Wednesday, 11 May 2022

Fresh Air

I learnt a lot from reading The Secret Garden as the child. For a start, it's the best introduction to gardening you can find anywhere. Mary knows nothing about gardening when she discovers the overgrown garden, she clears space for the plants to grow and is rewarded with flowers. The childrens' enthusiasm for the natural world is infectious and stays with you for years. It's also a great example of the physical and psychological benefits of fresh air and exercise - add in the creativity of making a garden and you've got everything you need for happiness.

Here's Mary, when she first starts to run outdoors, just to keep warm ...

'the big breaths of fresh air blown over the heather filled her lungs with something which was good for her whole thin body and whipped some red colour into her cheeks and brightened her dull eyes when she did not know anything about it'

Suffice to say, I'm a great believer in fresh air. This has been something of a problem since I've been ill. For the last two years, the long country walks that were a regular part of my life have not been possible and I miss them, probably more than anything else. I can now walk a bit further than before, as long as I take regular rests and don't carry anything heavy. This meant that, at the end of March, to mark Mother's Day, my son and I managed a proper walk and picnic.

We couldn't get as far as actual countryside* but we walked a little way along the canal and met this heron on the way.

We were just starting to think he was a plastic heron when he lumbered into the air and flew away. We came back through Spiceball Park which is a big park right in the middle of Banbury, between the canal and the river. Sitting on a bench by the river for me to catch my breath, we spotted a kingfisher skimming along above the water. As they keep to the same stretch of river, I shall now look out for it every time I go there.

Walks aside though, I am very lucky to have a garden and spend as much time in it as I can. It's one of those long, thin gardens, typical of Victorian terraced houses and backs on to lots of similar sized ones so the whole thing creates a huge green area with lots of trees and wildlife. Here's the view looking up the garden ...

... and this is what it looks like from the top, facing towards the house ...

It looks wider than it is in real life. If you look at the houses, mine goes from the windows to the left of the small white building (my kitchen and scullery) to the chimney pots above it. 

As with all gardens, it's a work in progress and full of mess and memories. As you can see, I have a fine crop of dandelions; I leave the grass to grow long at this time of year so that the wild flowers get a chance - soon it will be full of Ox-Eye Daisies. It also encourages all the insects and pollinators and I often get dragonflies too. Then there are the newts in the bath ... yes, I did say bath.

When the people who lived here before me replaced the modern bath with a freestanding, iron one, the old one ended up in the garden to be used as a pond. It's not the most attractive thing but the frogs and newts seem to like it. The old wooden panelling that I had round it has rotted away so it's going to be supported by its own little brick wall soon. Then I have plans to cover the top edges with some sort of mosaic tiles.

A more attractive addition to the garden is the old sundial and bird bath that came down to me from my Grandmother and which looks as if it's been here forever. Here it is, complete with some bluebells. Can you see there's also a white bell there? I get quite a few of those.

A new and very exciting addition to the garden is my little greenhouse which was a Christmas present from my daughter and her partner. It just fits against the side wall by the house and is already filling up nicely.

There are propagators in front of various windows in the house and lots of seeds in the queue waiting to be sown. The trouble with old houses like mine is that they don't have windowsills. Well, they do but they're too narrow to put anything on. They are deep windows though so I can improvise with tables and, in this case, a trolley parked in front of them.

It's always nice when you can combine your hobbies and I've recently learnt how to make origami pots out of newspaper to use as seed pots. Not only do these use up the bits of my Saturday paper (the only one I buy) that I don't read, but the seedlings can be potted on in their newspaper pots so the roots don't get disturbed.

They look a lot less nice than this once they're full of compost and have been watered a bit but they do the job. It's very satisfying to re-use stuff like this. The seedlings then go into plastic pots but these can be washed and re-used umpteen times so I'm happy with that.

More new additions - this time in the form of plant supports ...

I had both Jack and Rose here this last weekend and, with their help, we got a huge amount done. Did you know that two healthy young adults can carry 110 kg of compost back from the shop in one go? While she was out fetching lots of heavy ceramic garden pots from my Mum's old house (yes, she really is quite strong, I put it down to all that practice pushing her partner's wheelchair), Jack and I put a few things together.

He rescued me from this eight foot tall obelisk and it's now in place in the garden. The soil here is heavy clay and it was very hard work getting its legs in far enough. We had to make the holes first by hammering in a garden cane.

It's there to support the climbing rose inside it which is about a foot tall at the moment but should grow to the top in time. It's a beautiful rose called The Pilgrim (after Chaucer's pilgrim in 'The Canterbury Tales') and has full yellow flowers, shading to cream. I only planted it last autumn as a bare root but it's got some buds so I can't wait to see them open.

In the meantime, I got a clematis to share the obelisk with the rose and encourage it to greater things.

The picture doesn't do it justice. That deep pink is a really vivid colour in real life. It's called Westerplatte and I made the mistake of looking it up online, only to find that it's named after a heroic stand by the Polish forces against the Germans in 1939. The colour is meant to represent the drops of fallen blood ... I shall try not to think of that when I look at the beautiful flowers.

Do you see those very business-like looking bean sticks next to the obelisk? Don't be fooled, I haven't actually planted the runner beans yet (they're in the seed queue). The wall that they're against used to be covered with Irish ivy (which I've just discovered is also called Poet's Ivy). Much as I love it, I decided it didn't need to cover every inch of the wall so, earlier in the Spring, I went into battle with it. You'll be glad to know I won.

Similarly, I've been demolishing the Winter Jasmine that dominated the side wall need the house ...

Those sticks against the wall are all that's left - oh and the bits that have rooted between the bricks higher up. I've told it that it can stay if it promises not to get carried away again. 

I did have an ulterior motive for this lot of drastic pruning as that wall has to be propped up to stop it falling over. It's been there for over a hundred years and is definitely leaning. As you can see, it needs a lot of re-pointing too. That's going to be done soon so then I shall be able to plant things on that side of the garden again. It's the wall that gets the sun and I've got 16 sunflowers waiting in the greenhouse ...

I hope you've enjoyed this little look at my garden; I'll try to update you on its progress later on. I enjoy writing blog posts but they do take a lot out of me so, as with everything, I have to pace  myself. Meanwhile, I'll leave you with a photo of my favourite flower in the garden - the humble Cowslip.

* Since I wrote the first part of this post, Rose and I have been on another canal walk and we got a bit further - as far as the first lock on the way to Cropedy. I was very pleased with myself.


  1. Read you post with interest. How lucky to see a kingfisher, which I am always looking for, but never seen. I also really like you origami seed pots. I had been discussing with my husband how we should try not to buy plastic, but the non plastic to buy seemed just too expensive, We were thinking to try cardboard tubes, but your idea seems much better, and I can also use my "once a week" Saturday newspaper.

    1. My runner bean seeds are currently in cardboard tubes (newspaper in the bottom, then compost) which is how my Dad always grew his. I must start folding the pots in advance, rather than having to do a whole load in advance!

  2. Thanks for this lovely tour of your garden. I admire you for all that you pursue , bearing in mind your longlasting fatigue. Believe me, I know how that is. Gardening (and knitting too) is so therapeutic. Keep it up :)

    1. Thanks Susan. I must admit I find it hard to do much gardening at a time but it's surprising what you can get done in little bits.