Three or four years ago I managed to spend the summer here in Wales. It was a beautiful summer; folks said the nicest they'd had in years. Lucky me. A year or so before in 2002 I'd managed to clear the area in front of the old farmhouse here -- by hard work and tenacity...nobody had used that space for some 30 years. The briars and brambles and scrub trees had devoured the area (maybe about an acre) until it was nearly impenetrable. Then along comes MaryE. At the time I didn't know many folks around here and I wasn't into following the hunts so I had some time on my hands. So I took up the pruners and the secateurs (?? little hand pruners) and went at that jungle-ish mass of vegetation with a vengeance. This was about in February. I thought of it as my secret garden (still a favorite book) and with that end in mind I worked hard to fulfill a dream. Spring came and with it all the surprises that pop up in a secret garden....snowdrops by the thousands, hyacinths, and my appetite was whetted. They came in after I'd done the dirty work with a JCB (a digger) and took down some unwanted trees that had grown in there over the years of utter neglect...these trees were far beyond the scope of my pruners! I had used a hand saw to take down some things, but this was aggressive gardening at its finest.
When I came back that fall there was still plenty to be done. I got one of those stiff-teethed rakes and began raking what still was really a woods (in front of the house) A big yew tree, probably at least hundreds of years old, stood in front of the house and obscured a lot of what could be a beautiful view. Some of the lower branches were cut off to open the view. Next the hedges were uncovered and trimmed and encouraged to grow (nettles seem to grow best of all in these parts!) Besides wanting a secret garden and having loads of time on my hands and needing a project (other than the book I was supposed to be writing!) was my desire to make the outside world a little closer for an 80-year-old man who lives alone in that big farmhouse. He can't get around much and it just seemed like it would be nice for him to look out the window from his chair and actually see the beautiful hills not so far away.
Now this former "garden" hadn't been tended for about 30 years, as I said, but there were treasures. There were several sturdy rhubarb plants and a couple of nice old hedges that just needed a little help and encouragement. There were some nice bushes, too, and some other plants to be saved. So I hacked and cut away and dragged off the rubbish and burned it. This is about a 300 acre farm, and there always had to be a place to throw trash. In the not-so-distant past there was no such thing as rubbish collection, so people just had a trash heap and eventually some of it broke down, leaving behind the metal bits and glass. Well, this farm's trash heap was in my garden and over the years the glass had spread far and wide. I'm still picking up bits of glass and broken bottles and shards of pottery, rusty nails, bits of barbed wire and hobnailed shoe soles.
So I picked up by hand several 55 gallon drums full of broken glass! The more I picked up the more I found. I burned more rubbish and branches. I picked up more glass. I found a few things that hadn't been broken and they now stand on a shelf in the kitchen, nice old green and blue bottles, some with glass stoppers. I took that metal rake and raked and raked, got up so much trash and branches. And still when it rained (which is does a bit most days here) more glass rose to the surface. Whenever I walked across the garden I always carried something to place the glass in, and felt like walking there was a good workout as I stooped and bent so many times each trip across. It always took me one step closer to the garden of my dreams!
As Pip was able to see out of his window I thought how nice it would be to put a couple of bird feeders there. He's a bit of a curmudgeon and wouldn't admit any interest at all in birds, but nevertheless, I got some feeders and a suet ball and hung there where he could see them if he changed his mind. He also isn't quick to part with money, so I was surprised when he started asking me to pick up some sunflower seeds and suet balls for his birds when I next went to the village! Soon he began telling me of woodpeckers and blue tits and a variety of birds he'd spied there near his windowsill. And there was even a little smile on that old face.
Things progressed in the garden and it began to take shape. I wish I'd kept a log of what I did when, but I began to dig flower beds there, one in front os his window, and one just on the other side of the low hedge, still in his sight from the chair in front of the television. Just behind the new bed is an old apple tree, then a couple of other apple trees, a taller hedge, a field filled (at that time) with sheep (now cattle) and still within easy view a lovely big hill and behind that a ridge of hills.
So I got to spend a summer here in 2003, I think. I decided that over to the left of his view I'd plant a real garden. When I lived in Nashville I'd had a huge garden and with all this space I decided to do it here, too. 'Course the type of things that will grow here are pretty different from the climate in Tennessee, so I had to ask around and see what would be best to grow. A friend came over and helped me lay out the rows and plant the seeds. I put in lots of lettuce and onions, carrots, beets, green beans, and other sort of green leafy vegetables and lots of potatoes. There was still a huge space to fill so in went all kinds of flower seeds. Maybe a quarter of the garden I planted in wildflowers, really my favorite and the results were pretty incredible. Mind, the land hadn't been used in 30 years so it was pretty fertile. So I said all that to say this: here's a photo of what my first garden turned out like. Pretty nice, huh?
Sadly I only spent one summer here, so the garden has gone into some decline, but now the part in front of his window is mostly covered with grass (though still there are many apple trees, bushes, roses, and some perennial beds) which is kept mowed. The hedge is
growing well and is kept neatly trimmed. And the cattle graze the field beyond in the shadow of the hills. The birds still feed at the window and it's a lot nicer for a little bit of work.
This photo is just the view out my kitchen window. It inspires me to cook! The weeds have just about taken over the place once again, but I've got the gloves and the pruners ready for some serious work these next days!