The last few days have been a real joy. After a week of grim weather last week I thought emigration was the only option. June was just around the corner and I was still wearing a woolly hat and two pairs of socks. Then Friday came, the wind dropped, the sun shone and I finally felt some warmth on my skin.
Us Brits have a reputation for being a bit introverted but I’m sure some of our national psyche is influenced by the weather. Just look around you on a sunny day and see how people are smiling, how relaxed they look. We seem to spend way too much time in this country huddled from the wind, rain or snow. I noticed the other day that after a spell of hard work on the plot I didn’t ache quite so much. Maybe it’s just my body becoming ‘allotment fit’ but I think finally being able to ditch the layers and feel some warmth might have had something to do with it.
The appearance of summer at last resulted in a mammoth planting session at the plot. The windowsills look bare after months of staring through a haze of greenery and the allotment is starting to take shape. The nasturtiums sown in March were planted out on Friday and we’ve already had our first flowery addition to a salad. The gooseberries and blackcurrants are laden with tiny fruit, and flowers on the tayberry and broad beans hold so much promise of tasty treats to come.
Saturday was devoted to fence building. At the end of the plot we have a small area that was fenced off in a rudimentary way by the previous tenants. A few weeks ago I leant on it and it collapsed. Not a case of too much cake, the wood had rotted and now it all needed replacing. Pallets were employed to construct a basic screen and with three left over the plot now has a second compost heap too. It did look a little like pallet city but after a lick of paint this morning they look much better.
The icing on the cake had to be a visit to some open gardens on Sunday. My lovely postie David mentioned that his village was opening up their gardens to raise money for the village hall and that his mum’s cottage garden would be one of them. Not one to turn down the opportunity to nosy around other people’s gardens and miss the chance to eat cake we popped along. We thought we’d only be an hour or so but four hours later it had turned into one of those unexpectedly lovely days. We walked further than we’d planned, visited all twelve of the gardens and met some really lovely people.
The village on the south side of a ridge overlooks the Black Mountains and the ancient forest of Wentwood. With unbroken sunshine the views were incredible. It’s a linear village with houses dotted alongside country lanes running down to a river at the bottom. What I love about open gardens is that you get to see such diversity. In many ways I find these gardens much more inspiring than any show garden at Chelsea. The location of the village means that many of the gardens are sloping and it was interesting to see how they coped with this. Terracing and raised beds were used to great effect. There was Church Cottage, a small sheltered garden planted in a typical cottage garden style. A wonderful lilac greeted us at the gate and narrow paths took us through a garden packed with perennials.
Lower Glyn Farm is a 9 acre garden with a more naturalistic feel which merged into the surrounding 80 acres of woodland. How many gardens can boast a cricket pavilion, bought on eBay and now positioned by the side of a lake? The owners use it for parties; I imagined writing there.
The Lodge was the garden of my postie’s mum. A real plantswoman, she was a great source of information and I came away with the inspiration for a small part of my own garden. I’ve been wondering what to do with it for a while but Sambucus nigra and a species rose will form the basis for a new planting scheme. She was such a lovely lady, she even gave me this lovely plant.
It was heartening to see new gardens being created by young families and in most growing fruit and vegetables was clearly a fundamental part of wanting to garden. There were orchards, both old and new, and the local wildlife must have been happy with a range of bug hotels, log piles and ponds to set up home in.
The combination of the sun, gardens and apricot upside-down cake made for a memorable day but there was something else. There was an enviable sense of community in this small village. The school and chapel both closed in the late eighties and the village hall is now the hub of life here. We met people who had lived and gardened here for over 40 years. For someone who has moved so frequently and doesn’t really feel like she has roots anywhere I find this remarkable. The strange thing is, an afternoon wandering around these gardens, meeting such warm and friendly people made me feel like I am finally starting to connect with somewhere. Whilst I might not live in this delightful village, Monmouthshire is such a beautiful county, it’s a place I love, a place where I’d liked to stay, for a little while longer, at least. Funny what plants can do.