Six On Saturday 28th July

Would it be rude of me to use the ‘R’ word given the extraordinary hot, dry weather searing through so much of Europe at the moment? Here in northern Spain – somewhat ironically – there has been no shortage of wet stuff falling from the sky; in fact, for weeks and weeks we wondered if it would ever stop. (For anyone tired of lugging watering cans now cursing me soundly, I’d like to point out we’ve also been living under mostly cloudy skies, grateful for the tiniest scraps of sunshine). It might be warm and incredibly humid rather than hot and dry,  but the upside is that the landscape is still lush and green and everything is growing like stink. Ten days away to attend the most beautiful West Sussex wedding was followed by another ten days trying to get the jungle-masquerading-as-a-garden back under some sort of control. Needless to say, we came home to delights and disasters so here are my six for today.

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I’ll start with the scene of devastation that greeted us in the polytunnel: every single tomato plant collapsed, brown and stinking, as a result of blight. It was no great surprise as blight is endemic in this area and this was our third and last attempt at growing a crop, a sort of  ‘do or die’ affair. Die it was, then. It’s a bit frustrating but I’ve filled the space with spare pepper and chilli plants and we ate what unblemished fruit there was. Forget chutney, green tomatoes cooked in olive oil with warming spices and finished with a dash of balsamic vinegar are truly delicious. Honestly.

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If nothing else, the Great Tomato Collapse had me tidying up the tunnel a bit; I staked the aubergines and peppers and gave them a good feed with comfrey tea, then turned my attention to encouraging some of the crazy ‘Melba’ melons upwards. . . and found some hidden treasures under all that foliage. Three fruits (so far) on five plants will hardly make the headlines but it’s a bit of fun. Everyone needs a little bit of frivolity in the garden, surely?

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So we have no tomatoes, no potatoes (there’s a two-year ban in place thanks to the Guatemalan potato moth) and the caterpillars have devastated the brassicas in our absence. 😦 Even so, I love this time of year in the veg patch; what is better than wandering around, trug in hand, foraging bits and pieces for dinner? We have more food than we know what to do with and although our veg wouldn’t win any prizes, they are fresh and wholesome and totally delicious. For me, this is what it’s all about!

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It’s good to see the hibiscus flowering again, they are such pretty things. We have several bushes – all of the common hybiscus syriacus variety –  and although they’ve been planted in daft places (such as the one in the background of my photo, struggling for light under the monster kiwi), they never fail to please. We have a couple of pink ones but my favourites are the whites with those waxy centres and astonishing ink blot of deepest pink dye.

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At the risk of sounding a bit tongue in cheek, Roger has been proudly admiring his nuts this week. In late winter, he lay a hazel hedge; it was quite a feat as the trees were really too tall but they have greened up into a thick, verdant hedge that has already housed several birds’ nests and is now flaunting clusters of large, frilly nuts. They are very beautiful,  looking more like a Kentish cob (well, a filbert really) than common hazel to me so we should be in for a treat if we can beat the wildlife to them later in the year.

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Finally, what a delight to return home to the gorgeous intensely blue abundance of agapanthus. These are ‘Northern Star,’ a hardy variety which flowered amazingly well in our former garden on a wet, windswept Welsh hillside but are ten times happier on our Spanish mountainside (mmm, also rather wet and windswept this year, it must be said). They were given to us on our son Sam’s 18th birthday so there was something lovely to come back from celebrating his wedding seven years later to find they had burst into their best ever show of blooms. Perhaps they knew? 🙂

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It’s time now to head across to join The Propagator   and find out what great things other gardeners have to share from their gardens this week. Happy gardening, all! 🙂

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Family trees (and other special plants)

Isn’t it a lovely thing to share other people’s gardens? Whether it’s a case of simply relaxing and drinking in the sights, sounds and scents or else mooching about through plants and produce, exploring colours and textures and perfumes,  for me it is always an enjoyable and inspiring experience. The last few times we have visited Roger’s parents in Ludlow, the weather has been too inclement to spend much time outside so what a treat on our recent trip to be able to luxuriate out of doors in proper summer weather. The garden they have spent several years creating is stunningly pretty, very long and narrow with teasing vistas that draw you naturally ever upwards, climbing the steep path through formal plantings, a productive vegetable patch, an orchard and a wild area at the very top.

