Jo Seagar: the joy of planting
As she plots, plans and plants a new back garden, Jo Seagar discovers the joy of connecting with the earth.
Reading this, you would be forgiven for thinking you were on the wrong column. Is this really Jo Seagar’s page? All about gardening? Yes, it is me. I’ve long been fond of noodling about in a garden and I love picking flowers. I’ve always had a garden of sorts, if only a few pots on the windowsill, and for years my mother was on the flower roster at church, so somehow – absorbed by osmosis, perhaps – I kind of know my delphiniums from my Alchemilla mollis. However, I’ve never experienced the total joy and responsibility of creating a garden from scratch… until now.
Faced with transforming the backyard of our cottage in Oxford, I have suddenly been struck down with a severe case of horticultural-itis.
After the chainsaw removed the overgrown scrubby tangle of conifers, weeds and greenery, we constructed a few raised beds and laid out some defined edging and paths. The next phase was left entirely to me – the ordering of the potting mix/garden soil stuff. How hard could that be? I thought I’d done pretty clever sums with the cubic metreage calculation but somehow the School Cert maths really let me down. Two ginormous tip trucks of topsoil arrived and dumped their impressive load in the driveway. (Did I mention I got 12 per cent for that maths?) We’ve spread topsoil everywhere and still there is a huge pile remaining – enough perhaps for a small mountain bike track for our grandsons…
When planning what to plant in our new garden, I read endless gardening magazines and exhausted the entire gardening section of Oxford’s little library in my search for knowledge. But real help was closer at hand, in the form of lovely neighbours who introduced me to the writings of Mrs Marion Cran. Nothing much has changed in gardening circles since Marion penned her newspaper columns in the early 1900s. Her tips are as relevant today as ever. I won’t have pesky moles digging up the flowerbeds as she did,but when it comes to
‘must have’ plants, Marion and I are on the same page. I definitely have to have a lemon tree and a Daphne bush. Raspberries are non-negotiable – the same for hydrangeas and sweet peas.
I’ve riffled through rose catalogues at length but in the end chose the ones my mother loved: Margaret Merril, Abraham Darby,
Jude the Obscure and Leander.
Of course, a cook needs a fabulous potager and herb garden. Gone are the desperate days of pruning a local hedge for fresh bay leaves and pinching a sprig of rosemary from the pub car park, as both are now flourishing in their raised bed. I love sage in all its forms – the colour of the plant is particularly pleasing, and the taste of sage sizzled to a crisp in butter then crumbled over homemade cheesy ravioli, with the butter drizzled on top, is delicious – so I need lots of that. Soon I’ll be planting tomatoes, not only in the hope of an abundant crop but also for the smell of the plants, which is so evocative of Italy in summer – especially when partnered with basil.
This garden was meant to be a simple, easycare plot, so I’m blaming Mrs Cran that I’m now attempting a complicated espaliered crab apple tree wired along the fence and a tiered strawberry patch… it looked quite easy in the book.
I like pulling on my gardening gloves and digging my hands in; it’s a good feeling being attached to the earth. And, to be honest, I’m drawn to the pleasant sensation of gambling when you plant seeds… will they beat the odds and flourish? But perhaps my greatest joy in this new passion is the ability to grow peonies. They are my favourite flower of all – I adore their plump blousiness and lush colours.
The plan goes on, but given the size of our tiny plot, I could be getting quite carried away with my grand dreams. But a garden is never a finished project – there’s always some new weird
and wonderful plant to tickle your fancy.
Oh, I’ve just remembered Canterbury bells. I live in Canterbury… so where can I fit them in?
To be honest, I’m drawn to the pleasant sensation of gambling when you plant seeds…