Time spent in the garden is time well spent

Yesterday it was just so lovely to be able to spend time in my garden again.

The sun was like thin, watery soup just gently filtering in through the trellis, inviting me out. Also a robin, full of song, his bright red breast puffed out came early to my kitchen door. He demanded a generous helping of meal worms.

Maybe a couple of weeks ago I had been seduced by an online gardening company for a ‘Peony’ sale, and I had succumbed. I vividly remember my first encounter with a Peony.

Growing up at the top of a block of flats in central London, I’d never known the joy of a garden. My mother had window boxes on the balcony. She encouraged us, from very small, to plant the boxes with bedding plants like Marigolds, Begonias and Snapdragons. However, my knowledge stayed confined to the odd Petunia and Pansy.

At seventeen, I left home for Northampton, determined to pursue a career as a teacher. I worked my way through Teachers Training College. In those days, grants for poor families such as ours were only for the first two children. As the third, I got nothing, and my father didn’t believe in women’s education. So I had to work three jobs to get myself through on my own. My very first digs, which I shared with six other girls, was an old Victorian house with a large unkept, neglected garden. Like a siren, this garden literally sang to me. Even in sleep, she called out. She temped me to find my inner gardener so that two months down the line, I couldn’t resist. With one of the other girls from the house and tools borrowed from a neighbour, we began to clear ourselves a way in.

In one of the flower beds that I had cleared back to bare earth, I was thinking about what might be planted. However, in early Spring, I saw what looked like deep red lipstick ends popping their heads up through the soil.

These signs of life developed into huge clumps of dark green leaves with frilly fingers like gloved hands. This was followed by these absolutely amazing flowers. They were like blousy, ageing courtesans, and I found that I just couldn’t stop looking at them. Flowers made up of rich, dark crimson balls the size of dinner plates. They had a profusion of layered petals that were carefully folded over each other like silk. I had never, in all honesty, seen anything quite like them before. Their stunningly exuberant blooms filled my very soul with joy. Then, as quickly as they had bloomed, they were gone. It was like a brief window into another world full of secrecy and hidden beauty. Speaking to the same helpful neighbour who had lent me the tools, he told me that they were Peonies. Their name has stayed etched on my heart, their memory secured forever.

Since that time, I have never been without a garden. My love affair with Peonies meant that I’ve planted them in every garden I have ever rented or owned. Sadly though, I’ve not been terribly successful with them.

The website I’d seen had advertised Peonies that were very happy to live in pots, so impulsively, I bought six. I know, I know, Arthur gave me exactly the same look. But I just couldn’t choose between them. Once the deed was done, it was too late, so now I needed the pots!

The plants arrived Wednesday, so taking myself off to the garden centre on Thursday with a friend, we loaded the boot with a myriad of Terracotta and headed for home feeling somewhat smug and satisfied. I might add, timing it perfectly. Friday was just the right day for getting out into the garden and enjoying myself, Ila coming out with me after so many months of being kept inside by the cold.

Armed with pruning shears, gardening gloves, a trowel and a woollen shawl for warmth, we headed outside together, meaning business. Ila gave encouragement from her seated position in the thin sunshine as I cleared away dead leaves from between the pots, cut back dead foliage, pruned and fed the roses, pulled out weeds and planted up my bare root Peonies one after the other, in their newly purchased pots. Sadly, overzealous with the broom, I did wake up one of the little piggies in one of the houses, but thankfully having chuffed at me, and I apologised, he rolled over and went back to sleep.

It was such a satisfying day; the garden looked so much tidier, well, my kind of tidy and ready for full-on Spring. I felt I had achieved a great deal. Muddy footed and a hole found in one of my gloves, my time spent nevertheless lifted my spirits enormously so that when the lemon cake I had baked earlier called to me, I was happy to call in my furry friend and head back to the kitchen for a cup of coffee and a late afternoon on the computer. I know you’ll be with me as fingers crossed, we wait for those Peonies to create a profusion of happiness and if I’m unsuccessful, hey, at least I’ve got some nice new pots!

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For more info on how to grow perfect Peonies, click HERE.