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I love the Jack and Jill seat nestling in a green, leafy glade, completely hidden from sight but enjoying far-reaching views of the South Shropshire hills. I also love the way personalities of plants and gardeners alike echo through different spaces and I have a habit of coming away from other people’s gardens with inspired ideas to transplant into our own patch. The morning sunlight through that magenta clematis had me popping with joy and rushing out to find one similar  . . .

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. . . and true to form, I managed to come back with not one plant but two, a magenta ‘Aotearoa’ and a lilac ‘Proteus’ to keep it company (of course). I also found myself drawn to a pretty grouping of plants: a golden rose, a soft, buttery yellow marguerite and bright sunny creeping Jenny all combined with a somewhat moody purple sedum. Colour wheel opposites, artistically paired.

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I’ve forgotten the name of that rose but what I do know is that Sam gave it to his Granny and Grandad at their golden wedding anniversary party; so good to see it still going strong eight years on and there was a satisfying circularity to the fact that we were there to provide a grandparent chauffeur service to Sam’s own wedding. When it comes to gifts, we often choose experience over stuff; our wedding present to Sam and Adrienne is impossible to wrap but that golden rose inspired me to find them a ‘living’ card, something to plant as a reminder of their special day. Over the years, we have planted many things – trees, shrubs, perennials, bulbs – to mark birthdays, anniversaries and special milestones in our lives; it’s such a pleasure to watch them flourish and be reminded of happy days and celebrations. For Sam and Adrienne, I fancied a climbing or rambling rose, something that would suit them and their garden, that will (hopefully) flower on their future anniversaries and with a name appropriate to the occasion. ‘Shropshire Lad’ would be a good choice for Sam but not without a ‘Montgomeryshire Miss’ to go with it! In the end I plumped for a Harkness climber, a really enthusiastic looking plant with pretty coral buds, flat pink blooms with bright yellow centres (a little past their best in the photo but this beauty will flower three times in a year) and a delicate perfume. The name? ‘Summer Sweetheart.’ Ah, that will do nicely!

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So to the wedding itself and what a truly captivating day it was. We are so thrilled that all three of our offspring have had the imagination and courage to turn their backs on the excessive and unnecessary spendathon so typical of modern weddings and instead have opted for something small, intimate and very personal – a true celebration of their special day, bursting with their own creative touches. What an idyllic setting for the ceremony at St Mary’s House, Bramber , an enchanting 15th century timber-framed house with five acres of immaculate gardens.

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How lovely to spend time in the gardens after the ceremony, the children playing tag and hide-and-seek and bubbling with mischievous energy, the adults mingling and chatting and laughing in the sunshine. No official photographer running the show; instead, simply the informal pictures taken by everyone there which capture the atmosphere so much better than anything posed and staged.

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The ‘tunnel’ of homemade petal confetti was utterly beautiful as was the bridal bouquet; no stiff and formal hothouse prima donnas here, rather something sweet and pretty that could have been gathered straight from a cottage garden. Gorgeous!

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What a wonderful reception, too, at The Artisan Bakehouse where tables and chairs were set up outside in the sunshine. No formal seating plan, no speeches, no standing on ceremony; instead, a blissfully relaxed and happy time for all, chatting over a glass of bubbly, playing lawn games and indulging in the delicious food. So much fun and laughter. What a perfect, perfect day!

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On one of our previous UK trips, Sam and Adrienne had treated us to a prototype wedding cake, a delicious confection of lemon and pistachio lovingly baked in their kitchen. In its final rendering, that citrussy top layer was filled with whimberries, freshly picked from the patch where Sam popped the question last year and decorated with crystallised pansies picked from the hanging baskets he had given Adrienne for her birthday. There is just something so right about all that.

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So, home again to Asturias and time to check what’s been happening in our own (somewhat neglected) garden. There’s been plenty of rain, just perfect for the new hydrangeas we planted with Annie – one for her, one for Matthew – to celebrate the recent holiday they spent with us. Ah, more happy memories. I was also delighted to see the agapanthus in bloom at last; it’s been a bit tardy this year but is now resplendent in vibrant blue and carries yet more meaning for us.

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It was a gift from my brother and his wife, given on Sam’s eighteenth birthday to mark the fact that we had raised all three of our children to adulthood. At the time, I was touched by such an unusual and totally inspired gesture and this ‘Northern Star’ variety, designed to thrive in cooler climes, has flowered every summer without fail. Not surprisingly, however, it has moved up several gears since arriving in Spain; I’ve split the original plant once and both pots are ready to split again. I might even try some in the ground this time. Our garden will never be perfect but it is in so many ways a reflection of our family, life, love. I like that. 🙂

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