Katharine’s Garden (and more)

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The first time I visited Katharine’s place, it was pitch black (a winter’s evening gathering of our book group) and I couldn’t see the outside of her house or her garden. I knew she was a keen and knowledgable gardener; we had chats about it and she kindly helped me to clear a patch of our overgrown back garden not long after we’d moved in. Like every gardener I’ve ever met, she is enthusiastic and generous with her knowledge and time. When I did get to visit her home in the daylight and walk around the garden I was blown away and a few weeks ago I popped round in the late afternoon to take some photographs to show you.

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When Katharine and her family moved here 15 years ago, the house had been empty since the early 1950s. It was very ramshackle and surrounded by an overgrown jungle of brambles, sycamores and elder. Crucially, there was No Garden. The house took 8 years to renovate to a point where they could live in it but with great foresight they decided to start making a garden straight away, planting hedges, fruit and other trees. Being so close to the coast it’s often extremely windy, so this was a good move; the plants established quickly creating much-needed shelter belts.

She describes her approach to gardening as ‘a little haphazard’. “My mother is a huge influence and keeps me amply supplied with cuttings and plants. I love things when they blend into nature – seeing a rose rambling up a crab apple tree and also allowing an area to run a little wild, like long grass and bluebells. On the other hand, I also love defined areas – neatly trimmed edges happen every now and again and they really help to offset what is growing in the flower beds.”

“My favourite plants are often those given to me by other people, as I think of them when I see the plant.” She also loves plants that have taken a battering but pull through against the odds, such as her patch of monk’s hood (Aconitum). Every year since she planted it, when it was full of promise and about to flower, it would be cut down by footballs landing on it or flying through it (she has four sons…). Over the last couple of years it has increased to such an extent the it manages to flower prolifically and withstand the footballs.

As well as this hardy monk’s hood, she also loves her irises and Alchemilla mollis (lady’s mantle) and grows some beautiful, classic old roses – ‘William Lobb’, Rosa rugosa ‘Rubra’, Rosa rugosa ‘Magnifica’ and Rosa mundi – and climbing roses ‘Alberic Barbier’ and ‘Paul’s Scarlet’. The unpredictability of the garden is one of the things she loves most about it – each year different plants seem to do well – and her favourite spots change throughout the seasons depending on what is out: banks of snowdrops in late winter, the bluebells patch in spring, in and amongst the apple trees when in blossom, and later in the year, when the sun is low, she loves to sit in the gazebo. And it’s not just the plants and favourite spots, her chickens are also important: “I would never not have chickens now. They bring a sense of life to the place and having something to look after every day gives you a good anchor to notice how things are changing around you.”

I asked Katharine whether there are any specific gardening challenges she faces: “This year the rabbits have discovered the vegetable patch and we will have to look at rabbit-proofing it for next year. Slugs, too, have been a real problem, but it has also been an odd year in general for growing things. Plants have taken a long time to get going and planting things straight into the soil has not yielded good results. Wind is an on-going battle and we need to make sure the chickens do not escape for the sake of delicate seedlings. Bindweed (say no more) and footballs.”

And plans for the future? “I feel we have only just begun! I would like to divide the garden into different, defined areas, so each area has more of an identity of its own. We are creating a pond at the moment and I am excited by the possibilities that will bring – different wildlife and learning about bog and water-loving plants.”

I’m looking forward to seeing how it all develops. A big thank you to Katharine for letting me wander around snapping away, for answering my questions and for and sharing her lovely garden.

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In other news… I can hardly bear to turn on the tv or radio at the moment with the shocking news from Nice and now Turkey. My desire to be well-informed is being overtaken by my desire to keep sane. Almost every day there is an atrocity somewhere and it is heartbreaking. It might seem flippant to be posting about gardens and flowers and our everyday lives, but I think it’s especially important at times like this. Good moments, nature, beauty, kindness, love, compassion, dignity – these are the things to cling on to. Sorry if that sounds trite; it’s hard to find the right words. My family will be travelling soon and I am taking deep breaths and giving my irrational, what-if-everything-goes-wrong side a good talking to. Give in to fear and you’re giving in to the haters, and I’m determined not to do that.

All will be mostly quiet chez acoastalplot now until late August. In the meantime, wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, I wish you peace, love and contentment.
Sam x