Unurgent hours Posted on November 30, 2015

Only a couple of hundred leaves still up there, shaking in the wind as they contemplate the long drop onto the hard paving.

After six weeks of raking them up it will be a relief to see the plain stone surface again. The plain uncluttered ground, whether it is paved or lawn, or indeed water, is the first and most important element in a garden picture, the one that gives your feet, or just your eyes, permission and motive to get out and survey the scene. Painters have always known it; it is the Impressionist cliché, the street or track, or footpath or stream, in the centre of the canvas to give perspective to the rest.

Raking up the leaves has been a daily chore while they lay thick on the ground, as essential as wiping a misty windscreen, and no more interesting. Now that they lie scattered, as distinct individuals, it brings back what, to me, in this miniature domain, is the essential pleasure of gardening: precise interventions to correct what’s wrong.

Envy me if you like. I don’t have to find time and resolve, and the petrol can, to go out and unclutter my foreground with the mower.

I can spend unurgent hours planning to install a new plant or move an old one, deciding between, for example, this clematis and that for a niche that suddenly seems to need one. Spring? Summer? Late Summer? C. Montana? (too big); Perle d’Azur? (first choice, but already on another wall); a later viticella? (I fondly remember a sprawling Alba luxurians at Saling Hall).

Happily, that niche only has an inadequate little cissus in it; it won’t be solid with competing roots. To put a new one on the opposite wall won’t be so easy. A long-established Viburnum x burkwoodii is the main occupant of this stretch, and a valuable one too for its early carnation-smelling flowers and the lustrous healthy-looking evergreenery I tie in to the trellis to screen the neighbours. Planting among woody roots is risky, but a Daphne odora Aureomarginata has got away splendidly beside the viburnum and a rose ‘Bantry Bay’, after a struggle, has fair-sized shoots. I’m determined to install an Abutilon vitifolium close by, too. They are speedy little trees, capable of a yard a year, so we should see a quick result.

That leaves the rose, still to be chosen, near where I know a Cotoneaster horizontalis must do most of its feeding. I shall use my sharp steel spade (a present from Felix Dennis, when we planted his millionth tree together) and be lavish with manure.

Meanwhile daily operations resume, picking fallen leaves out of beds, cutting down spent geraniums, deciding whether to leave a foxglove seedling – am I certain its white? – snipping ivy from around the wall-lights, shifting pots of box, wall flowers, ferns and tulips around their too-small stage.

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