All is well …

Things are looking up, literally: the silver maple, over which I was agonising when I last wrote, is now six metres tall and looking great.

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The ‘stick’ that I despaired of then now has ten or so branches and a mass of lush, sharply lobed leaves which, true to form, when the wind blows, twist and turn on their long petiole and reveal their silvery underside. It is nearly two years old now and the worry that I had not planted it properly, that my family had sabotaged the planting ceremony, that the summer months were too hot for a tree from northern climes, is now behind me. (I was so worried on one particularly hot day last summer day that I placed the outdoor umbrella over it to protect it, laughing at myself as I did so.) But all is well and now I am enjoying watching the leaves turn gold and drop to form scattered pools of gold and silver at its base.

In fact, I have been enjoying watching the whole of this my new garden take on its autumn cloak and prepare for winter. Especially as it is only three years old and when I first came here there was nothing growing except a rapacious wonga-wonga vine and vast swathes of kikuyu grass.

Now there are four trees (the silver maple and a grove of three silver birches, ‘… the most beautiful of forest trees, the Lady of the Woods’ according to the Romantic poet Coleridge). Perhaps I have rather overdone the tree thing but there are few grand trees in this area and I like to think I am helping to make it lovely for the future. Besides, I have always been mindful of that great Australian gardener Edna Walling’s injunction that ‘trees come first in the making of garden pictures’.

The hedges that I planned to give the garden a feeling of enclosure — one of Portuguese laurel and another of murraya — are looking as if they are destined to become hedges after all and not just a row of scrawny little soldiers who have not done their dressing-off drill correctly so that they form a nice straight line.

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The east-facing deck is now one-third sheltered by several Boston ivy vines, and its southern corner, my pride and joy, is almost covered by the old fashioned climbing noisette rose, Lamarque. Having climbed valiantly something like seven or eight meters last summer to reach the overhead beams, it rewarded me a few weeks ago for all the care I had given it (and the skin of the breakfast banana each day) with a single cluster of its fragrant creamy white blooms. It was such a huge effort to get to the top that I think all its energy for the growing season was spent doing just that and it could do little more; but I also like to think that it wanted to reassure me that, yes, it would produce flowers but not in any profusion until next spring, when it will have rested a little. That’s okay by me: it is a tried and true rose in my experience and it promises to be so lovely it can take its time. Gardeners are patient people and understand that a garden is not mature until it is at least five years old.

Gardeners are also usually quiet achievers and not given to boasting, but I must say that I am hugely proud of the dichondra ground cover that I planted under the birches to replace the kikuyu grass: it has spread and spread, making a dense, and so far, tough, mat-like covering (you can see it in the pic of the silver maple above). In the first year, when there was little else covering the lawn area, I planted some seeds here and there; now I just dig up a spadeful or two and place it where there is a gap. It really is a most obliging plant, and, to add to its qualities, together with a prostrate thyme and some wild strawberry plants, it has created its own line on either side of the path that leads to the garden shed —‘a line more charming and elusive than any human can devise’, as Edna Walling put it so eloquently.

This is the third significant garden I have planted, and, as a friend commented, it is probably a great act of faith to make a garden in one’s late seventies. There are times when my back aches and my determination to keep tilling and tending does flag, but as I look out on the lovely drifts of golden leaves fallen from the birches and now lying on the ground at their feet, and when the red and gold autumn leaves of the Boston ivy are glowing in the late afternoon light, I am awfully glad I had that faith.

……….

PS. In case you are interested, here are the botanical names of the plants I have mentioned: Portuguese laurel: Prunus lusitanica; Murraya paniculata; Silver maple: Acer saccharinum; Silver birch: Betula pendula; Wonga-wonga vine: Pandorea pandorana; Rosa ‘Lamarque’; prostrate thyme: Thymus serpyllum; wild strawberry:  Fragaria vesca; Boston ivy: Parthenocissus tricuspidata

Good News!

All is well! The Silver Maple is growing at last. Most of the buds along the length of the stem are now green and several have sprouted tiny leaves. Perhaps the Norse gods did hear our prayers, after all; perhaps I maligned my family and they did share their wine with the new tree. Still, I cannot help wondering why it was so late to show signs of life.

Years ago, when I was planting a new garden, I had someone help me to plant a row of conifers, but when I checked what had been done, I despaired because I thought they had been planted too deep. I pulled them out and replanted them. Then a friend told me, no, the new thinking was to plant deep. Sure enough, when I checked, I found that this was, indeed, the way to go: it’s called ‘long stem’ planting, a method devised by dedicated environmentalist, Bill Hicks. He overthrew one of the basic laws of gardening that, when planting, you keep the new soil-level the same as it was in the pot. The idea is that the plant will grow a much more extensive root system, one over and above the system it has already established in its pot; and, of course, the more roots it has, the better a plant’s chances of thriving.

I had this in mind when I dug the hole for the Silver Maple, but I was a little anxious when I saw that the soil was getting rather wet the lower I went, and so I dug no further. Now, with hindsight, I think should have provided better drainage and that is why the new growth is so slow. It would also have allowed me to plant the tree deeper.

For now, all seems well, but I cannot help wondering (and hoping that the Norse gods are still watching over it).

There is a lot of information on the web about Bill Hicks’ long-stem planting technique, if your want to learn more.

Calling on the Norse Gods

There is an ancient Norse ceremony that must be observed when you plant a tree. You gather family and friends, give each a glass of wine, then get them to circle the newly planted tree three times, sprinkling wine from their glass onto it, while calling on the Norse gods to watch over it. “Oh, Norse gods, look after this tree!” or something like that. It probably helps if you know a Norse language. (That done, you can then drink the leftover wine.)

On one of the last days of Winter, the family came and, kindly tolerating my eccentric idea and placated by the prospect of wine, they helped me plant a new tree with due ceremony and I have watched over it since.

There was not only scepticism about the pagan ritual (and unkind remarks directed at me), but there was also concern about the tree itself: it was just a stick, they said. Admittedly, it does look  like a stick (it’s  about two metres high, with only a few bumps promising new growth). There are big expectations of this stick. It’s a Silver Maple (Acer saccharinum) and the grand plan for the new garden is based on its growing to about 10 metres and shading the house in Summer. That is still a long way off, of course, and in the meantime, I must take great care of it so it does what I hope of it.

Things are not looking good. It still looks just like a stick, and here it is a month into Spring and all else around it is turning green. The ‘bumps’ have swelled only a little, some not at all. The swollen buds have a faint hint of green, which is promising.

What has gone wrong? Did the gods not hear us? The Silver Maple comes from Northern climes so the gods should be sympathetic. Did my family not share their wine fairly with the tree? (Probably, being my family.) Perhaps some didn’t go the full distance; it was supposed to be three times. (Some of them hate to walk, I know.) Perhaps someone sabotaged the ritual by walking the wrong way; they were drinking, after all.

There is some consolation: a neighbour’s maple has only just shown signs of new growth.

I keep watch on mine each day.