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Feature

There may be rhubarb ahead

21 Apr 2024 7 minute read
Rhubarb by Sarah Morgan Jones

Sarah Morgan Jones

With spring theoretically in full swing, my garden is undoubtedly oozing with optimism right now.

Packed with bulbs and buds and rhubarb leaves all crinkly and mandelbrotish, unfurling like a fern, somehow prehistoric.

The mile-a-minute clematis Montana will be swamping the shabby fence, taking up the baton from the Magnolia – which is only just coming into its own – and the blossoming cherry in the front garden which, for three short weeks, forces gasps of wonder out of all who see her.

The mint will be flexing its muscles in a range of varieties – pepper and spearmint, and a blueish grey fuzzy specimen – which gang up with each other to bully the cranesbill which shares the bed.

The raspberry canes will be leafing, the ox eye daisies reaching skyward, the foxgloves popping up wherever they jolly well please.

But I’m not there to see them.

A corner of old garden on May 9 2023 by Sarah Morgan Jones

Different climate

I have left the garden after a stormy and exciting ten-year relationship, and I can hardly bare to countenance how it will be looking right now. If it was on Facebook, I’d block it.

We have moved to a lovely new (for us) rented house some two miles down the hill, in a different climate altogether.

The house is a definite improvement, and we are so happy to be free of mould and damp and crumbling plaster and our landlady is a dream.

The back door and – wow – a patio door opens straight out into our south facing plot which is flatter and wider and a tad shorter than my previous garden. It’s a delight.

But the previous tenants clearly had no look on it, apart from keeping the grass trim, so before I start getting really passionate with this new landscape, I need to see what lurks beneath.

I feel slightly bereft. This new place is a fresh start for us, both stepping through the door for the first time together – not my house or his, but ours. After nearly two decades, it’s probably time.

At the same time though, my late parents spent time in the old garden (and it really is the garden that I’m missing, rather than the house), Ringo Z Dog and several ancient cats are now just bones in the place where they had so much fun.

The laughter of long sunny lockdown days under the gazebo, when the kids came home and hunkered down with us for four months, the boozy nights around the fire bowl, the rows and the romance, the just-getting-everything-beautiful – by chance as much as design – has all disappeared.

The lockdown garden room, Sarah Morgan Jones

Dormant

When we started decorating, ahead of the move back in January, we had planned to dig up much of the still dormant plant life and transport it here with us.

I even got a quote for moving the beloved cherry tree, but at eight years old, it had settled and grown well – my two hands couldn’t quite grip the trunk.

The arborist came and scratched her chin and reckoned it could be done, but it would cost about a grand (gulp) and although the tree is strong and it’s a good time of year, there was no guarantee it would survive.

She looked at me earnestly and said: “You could always get a new one.” At this point I considered cancelling the move.

Cherry blossom, Sarah Morgan Jones

Magnolia, it seems, needs only the slightest fright to lose the will to live and as this one had really only just recovered from the terror of being planted seven years ago, I decided it should stay.

My little Acer could come though, and those raspberry canes and the roses and the rhubarb … but then the rain, it fell and the dog, he got ill, and really, nothing else mattered.

Acer, Sarah Morgan Jones

Yellow buds

Through February the view was square and green with three dead looking trees, stricken near the bottom fence.

The ground around them was springy and a bit boggy underfoot (place for a pond maybe?) and buds of ferns lurked in the shadows.

To the left an ivy swamped stone shed and a gangly privet. To the right a tall, well-made fence running from bottom to top with hints of climbers, leaflessly reaching over from next door.

Ivy shed, Sarah Morgan Jones

No longer terraced and with a ‘wrap-around’ plot, we could now step through a side gate from the back to the front garden, with its neat front lawn and naked, well clipped front hedge.

Just two yellow buds in that hedge told me that I had at last become the custodian of forsythia.

Indeed, in the weeks since we properly moved in it has exploded into yellowness before shedding the flowers and leafing into green.

On the other side of the front gate is a hydrangea, colour as yet unknown.

The shrub, which I’ve always associated with the 70s for some reason (like vol-au-vents in a buffet), is new to my plot, but has been a staple of my parents’ gardens.

Comfrey or borage? Sarah Morgan Jones

Chatter

Various clumps of comfrey (or possibly borage – do let me know in the comments…), have sprung up and into flower, along with nettles – a promising source of nutrients when I finally start growing things.

And those dead trees? They have all come to life, one forsythia and two as yet unidentified, but very popular among the sparrow population…further sadness: in the other house we had a huge flock who would chatter noisily around 11, waiting for us to top up the food.

They would hold their nerve as we moved close to them, having decided we were there to simply serve them. I wonder if they will train up other neighbours to feed them?

The magpies, too, I will miss. Year after year, a faithful pair would bring their babies to learn to tease the dog. There is a different pair here, but so far, they have not clocked the hound.

Fellow gardener and herb hedge by Sarah Morgan Jones

Daisies and dandelions

Now, we still have a tent up in the back garden, storing stuff for which we have not yet found a space. It’s a really useful solution but will wreak havoc with the grass.

Around it, daisies and dandelions are proliferating while the mossiness entwined in the grass is shining green. The potted woody herbs are in the ground around the patio, with specific instructions to unite and form a scented hedge.

I have positioned but not planted new clematis, jasmine and honeysuckle and our friend from the hill is planning to find us a new cherry tree as a house warming present.

We are steeling ourselves to return to the old garden before it is sold, now the dog has healed and some of the pressure has gone.

We will be taking what won’t be missed from the ground and collecting the shed and the greenhouse, before trying to catch up on the growing season.

The impatient gardener

It’ll be like meeting up with the ex to exchange books and CDs after a break-up which was definitely on the cards, but still sad, nonetheless.

Once done, however, I look forward to starting the whole merry dance all over again, this time a little more knowledgeable, bolder and more experienced.

I am often described as an impatient gardener and this is not inaccurate. It took so much giving and taking in the old garden to learn successful co-existence. Now I am chomping at the bit.

I suspect No-Mow May will be spectacular. And I know there will be rhubarb once more.


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Mawkernewek
Mawkernewek
20 days ago

At my parents house, one of the two rhubarb plants looks like it has disappeared over the winter. However the Kea plums are proliferating, my mum bought a little stick about 20 years ago, and planted it, and eventually it grew into a tree, and produced root suckers with further saplings. There are now two substantial trees, along with a number of others which I’ve taken out into pots, one of which is at my brother’s house now. The plum trees fruit better some years than others, at first they just grew up vertically with not many flowers, but I… Read more »

Del Hughes
Del Hughes
20 days ago

Oof! A gorgeous piece on gardens – that caused some tears this end 😢 You’ve obviously got green fingers so here’s hoping your new plot becomes as blooming great as your old. Mind, that ivy looks a bit of a job 😳🌿x

Nicola Stone
Nicola Stone
18 days ago

It is strange these are the things I think about when I think of my parents its the time in their garden, perhaps because so many social occasions were set there or its just where we took a cuppa for a stroll and a chat. The person and the place seems important to me. When I heard about allotments being developed but new ones being offered I was astounded that people have no link to place its never the same 2 doors down as where you have been cultivating roots and shoots and nestling between branches of a fellow who… Read more »

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