“I like a warm hand upon my entrance”, says Julian Clary. Mine is marked by a tall wooden pergola, the design based on the original which was returning swiftly to humus when we moved in. Tumbling over the timber ruin there was a vast rose which had flowers of such a bright sugar pink that they made your teeth ache just to look at them. The plant used to catch every malady available and was usually plastered with black spot, grey mould, green fly, black fly, pox, rot and distemper. I persevered with all of the cures on the market for five years and then realized that I didn’t like it. Despite spending every spring pruning the stems, then coiling and tying them lovingly to the adjoining fence, I really hated it. Chopping it down and removing the roots was a huge relief and an act about which I did not feel guilty. Then I took the fence down; good, that opened up the space in a way that I never expected. When a drunken party saw the collapse of the arch under the unwanted attentions of a colossal blootered rugby player, the rugger bugger survived but the porch did not. I found that I missed it immediately.
Now we boast custom made furniture built by Attila the Gardener, which keeps him busy hammering and sawing happily (he says) in his shed. He uses tannelised timber for the uprights, which are fixed into metal sockets driven deep into the ground. Check where the utility mains lie before trying this at home, or you could end up drowned, gassed or with your hair on fire. Failure to separate wood from soil and not using weatherproof materials will result in a limited lifespan for any plant prop. I am constantly surprised by the speed with which sticks and struts give in to chaos and turn into Weetabix, while twiggy bits in the compost bin survive unaltered for many years. I don’t believe in the Green Man, God of Nature, but I’ve seen the backs of his heels and heard his laughter, more times than I care to count.
Rosa Mme Alfred Carriere
I have Rosa Madame Alfred Carriere on one side of the portico and Clematis montana “Marjorie” on the other. Iris germanica bake in the heat on the sunny side and Hellebores grow fat and healthy in the dappled shade in the gloomy bit. Rather than have a square of lawn, surrounded by borders, I’ve chopped into the grass to make two substantial shaped areas for planting. I’m not keen on small island beds, since these are low on impact and high on mower steering and grass edge trimming. I like the idea of some statuary but despite Attila’s sterling work in the carpentry department, won’t let him choose anything with a knob or knockers. Thus a discreet armillary sphere lurks amongst the artichokes and a sky pond (it’s a deep bird bath to be honest) decorates the dahlias. The path which winds diagonally-ish across the back terminates in a hefty slab of rock, which rises like a dolmen over the far corner.
Hydrangea petiolaris (climbing hydrangea)
I’m sorry to admit that I’m a hideous snob when it comes to plaster gnomes, concrete fairies, plastic meerkats and the like. I don’t get kitsch either; indeed pixies and such have me reaching for my sledgehammer, which is an embarrassing reaction when it occurs in the garden of someone else. Please don’t invite me if your taste in sculpture tends to the twee. If you fail to heed this warning, you may that find your prized seven dwarves installation is reduced to rubble. After my arrest, I’m hoping that I still have enough friends to club together to fund my bail. You’ll chip in, won’t you?