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Rough winds do shake…

May 3, 2016

May already: although it doesn’t feel like it yet. A few warm, sunny days towards the end of April were balm to the soul – and to the garden, which put on a growth spurt (mostly of nettles). Last week, however, swept out the month with snow and hail. You can get all seasons in a day at this time of year.,3.5.16-1

Snowing on the rhododendrons


Yesterday morning, it being the May Day bank holiday, my husband suggested we plant the rose bushes which I bought recently in a fit of extravagant optimism. I think he was looking forward to a morning’s pleasant labour together in the spring sunshine. It was sunny when we went into the garden, certainly…but by the time we’d fetched the spade and the sack of manure, a sudden squall had got up. It’s not that easy trying to dig a two foot hole while holding onto your hat. The emptied plant pots went bowling across the grass, along with my husband’s cap. Meanwhile another couple of slates slid off the castle roof onto the garden path…sigh… At least the rain, the first in several weeks, was welcome; although we wouldn’t have minded if it had arrived an hour later.

It is satisfying to have got the roses planted, whatever the weather. Two generations ago there were rose beds dotted all over the garden: before the First World War, apparently, my husband’s great-grandfather had two gardeners whose job was just to tend the roses. Changing labour patterns in the middle of last century took the total number of gardeners from eight to one: perhaps inevitably, most of the flowerbeds were grassed over to make maintenance easier. I’ve always had a soft spot for roses, however, and wished we had more, despite their reputation for being high maintenance. In planting some new ones (actually relatively ‘old’ varieties like soft pink ‘Gertrude Jekyll’) into one of the remaining beds, I’m hoping firstly to bring some more romantic prettiness to the expanse of lawns, and secondly to save myself the job of having to plant out dozens of bedding plants twice a year, as was done in the past.,3.5.16-3

Spring planting, with an awful lot of lawn in the background.


We shall see. The great thing about this time of year in the garden is that it’s still full of promise: this year, you tell yourself (every year) will be the best ever. Look how tidy and healthy everything looks!

Actually that moment of perfect promise lasts about five minutes. This year it was two weeks ago on Thursday. The tidying up of the winter borders was finished; the beds were dug over with rich brown earth; the fresh new leaves were just beginning to look as if they meant business. Then came the two days of warm sun – and lo, the next time I looked, every flower bed and path was bristling with weeds. And then last week’s snow and frost put paid to several tender seedlings (though not the weeds, obviously), including my son’s neat little row of nasturtiums, planted out optimistically early. We will have to start again with those.,3.5.16-2

He couldn’t wait to get them in, despite the risk of frost.


Such is the joy of gardening. It is the triumph of optimism over experience. At least the busily growing weeds, and all the planting still to be done, keep me from idleness. And oh, look, the apple blossom is coming out against the western wall of the garden. Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May – but I’ll still hope for apples come September.

Espaliered apple trees against the garden wall.

Espaliered apple trees against the garden wall.


You might enjoy The very hungry caterpillar: a tragedy in three acts

and also What colour is your May?


14 Comments leave one →
  1. May 3, 2016 9:50 pm

    espaliered apple trees look more on the grand scale
    than bedding plants which I would find daunting.

    Hope your roses flourish for you!

    • May 3, 2016 10:35 pm

      Thanks Diana! I was very lucky that the fruit trees were already well established when I took over. Transplanting violas is more my level. 😉

  2. Toffeeapple permalink
    May 5, 2016 12:09 pm

    You have delicious roses to look forward to, what more could anyone desire?

    • Erika W. permalink
      May 6, 2016 7:58 am

      After having planted and enjoyed, for a few years, a large rose garden in Austen, Texas we now, in approaching old age, live in Delaware. We wanted an easy to maintain garden and starting with many old native trees and grass we added easy-to-maintain shrubs.

      I managed to persuade my husband to agree to us planting a rose hedge which is about 70 feet long. After very good advice we chose rugosas and have loved it: no diseases and hardy beyond belief. The only attention needed after17 years is an annual shearing down to ca 5 feet! There were a few deaths: two yellows (no surprise) and a couple that started as very puny and were replaced by the seller.

      Our only follies were planting a Medlar tree which lasted only 8 years and died in a zero temperatures Winter and a yellow Bansia rose against a sheltered house wall. This second has flourished. Every year walkers stop to ask “What is that?” it is huge despite once having a die- back to the roots one horrid Winter. We planted it because I remembered a wonderful one growing in my first husband’s family home near Nairn in Scotland!

      • May 7, 2016 9:06 pm

        Gosh, Erika, how fabulous to have a seventy-foot long rose hedge! An inspired idea and I’m so glad that it has been a success for you. I’d never call the attempt to grow medlar and Banksia ‘folly’: it’s surely always worth the attempt, to grow what makes you happy!

    • May 7, 2016 8:57 pm

      Indeed, Toffee Apple, it is lovely to have something to look forward to, isn’t it? I watch over their progress like a mother hen. 🙂

  3. May 7, 2016 9:08 pm

    Oooh, what rose varieties have you planted apart from Gertrude? I am desperate to plant more roses here but since we’ll be moving in about 2 years it seems a bit of a waste. But they are hard to resist.
    Awful weather still continuing. Let’s hope for Sunday’s forecast warming-up.

    • May 9, 2016 7:21 pm

      The last two days have been glorious here! Such bliss to bask in warm sun after the snow of only a week ago!

      I’ve chosen three old-fashioned David Austin roses, all in various shades of soft pink, all deliciously scented: Gentle Hermione, Gertrude Jekyll (the darkest and the only one I know from the past) and Wisley 2008. I’m hoping they will look good together in a long bed, 2 of each variety. If they survive my ignorance, you must come and visit them one day!

  4. May 10, 2016 11:38 am

    A rose is a tethered butterfly! Enjoyed your writing. Kind regards Mark.

  5. May 28, 2016 4:00 pm

    Roses are so beautiful. Some people, like my dad have a knack for them. Our house always smelled of cut roses. The old old heritage varieties smell the best
    There are rose “rustlers” groups here that search the country side for roses in the country side that were planted in homesteads long ago and depsite being totally forgotten and negelected have managed to flourish. Those are the hardy ones such groups try to revive and take use. New varieties (like the red Knockout Rose) also seem to be more bug/disease resistant and they don’t seem to be picky about where they grow. Nothing is finer than roses!

    • May 29, 2016 12:28 am

      Hear hear! What a lovely memory, a house full of the scent of roses.
      In Britain, too, there are roses being bred these days which combine the best of old and new. I hope that’s what I’ve planted…!

  6. May 30, 2016 1:35 pm

    Enjoy seeing little glimpses of your life and hearing about what the gardens used to be like and how you are making them to be now. The rhododendrons look beautiful! (despite the snow!!!)

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