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Tree shadows

This was the kind of weekend I had been waiting for; dry, sunny and, dare I say it, quite warm. Well warm for February anyway. I was on a mission to make a dent in my ‘to do’ list, and I’m sure I wasn’t alone in wanting to make the most of the good weather. Gardens and allotments across the country must have been hives of activity.

It wasn’t a promising start as we tried to find somewhere that sold the paint we needed. I did have that sinking feeling it was going to be one of those frustratingly unproductive days. I need not have worried as my aching muscles now testify.

Clematis and hazel panel

First on the list was replacing the woven hazel panel that had been a victim of the winter storms. We put the panel in about 4 years ago to screen off an area that is used for storing wood and composting from the rest of the garden. It had started to fall to pieces and time was of the essence as I have a spring-flowering clematis growing up it. With buds starting to appear I didn’t want to have to move the stems once any significant growth had started. A new panel had been delivered during the week, so I set about delicately removing what was left of the hazel stems of the old fence, trying not to damage the clematis. We manoeuvred the new panel into place and then tied in the clematis. Quite a few of the hazel stems were still in good condition so I’ve gathered them up and I’ll use them on the plot for plant supports.

Then we started on the painting. The garden is surrounded by fairly typical wooden fencing. They were plain and untreated when we first moved in. I didn’t particularly want to paint them as it’s one of those jobs that once you’ve started it, it needs to be maintained but the wood needed some protection. Colour doesn’t often feature as a backdrop in British gardens and when it does it often doesn’t work. I’m thinking fence panels which look like they have been spray-tanned. In other parts of the world, such as the Mediterranean and Mexico, colour is used with much more confidence providing a striking contrast to the plants being grown. An azure blue door with red pelargoniums is such a quintessential scene from parts of Greece and southern Italy. It probably has something to do with the light. Bright, vibrant colours work well when the sun shines for the majority of the year and the light is a warm light but the further north you go the light becomes cooler and strong colours have a tendency to look dull. With a propensity for grey, overcast days, even in summer, bold colours don’t really work in British gardens. There is also the danger your garden can end up looking like a children’s playground. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t use colour it just means we have to pick the right tones to work with our light levels.

We first painted the fences several years ago and it was a harder decision choosing the colour than any of the interior decoration choices we had to make. I thought I had settled on one but after painting a panel I got cold feet. It was such a strong block of colour and I was painting in late winter when there was so little in the garden to soften the look. Several tester pots later and an adjoining panel which now looked like a multi-coloured chess board, we decided to sleep on the decision. All that I really needed was time for my eyes and brain to adjust to the change. When we’ve become accustomed to something looking or being a particular way it can take a while to accept the ‘new look’. The next day we went with, as is so often the case, the first choice, ‘Wild Thyme’ from the Cuprinol Garden Shades range. It doesn’t bare any resemblance to any wild thyme I’ve ever seen but the blue-green is a lovely foil for the plants in the garden. Rather than the dull, weathered wood which didn’t do anything for the plants growing in front of fences, this colour makes the plants stand out. It’s a fresh colour which works so well in spring and I particularly love the crab apple blossom, white tulips and forget-me-nots combo against the blue-green background.

Viburnum tinus 'Gwenllian'

Viburnum tinus ‘Gwenllian’

Fence painting is an awkward job though. There tends to be a short window of opportunity in which you can get the job done. Before December and there is still too much foliage around; December and January are generally too cold and too wet. February is the perfect month. Delicate new buds which can be so easily knocked and damaged have yet to open and hopefully there will be a dry spell. There is a certain amount of contortionism required to get in behind trees and bushes and, inevitably, some plants will end up sporting some interesting variegation to their leaves as a result of paint splashes. It was worth it though, and it has made the garden look all spruced up.

The shed didn’t escape our attention either. Everything was emptied on to the path, pots, trays and planters were washed and neatly stacked, plant labels and cane-toppers gathered from their various resting places and spiders were shepherded off into the garden. This is normally the point where some piece of gardening kit that went missing last year is now rediscovered. This time it was all of Wellyman’s Phillips screwdrivers which I had hoarded in the shed for some reason which eludes me now. I even found 3 jiffy pellets, which is puzzling as I’ve never used or bought any before.

So a big dent was made in my long list of jobs to do but there’s the allotment to tackle next so some more weekends like the last one would be nice. I’d love to hear how you made the most of the glorious weather.