wind

Plants along front walk: orange California poppies (Eschscholzia californica) in bloom; blue Ceanothus blooming in background

In My Garden

I recently rediscovered a book I have no memory of buying. As you can see from the price stickers in the photo, it was a bargain. Especially considering what a fun read it’s been.

My copy of In My Garden by Christopher Lloyd

Christopher Lloyd was an eminent British gardener (“horticulturist, ” as he called himself) and writer on gardening. This book is a collection of his essays first published in Country Life between 1964 and 1993. They are arranged by month, a practice that makes sense considering that gardening is an activity governed by the seasons.

Reading the thoughts of this longtime expert gardener who was also a good writer was an informative delight. I must have read this book whenever it was I bought it, but I somehow forgot doing so. That made this re-reading a fresh experience.

Gardening was both passion and profession for Lloyd. He was opinionated, but spoke from knowledge and experience. His garden at Great Dixter was open to the public, which led to opinions about the habits of garden visitors. And on the habits of plants, from trees to tiny alpines. Dogs in the garden. Thefts of plants and cuttings, including confessions of long-ago heists perpetrated by Mr. Lloyd and his mother and fellow gardeners. His thoughts on the sound of certain words — “cultivar” (ugly) or “inflorescence” (delightful). The virtues of rough grass, which made me think I’m on to something with my Boulevard Project. The death of a plant as an opportunity for something new to be added. The essays cover a dizzying variety of garden-related topics, from plant propagation to cooking.

Great Dixter Garden is now managed by a charitable trust as a biodiversity and educational centre and is open to visitors. Its official website may be found here.

As well as enjoying Mr. Lloyd’s thoughts on gardening, I’ve been bustling about in my own patch, so thought it was okay to borrow his book’s title for this post. Deadheading continues, as well as staking, snipping, weeding, lugging watering cans, and fretting about when to activate the soaker hoses and sprinklers.

I can’t really complain about the weather so far this season. We haven’t had unseasonable cold or heat, and there was adequate rainfall from April through June. Today (June 27th), as I write this, however, we have dull clouds and a blustery wind, but without rain. My least favourite kind of weather, since the wind batters plants and tugs on them and dries out the soil. And it’s unpleasant to be in the garden with flying debris whizzing by as branches clash and clank overhead. (Okay, I’m complaining after all, but whining about the weather is a gardener’s prerogative.)

Update: today (June 28th) has been a complete contrast — sunny and clear with a little breeze. And we had a few millimetres of rain overnight; not enough to make much difference, but it was nice to hear its patter on the leaves. Summer rain here is a blessing.

Since this is a Garden post, a few photos are obligatory. About the middle of June I ran around trying to get decent close-ups of flowers. Being a lazy photographer, I didn’t work too hard at it, and my camera isn’t intended for macro work. These are the best of a dubious lot.

Ladybug on rue flower
Ladybug beetle on rue flower
Single flower of Geranium "Ann Folkard" with grey foliage in background
Flower of Geranium “Ann Folkard” with grey foliage of Rose Campion (Silene coronaria, formerly Lychnis coronaria) in the background.
Single flower of orange California poppy Eschscholzia californica
California poppy (Eschscholzia californica), one of the best North American native plants for dry, sunny gardens. This is its normal colour.
Pink and cream California poppies Eschscholzia californica
Cream and pink California poppies, results of a packet of seeds of a type called “Thai Silks” I scattered around years ago.
Close-up of white mullein (Verbascum chaixii 'Album' with Hosta "Stained Glass" in background
Close-up of a white form of mullein (Verbascum chaixii ‘Album’). Hosta “Stained Glass” in the fuzzy background.

My patch of garden is not comparable to the size, sophistication, and magnificence of the one at Great Dixter, but all gardens and gardeners have something in common.

Blasted, Battered and Bothered

Southern Vancouver Island enjoyed a couple of perfect late summer days early this week — high temperatures around 25 degrees C (about 75 F), nice calm evenings — nothing to complain about (except the continuing drought, but never mind that). Then on Thursday we got a “marine push.”  That’s a term used by meteorologists in this part of the world to describe a phenomenon where the overall flow of air shifts from offshore to onshore as something called a “thermal trough” exits the area. Warm (or hot) air from the interior of British Columbia is replaced by cool marine air from the Pacific Ocean. This time, unfortunately, the pressure gradient was such that we had strong winds all day and most of the night.

I admit it — I hate strong winds. I know some people find them bracing and energizing. People who engage in sports such as sailing, windsurfing and hang gliding live for windy days, and we definitely get our share here in Victoria, as those onshore winds are funneled up the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

But I, being a gardener, mutter and curse when the wind gets up into the strong category and persists, battering plants, ripping Clematis armandii from the eaves of the garage, and sucking up what little precious moisture remains in the soil.

The effects of wind are especially annoying now, at the dry and rattling end of Hell Month (see my July 18 post), when the garden already looks wretched.  Leaves are pulled from the maples, not the yellow and orange ones that will brighten the ground in October, but green leaves — a peculiar, sickly, dead-looking green. They give the garden a depressing air as they lie on the lawn and lodge among the equally tired-looking foliage in the perennial borders. The pond is scummed with algae and a generous sprinkling of those ugly leaves. There are twigs everywhere, and plants that were listing only slightly before have acquired a definite lean — an eastward one, of course.

This illustrates one of the central facts of gardening — crucial factors that determine success or failure are beyond the gardener’s control. Unlike indoor hobbyists and creative types (knitters, painters, woodworkers, potters), we gardeners work with the stuff of the earth and the natural world. Rain and wind, heat and frost, the depredations of insects and disease — all are elements about which we can do little or nothing. We water our gardens in dry weather, we stake tall plants, we race around with dusts and sprays intended to kill bugs or cure blights, we construct plastic tents, greenhouses or shade structures, but really, in the end we are at the mercy of nature.

Anyone who has gardened for more than a year or two knows this. And those of us who continue to garden in despite of this non-negotiable fact have come to embrace it. In our creative enterprise we are engaged with forces far greater than ourselves. We dance and wrestle with the Earth itself. Both our triumphs and our failures are the results of this partnership.

And all the complaining we do? We are entitled to it. It’s part of the package. Look at farmers, who are gardeners on a grand scale, with their livelihoods on the line. They complain all the time. But they are always looking ahead to Next Year.