Like woman’s work, a gardener’s work is never done. Over the years, people have said “I suppose you shut down the garden in winter and go away?” Unless the snow covers the bare brown earth and the ground is frozen like iron, there are always jobs to be done.
Now that all the leaves have at long last been raked up and the weather is mild, the flower beds have to be weeded, dug over and mulched. Instead of digging, we use a hand tiller, which until a few years ago Ma had not come across. Sally, who used to work in the garden gave Ma this strange looking tool, which she said she had found in her shed, and which she thought was a drain cleaner! We hung it up along with our garden tools, until one day Ma found Rose using it in the border. To her amazement, Ma saw her push it into the earth and twist it round, working her way through the border, digging out the hairy bitter cross and aerating the earth. Ma has subsequently found it to be called a garden claw. We always hope to have the garden tidied ready for spring by the Feast of the Annunciation.
Brave flowers which put their heads above the cold, wet earth are a winter bonus. What a joy the winter-flowering evergreen Clematis cirrhosa is. Introduced in 1590, originating from Europe and North Africa. The small flowers remind me of a robin’s egg, freckled on the outside and creamy-white inside; here it grows up a holly tree. Its only downside is that it can become rather a thug. Planted against a south-facing wall, the blue-flowered Iris unguicularis, which flowers all winter. It should be cut back hard after flowering, so the sun can bake its rhizomes, as it comes from Algeria.
A garden is a symbol of our civilisation it is the very symbol of what being English is all about. Made up of forgotten memories, it is a world away from the hurrying pace of life, timeless and peaceful. Here at Cothay, you could be nowhere else but in England.