Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Blithe spirits

The snow has stopped for the moment, though I can see it falling on the downs in the distance. Two pairs of socks and toes still cold, though the rest of me is toasty. In the week since my last visit the tree surgeon has been and removed the dying birch which I had noticed had been rotting away at the base. One of triplets, the remaining pair stand together surveying the low stump with apparent detachment, anaesthetised to their loss. It doesn’t look quite as bad as I had feared, but slightly downhill from where their sick sibling once stood these two appear as though they might drag the green covering of lawn from off the top of the garden. Balance will need to be restored, and a post mortem carried out on the stump.

But that’s for another day. This garden is large enough to be divided onto a series of smaller projects, and today’s priority is to continue the work on the main border, making it both more visually coherent and also more manageable for the busy family who live here. This involves first clearing what’s already here and then implementing a new planting scheme to give year round interest without too onerous a maintenance requirement. To this end, and at the customer’s request, I’ll also be reducing the depth of the borders themselves. It’s not an insignificant task, but an exciting one as the newly planted border will completely transform the view from the house. And so, while some of the plant matter is relocated to a temporary holding bed, the majority will find itself destined for one compost heap or another; inoffensive leafy material to the domestic compost bins, while anything weedy, seedy, or in possession of an overzealously creeping root system to the council green waste collection, where the heat of the municipal heaps soon reduces all to innocuous crumbly goodness. I never feel bad about pulling out plants – if they don’t get preserved whole, they end up as a soil conditioner providing sustenance for other plants. Even the woodier shrubs destined for the bonfire will eventually make it back to the soil, often in the form of potash for the kitchen garden. It’s a happy day’s work, bent over the borders, sorting each forkful for this pile or that, and if I’m surrounded by the ghosts of hundreds of plants, they’re blithe spirits I think, perfectly accustomed to this periodic reshuffling and being helped along their way to their next incarnation.

And the tall birch tree, its wood warming some grateful family huddled round their fireside on a chilly winters evening...I wonder if its spirit will make its way back to this place to stand with its forgetful sisters, and hope instead that it will stay with the ashes from the fire’s grate, nourishing next summer’s raspberries.