This little rose is charging up through the lilac bush in a most pleasing manner:


And the dog roses are out too:


Three different varieties of geraniums are giving keen pleasure:




The tiny, fragile dicentra amazingly survived the worst winter we have had for ten years:


And even though the big euphorbia died a death, the dwarf one goes rolling on:


The lilac lilac is over, but the white lilac has life in it yet:


There. It's not nothing. I can take a deep breath and calm down.

I would love a chocolate cosmos, though.


  1. I think you deserve a little treat after all that hard work on the book and the garden. Although can you trust yourself in a garden centre to just buy one thing and not dash round filling a trolley with glorious plants?

  2. Good advice re loving what you have, something I often forget to do. The pots look wonderful. I planted some lily-of-the-valley bulbs a few years ago, naively thinking "If I plant them here, they'll spread to the front". But of course plants aren't obedient and they've spread all along the back of a large bush! Maybe they've got their own canniness and realised it was a shady place.

  3. I am very similar to you in respect of the garden. I have very honourable intentions to do lots of stuff and being a tropical country, everything will grow with just a wee bit of attention but though I start out like that I never go all out and as a result our garden is sadly not what it should be.

    Your flowers are very pretty.

  4. I prey on green fingered relatives for cuttings and clumps of divided plants myself! Or go mad oncrocus when they have special offers.

  5. How I adore oriental poppies! I have salmon-coloured ones in front of my house and plan to add both California and peony poppies. What lovely flowers you have . . .

  6. So sorry, have been hopeless at replying to comments lately. Thank you so much for these lovely ones; it really does make me feel incredibly touched that you take the time to come here and leave a message.


Your comments give me great delight, so please do leave one.


Blog Widget by LinkWithin