‘Sitting quietly, doing nothing
And the grass grows of itself’
This little haiku always relaxes my mind — there is really so little we need to do to make things grow. My ideal garden is the one where the gardener gently tends what nature is doing for itself. Of course, to have a garden like this, one needs to choose the plants carefully and design wisely. Beds of tuberous begonias will never do for themselves; paddocks with daffodils will.
What plants will return again and again, right on seasonal cue, if allowed to get on with it? The hardy spring bulbs are an obvious choice for this time of year. Clumps of short, very frilly double (more like quadruple) daffodils are still springing up in home paddocks all over the country, even where the homestead has long since fallen down.
To my taste they are much prettier than the tall-stemmed, long-trumpeted singles like the ubiquitous ‘King Alfred’. They are also the ultimate no-trouble daffodil, if the way they thrive on neglect is anything to go by. I split up a large old clump I found last year, gave some to the neighbours, and still had plenty for three new patches out in the paddock.
At the other end of the bulb hierarchy (rare, rarified and pricey) is the Himalayan lily, Cardiocrinum giganteum. But what a lot of value for money I am already getting for the three bulbs I splurged on last year. A mere 15 days ago the tips of the main shoots broke through the earth. Now one of them is around 10 cm high and has two open leaves and three furled ones. This is a jolly fast growth rate. But then they do have to get to two metres tall by the beginning of December. Plus grow their dozens of scented long white lily trumpets. This is a real ‘power of nature’ plant. If conditions suit it (it likes cold winters and dappled shade) it will naturalise readily. It takes seven years for a bulb to reach flowering size, but after that it goes on and on.
To provide suitable light shade for bulbs, and make a colourful contribution of their own, my spring (and autumn) favourites are the ever-faithful crab apples, amelanchiers and cherry plums. To the best of my knowledge and experience these are trouble-free trees. They certainly do not get munched on or die back the way the flowering cherries do. Apple blossom is also delicately scented, and the single or semi-double flowers have an elegance that few cherries can match. In autumn — if the right varieties are chosen — there will also be tiny glossy apples for brightening the garden, making jelly, and/or feeding wild birds. Amelanchiers smother themselves in simple flowers in spring, have pleasantly edible small black fruits in December, and colour well in colder districts in autumn. The maroon leaves of the sour cherry plum (another common old homestead survivor) provide colour from spring to autumn, and the white flowers are delicate and under-stated. The plums make the best plum sauce (albeit a fiddly one to sieve the stones out of) and what we can’t eat the wood pigeons and other birds will love.
Right — time to get outside again and watch it all happening…