Summer Break Posted on August 16, 2010

I missed the moment the garden relaxed; when the tension of water-stress eased under proper penetrating rain. We were away for a week on a Solent salt marsh, in a garden under a different sort of stress – always. It is totally exposed to wind and salt sea-air; nothing but the grasses, gorse, brambles and goat willows can take the punishment.

I said ‘garden’ because it is the setting for a house and in summer the scene of endless entertaining; ball-games, races, dinghies on chocks, picnics, trampoline, barbecues. Oh, and golf croquet, where the rabbits make interesting bunkers in the sandy turf.

The house is a ‘thirties bungalow with iron windows and a big verandah overlooking a creek endlessly washed by the tide. The colourful clutter of boats at their moorings is almost at eye level one moment, only, when you look again, to have sunk below the seawall.

A gardener’s urge, of course, is to stick in a few plants that will survive, or even profit by, the unusual conditions. Escallonias, have been tried at some time, but just look tatty. Hydrangeas are the default decoration for the summer holidays. Their muddle of pale colours, like washing left too long on the line, expresses the time and place better, perhaps, than any other plant. Someone once planted a birch in the waving brown grass: the wind has made it aerodynamic; a vegetable slipstream as it were. (Willows, curiously, seem to grow upright despite the wind). We have planted two or three Scots pines, to join, or succeed, the couple that have become gnarled in the line of duty, but the wind and the rabbits will always prevent a gardener from doing anything so foolish as to garden here.

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