Saturday, 25 May 2013

Minimising Weeding

Sailing With A Bang
Front garden - little room for weeds

      To get the full story, the previous two blogs lead up to this final account of a yachting holiday on the Norfolk Broads. I'm now at the point where we'd moored for the night and were in a pub: the strength of scrumpy cider is legendry and I was in the process of doing some  scientific research into the truth of the claims. I'd  had a couple or so pints but  had  come to the conclusion that they were overblown, when I stood up with the intention of finding the toilet. When you've been on a boat all day and stepped onto land there is a continuing experience of the ground moving. This is what I got now. Exactly the same sensation, but in addition the walls of the pub were also in motion, with the ceiling becoming a part of a separately choreographed dance.

      "Which way is the gents?" I muttered to the bloke sitting next to me, "I don't want to lose my dignity". In my week long role of Long John Silver, I nearly added "heave to lads" but it suddenly seemed a  bit too close to "heave up", and I was in a suggestible state. Somehow I followed the directions the bloke indicated and, after negotiating undulating tables, eventually found myself leaning against a tiled wall looking for the urinal. I didn't find it and for a fairly good reason. I was in the ladies, complete with lost dignity and the echoes of guffaws coming from the direction of the bar. It's at times like this that you know who your friends are.

      Because the gas taps on the yacht cooker were unreliable, we took turns at being responsible for turning the supply off at the bottle, just before going to bed. On this particular night it was my turn. However, by the time I got back from the pub, a process now occupying a black hole in my mind, gas bottles were not on my itinery and nobody else thought to do it.

      The following morning, at about four thirty, I decided to get up and make a cup of tea. Having voiced this intention to the other people on the boat, I was on the receiving end of some remarks which, under normal circumstances, I would probably have considered to be cutting (something about sex and travel rings a bell). Today though, I was still in the now surprisingly benign clutches of scrumpy, and life was wonderful. Although early, it was already fairly light and a stroll along the bank seemed appealing, so I wandered off through a knee-high mist, enjoying the solitude. The air was completely still. Even the normally ever-present tapping of rope against aluminium masts was absent and the resulting silence was therapeutic.

      Some time later, I retraced my steps to the boat, cold by now and ready for a warming drink. Having climbed on board and tied the awning shut, I struck a match to light the cooker. The only thing I remember after this was thinking 'that's funny', as both gas rings ignited without being turned on.

      When I woke up, it was to a world of chaos. I was hanging over the side of the boat and one half of my face was completely numb. My other ear was also going numb, because skipper Jim was bellowing something down it about what the hell had I done to the boat. I remember uttering a weak 'avast! - cannon ball hit the powder room', then regretting it because Jim seemed set to complete the job on me that the explosion had started. Someone helped me to sit up and I surveyed the damage, blood trickling from a gash in my cheek: the floorboards were piled around me and the awning had disappeared (as far as I know, it wasn't seen again). Part of the back of the boat had gone, blowing a hole in a punt parked behind as it left. A sudden and blessed silence ensued as Jim was momentarily stricken dumb by the thought of having to ring and inform the boatyard. Then: "my God", he wailed, "what do I say? 'Hello, guess who this is. You can't? Well, remember the bloke who rang to tell you your lovely little rowing boat was now a jigsaw puzzle, yes, that's me and I'm ringing now to say we've done the same thing to your yacht. 'Lunar' was a good name for it - the bloody thing's gone into orbit'". He was becoming hysterical and for a time the focus of attention switched to him, while I bled peacefully among the wreckage.

      I remember the doctor asking me how I'd done it while he inserted the stitches around the gash in my cheek. For some reason he seemed to find the whole thing amusing, so much so that, at one point, there seemed a danger of my eye being stitched shut, so I stopped telling him. He could have been struck off for less than that.

      When we returned to the Broads the following year the manager of the boat yard addressed us as a group: "I want you to be very careful with the gas bottle", he said, "last year, some bloody fool........" His gaze rested fleetingly on me and, in that moment, I was glad I'd had the forethought to wear dark glasses.

      "Yes", I said, sympathetically, "there's always one isn't there?"

Lunar - exploded version

      And, like Lunar, the garden can look as if a bomb's hit it when the lawn is overgrown, bringing me back to my theme that the gardener is an illusionist, the best example of this being a mowed, edged off, lawn. It acts like a frame for the rest of the garden and there is a tendency to focus on the whole rather than the specific when this general bit of maintenance has been carried out. The dandelions merge into the other border plants to give a pleasing overall experience.

Epimedium - excellent ground cover

      The frustrations of snapping strimmer lines are much reduced when the soil is wet, which is when it has less abrasive power, so giving the edge a bit of a soaking in dry conditions can make the job a lot easier. To give an even more pleasing finish to the borders if you're trying to impress someone, soaking the soil  just before they come changes a dry, grey surface into a vibrant dark contrast with the plants.

      There is almost inevitably going to be some bare soil in spring when herbaceous plants are just coming back to life but there is no excuse for it during the summer. One of the most common questions I am asked is 'how do I get rid of moss in my borders?'. The answer is very simple - grow plants in them instead. If you leave gaps between your plants, sooner or later they will be inhabited by moss or weeds because nature abhors a vacuum. Groundcover plants perform this task excellently between taller shrubs, the idea being that they will out-compete weeds and moss for water, light and nutrients, while having some aesthetic value in their own right. Subjects like Euonymus fortunei 'Emerald and Gold' and 'Silver Queen', have evergreen interest and their bright variegation lifts the shade under other shrubs. Epimediums have similar properties, although their leaves tend to die in winter (most species of this benefit from having the old growth cut back with shears in late winter). There are any number of other contenders for this garden situation and their inclusion can result in a lot less tedious ground maintenance.

      In my garden the spring bare earth problem is solved in the herbaceous borders by allowing forget-me-nots to self seed so that they provide an attractive blue haze. When they start to die back I simply pull them out and despatch them to the compost heap. The seeds they have shed will germinate and perform the same task next year and, by this time, the herbaceous plants are putting on some attractive growth.

      Anyway, to come back to the illusionist thing: the idea is to give a good impression without having gone to the extent of spending half your life weeding. The garden is there just to be in some of the time, otherwise you miss the point.


  1. The front garden looks beautiful! And I love that epimedium; I don't think I've seen it before. Looks a bit like ivy, yes? Are those its Autumn leaves, and therefore the coloring?

    1. Hi Christine, those are the spring leaves and they tend to stay like that all summer. They stay on until new ones are produced and are best clipped back in late winter.

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